Photographic archives visited as part of the research

The research has included visits to photographic archives.

The English Heritage Archive holds over 12 million photographs, drawings, reports and publications on England's archaeology, historic buildings and social history.

The archives can be accessed by: searching over 2 million photos and records online, contacting their Archive Services team in writing, or by visiting the Public Search Room and Library in Swindon. Images are stored in the country’s only purpose-built photographic storage facilities. The English Heritage Archive used to be part of the National Monuments Record.

The South West Image Bank, based in Plymouth, holds the largest collection of photographic records in the south west of England and comprises some two million photographic items. The bulk of them are part of the Western Morning News collection of original plates, negatives and transparencies. The earliest image is dated 1945, with a consistent run from the 1960s to 2002. It also comprises other collections, dating from the 1870s to the present day, deposited by local businesses and societies, photographers and members of the public. SWIB has a dedicated, climate-controlled store for sensitive material. Some 50 volunteers are involved in the work of sorting, cataloguing and scanning the photographic material to make it publicly accessible.

The photographic collection of the National Media Museum comprises some 3.2 million photographs. It is both unusual and unique in that it spans the whole range of practice, from newspaper archives (i.e. Daily Herald) to fine art. It includes a growing ‘art’ collection, with the museum focusing more strongly, in the last ten years, on British photography and broadly on documentary photography.

One example is a body of Fox Talbot work, which includes 6,300 objects - negatives, photographs, photographs of others. Everything that is acquired, including equipment, has to be looked after in perpetuity and looked after to the best of the Museum’s ability.

NMM is embarking on a programme of digitisation of the collections, in line with worldwide trends that show that the more material a museum has online, the more visits it receives.

However, the Museum is operating in challenging times:

  • Space – the footprint the archive occupies - is expensive; NMM is exploring sharing space with another institution
  • Environmental controls / air-conditioning are expensive to run
  • Being positioned in the north of England makes it more difficult to raise funds other than from the usual public sources
  • The perceived value of archives by photographers; things are only worth what people / institutions are prepared to pay. There are interesting models in the US, whereby an archive is given to a trust or a trust is set up to hold an archive, passed to an institution, is exploited commercially and the income goes to both the photographer (or their family) and the trust. But the photographer needs to be fairly well known and it needs staff to get the work out, promote it and enable access.
Swimmers under Plymouth Hoe, c1920, Ron Andrews Collection, South West Image Bank, Plymouth

Swimmers under Plymouth Hoe, c1920, Ron Andrews Collection, South West Image Bank, Plymouth

Eileen cataloguing the Western Morning News collection, South West Image Bank, Plymouth

Eileen cataloguing the Western Morning News collection, South West Image Bank, Plymouth