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Victoria and Albert Museum plans new centre and touring shows for expanded photography collection

London institution’s new holdings include controversial transfer of 270,000 photographs from Bradford

by Gareth Harris  |  10 April 2017
Victoria and Albert Museum plans new centre and touring shows for expanded photography collection
Tim Walker, Lily Cole with Giant Camera (2004) (© Tim Walker/Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) announced last week plans for a new photography centre that will house the museum’s collection following the controversial decision to transfer 270,000 photographs from the National Media Museum in Bradford to the London-based institution. 

The museum’s curatorial team will also organise touring exhibitions of the collection, alongside an existing programme of UK and international loans. A museum spokeswoman says that the “photographs will be available for loan and the photography curators will be working with both UK regional museums and venues abroad to develop exhibitions in dialogue with venues’ collections”. 

  • Roger Fenton, Still Life with Fruit and Decanter (1860) (© The RPS Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
  • Bernard F. Eilers, Reguliersbreestraat, Amsterdam (around 1934) (© Bernard Eilers/Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
  • Paul Strand. Young Woman and Boy, Toluca (1932, published 1940) (© Aperture Foundation/Paul Strand Archive/Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
  • Nermine Hammam, The Break (2011) (© Nermine Hammam/Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
  • Benjamin Brecknell Turner, The Willowsway, Elfords, Hawkhurst (1852-4) (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
  • Eadweard Muybridge, Man performing a handstand on stairs (1887) (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
Under the landmark agreement announced in February last year between the V&A and the Science Museum Group, which runs the National Media Museum, the collection of the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) in Bradford will join the existing collection of 500,000 photographs at the V&A. More than 26,000 publications and 6,000 pieces of camera-related equipment in the RPS collection, which was founded in 1853, will also be transferred to the V&A where the holdings will be digitised. 

The V&A plans to reconfigure the north-east quarter of the museum, doubling its current photography display area to accommodate the new centre. The first phase of the project will open autumn next year under the FuturePlan development scheme; a library, studio and darkroom will be added in phase two.

Martin Barnes, the senior curator of photographs at the V&A, says in a statement: “The V&A’s Photography Centre will be one of the few places in the world where a chronological history of the medium illustrated with original photographs, equipment and archive material can always be seen.”
  
Opponents of the transfer project included the photographer Martin Parr and the artist David Hockney who signed a letter to the Guardian last year saying that the move stripped Bradford of a major cultural resource. Parr tells The Art Newspaper: “My main concern now is the fate of the collections that still remains in Bradford, such as the Tony Ray-Jones archive, and other works that were given or sold to Bradford, that have local or northern connections.”   

  • William Henry Fox Talbot, The Melancholy Gentleman (1838) (© The RPS Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
  • Cecil Beaton, Queen Elizabeth II, Coronation Day (1953) (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
  • Curtis Moffat, Abstract Composition (around 1925) (© Curtis Moffat/Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
  • Julia Margaret Cameron, Ceylonese Women (1875-79) (©The RPS Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
  • Alfred Stieglitz, The Steerage (photographed 1907; published 1915) (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London/Gift of the Georgia O’Keeffe
    Foundation)
  • Gertrude Käsebier, Portrait of Evelyn Nesbit (1902, published in Camera Work, issue 1, 1903) (© The RPS Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
  • Anna Atkins, Poppy from Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Ferns (1852-4) (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
  • John Cimon Warburg, Untitled (Flowers in a Vase) (1903) (© The RPS Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London)


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