Issue #222  3/4/2016
British Museums to Form Half-Million Photo International Photography Resource Centre

The British Science Museum Group (SMG) and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) have announced that more than 400,000 objects from SMG's three-million-strong photography collection, held at the National Media Museum, will be transferred to the V&A. These photographs, cameras, books, and manuscript material will join the V&A's existing collection of 500,000 photographs to create an International Photography Resource Centre. The new Centre will provide the public with a world- class facility to access this consolidated collection, which will become the single largest collection on the art of photography in the world.

The collection being transferred encompasses vintage prints, the world's first negative, unique daguerreotypes, and early color photographs, as well as important albums, books, cameras, and the archives of major photographers. At its heart is the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) Collection, which charts the invention and development of photography over the last two centuries.

Among the treasures moving to the V&A are works by British pioneers William Henry Fox Talbot, Hill & Adamson, Roger Fenton, and Julia Margaret Cameron. The collection also demonstrates Britain's role as an international hub for photography, with major holdings by artists such as Alfred Stieglitz, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Gertrude Käsebier, Paul Strand, and Ansel Adams.

Highlights of the consolidated collection will include Oscar Rejlander's 1857 ground-breaking composite The Two Ways of Life, Mervyn O'Gorman's intriguing 1913 autochrome Christina, Yusuf Karsh's iconic Winston Churchill portrait, and Angus McBean's surreal study of Audrey Hepburn alongside works by contemporary photographers including Martin Parr, Sarah Jones, Susan Derges, and Simon Roberts.

There will be challenges for the V&A, which houses the national collection of art photography to deal with photographic technology and science that forms a key part of the RPS Collection. The Society will be keen to see the V&A expand its remit to take responsibility for the National Photography Collection. There will be further announcements regarding the transfer, timings and impact on the other collections held at the National Media Museum and senior curatorial staff have entered a period of consultation regarding their jobs.

Once transferred, the collection will be stored, digitized and made accessible for study. In the short term, the permanent gallery space dedicated to photographs at the V&A will be doubled. A second phase will see the opening of an International Photography Resource Centre to provide unprecedented opportunities for access, collaborative research, and education with this unrivalled collection. As part of the agreement, the V&A will work closely with SMG to give access to the transferred collections for future scholarship and exhibitions.

The National Media Museum in Bradford—one of the four museums that make up SMG—is refocusing its photography collections to align with its own strategic emphasis on the science, technology, and culture of light and sound. The National Media Museum will retain the collections, which support an understanding of the development of photographic processes (such as the Kodak Museum collection), the ongoing cultural impact of photography (such as the Daily Herald archive) as well as photographic archives that have specific relevance to Bradford (such as the Impressions Gallery archive). A new £1.5 million interactive light and sound gallery is due to open in March 2017.