Detail from The New York Central Yards, 1904, by Alfred Stieglitz, from the Royal Photographic Society’s collection. Photograph: Alfred Stieglitz/RPS/Science & Society Picture Library
by Mark Brown Arts, The Guardian, February 04, 2016
The world’s largest and finest collection on the art of photography is to be created in London when more than 400,000 objects transfer from the National Media Museum (NMM) in Bradford to the Victoria and Albert Museum, in a move described as historic by both institutions.
The bulk of the objects being moved are part of the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) collection, charting the invention and development of photography over 200 years. They include works by British photography pioneers William Henry Fox Talbot, who invented the negative/positive process for producing photographs, and Julia Margaret Cameron, known for her gorgeous, pre-Raphaelite-inspired portrait photography. The world’s first negative, daguerreotypes, early colour photographs and about 8,000 cameras will also be transferred, joining the V&A’s collection of 500,000 photographs.
Group of young boys, c1860. Photograph: Royal Photographic Society/Science & Society Picture Library
Martin Barnes, the senior curator of photographs at the V&A, said putting the two collections together made “a huge amount of sense” and he paid tribute to the “clear thinking” of museum leaders.
“Having worked in national museums nearly my whole working life, it is really heartening to see national museums working together to look at where the collections are best placed,” Barnes said.
Hands, 1930s. Photograph: Atelier von Behr/Royal Photographic Society/Science & Society Picture Library
“The quality is astounding,” said Barnes. “I’m sort of beside myself with excitement. My team and I are thinking: ‘What are the amazing things we can do by putting the two collections together?’ In terms of research, exhibitions, publications, access to the public, touring shows, conservation … it is a big project. It kickstarts a really exciting time for us, for photography.”
The 400,000 objects are coming from the 3m items in the NMM’s photography collection. The decision is part of a strategic shift by the NMM – which sailed perilously close to possible closure in 2013 – to focus on science, technology and the culture of light and sound.
Michael Pritchard, the director general of the RPS, said he welcomed the move, with one reservation: “From the perspective of the RPS collection, it is a good move in that it retains the integrity of the collection and will enhance public access.” But he said there is a concern in that there will no longer be a single institution acting as a national museum of photography, a role played by the NMM since its creation in 1983.
“Because of the breadth of photography, in that it covers science, technology and art, we think the story is told much better through a single institution able to deal with all of those. The art and science have worked hand in hand since 1839, when photography was invented, and you can’t really look at the art without the technology and vice versa.
“I hope and am sure it will be the case that the National Media Museum and V&A will work very closely together.”
Adolphe Pégoud, ‘the daring French aeronaut’’, c1913. Photograph: Royal Photographic Society/Science & Society Picture Library
For some images, the decision will be something of a reunion, in that they were once part of a single collection at the 19th-century South Kensington Museum before it divided into the V&A and the Science Museum.
Tower Bridge, 1910. Photograph: Royal Photographic Society/Science & Society Picture Library
For example, there are 60 negatives in the RPS collection by one of the first and perhaps the greatest amateur photographers, Benjamin Turner, which match positive prints in the V&A collection.
The V&A intends to create an international photography resource centre and double its permanent gallery space for photographs.
Ian Blatchford, the director of the NMM’s parent Science Museum Group, said: “Our two museums have a long and proud shared history and this decisions illustrates just how seriously we take our common mission to cherish and share the nation’s extraordinary cultural heritage.”
The NMM will retain collections that help explore the development of photographic processes, such as the Kodak collection; the cultural impact of photography, such as the Daily Herald archive; and archives that have a direct relevance to Bradford.
Martin Roth, the director of the V&A, said: “The V&A and Science Museum Group have shared origins and uniting our complementary collections will create a peerless historical and artistic photography resource.
“Our ambitious plans for enhancing digital access, collaborative research, touring exhibitions and creating an international photography resource centre will mean that future generations of visitors and researchers will benefit from these examples of the most important artistic developments in artistic photographic history.”
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
This article was written by Mark Brown Arts correspondent from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.