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Historic agreement puts V&A in pole position for photography

Move draws criticism as Bradford's National Media Museum transfers 400,000 photographic items to London

by Gareth Harris  |  3 February 2016
Historic agreement puts V&A in pole position for photography
Julia Margaret Cameron's Sadness (1863). © Royal Photographic Society/National Media Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
More than 400,000 photographs housed at the National Media Museum (NMM) in Bradford, UK, will transfer to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, cementing the V&A’s position as a leading centre for the study of photography. The move will “create the world’s foremost collection on the art of photography”, according to curators at the V&A and the Science Museum Group, which runs the National Media Museum.

The objects drawn from the NMM’s three-million-strong photography holdings will join the existing collection of 500,000 photographs at the V&A, where curators plan to open a new International Photography Resource Centre for research and education. A launch date has yet to be confirmed.

Early daguerreotypes and vintage prints, as well as albums and cameras, are among the items moving to the V&A. Most of the historic objects are part of the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) collection, encompassing works by innovators such as Julia Margaret Cameron, Roger Fenton and Henry Fox Talbot.

  • Frederick Henry Evans's A Sea of Steps (1903). © Royal Photographic Society/National Media Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
  • Adolphe Pegoud, The Daring French Aeronaut (around 1913). © NMPFT/Royal Photographic Society / Science & Society Picture Library
  • Rudolf Koppitz, Bewengungsstudie (Movement study, 1926). © NMPFT/Royal Photographic Society / Science & Society Picture Library
  • Atelier von Behr, Hands (1930s). © NMPFT/Royal Photographic Society / Science & Society Picture Library
  • Felice Beato, Japanese girl with parasol (1864-1867). © Royal Photographic Society/National Media Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
  • Alvin Langdon Coburn, Tower Bridge (1910). © Royal Photographic Society/National Media Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
  • Gertrude Käsebier, The Red Man (1902). © NMPFT/Royal Photographic Society / Science & Society Picture Library
  • William Henry Fox Talbot, The Open Door (1843). © National Media Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
  • Alfred Stieglitz, The New York Central Yards (1904). © NMPFT/Royal Photographic Society / Science & Society Picture Library
  • Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, also known as Lewis Carroll, Xie Kitchin as Chinese tea merchant (around 1876). © Royal Photographic Society/National Media Museum / Science & Society Picture Library

A press statement says that the move reinforces National Media Museum director Jo Quinton-Tulloch’s “new focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths),” one of four institutions that make up the Science Museum Group.

But the agreement has been criticised by local politicians. Simon Cooke, the leader of the Conservatives on Bradford council, told The Guardian that the decision was “an act of cultural rape on my city”.

Cooke says: “I know you are incredibly excited by all this but, trust me, you could—had you had the guts and vision—have based this new resource centre in the north, in Bradford, where they would have been loved and cherished in a way you in London can never understand.”

A spokeswoman for the V&A says that many of these images 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 in 1893. “The V&A plans to create unprecedented opportunities for access, collaborative research and education with this unrivalled collection once it transfers, and will lend and tour the works as part of our collections both in the UK and internationally,” she says.

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