Photo Show: Drawn by Light from The Royal Photographic Society Collection to open at the National Media Museum Bradford

Fading Away, Henry Peach Robinson, 1858
Fading Away, 1858, Henry Peach Robinson (1830-1901)
© The Royal Photographic Society Collection at National Media Museum/SSPL

 
Photographic archives and collections are priceless treasures capturing moments in time as well as providing a chronicle of the history and development of the medium. The Royal Photographic Society (RPS) Collection is one such example and is part of The National Photography Collection at the National Media Museum in Bradford which is widely regarded as a collection of collections. As with The National Photography Collection, the RPS incorporates both aesthetic and technical developments as well as key images by some of the most influential photographers of our time.

The National Media Museum, which cares for the Royal Photographic Society Collection on behalf of the nation, is exhibiting more than 250 highlights and treasures ranging from the birth of photography to the present day in the exhibition, Drawn by Light: The Royal Photographic Society Collection. The show will run from 20 March until 21 June 2015, so there is plenty of time to see it.

For this post, I spoke to Associate Curator Brian Liddy (BL) at the National Media Museum where the RPS Collection is housed to find out why such photography collections are important and to share some of the hidden photographic gems in the Collection.

MG: You acquired the collection, which consists of over 250,000 images and artefacts from the last 150 years of photography, in 2003. Is this figure still accurate? Have there been any recent additions to the RPS collection?
Brian Liddy (BL): Unlike most of the collections that make up the National Collection, the RPS collection is not ‘closed’ and we work in partnership with the RPS to add to it. An obvious example is that anything we acquire from RPS members and former RPS members or presidents goes into the collection. In the past we have also added Madame Yevonde photographs to complement the set that were already part of the RPS collection. One of the most recent acquisitons is Steve McCurry’s Afghan Girl, which was added to the collection in November 2014.

MG: When you say that you acquired the collection, does that mean that it was given as a donation, or was some payment made for it?
BL: In June 2002 a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £3.75 million was announced (at the time the largest ever HLF grant), together with a grant of £342,000 from the National Art Collections Fund (Art Fund) and funding from Yorkshire Forward for the transfer of The Society’s collection to the National Media Museum.

MG: When did the first digitised photos from the RPS Collection go online?
BL: The digitisation of images in the RPS Collection started as soon as we received it and many can be seen online on our own website or the Science and Society Picture Library website. It is an ongoing task we’re constantly adding more.

MG: Who pays for the Collection to be looked after and put online?
BL: Funding for the care of the collection is predominantly from the grant-in-aid we receive from DCMS – it is the National Collection and as such belongs to the Nation. It is Museum staff who look after it.

The Onion Field', George Davison, 1890
The Onion Field, 1890, Photograph taken using a pinhole camera, George Davison (1854-1930)
© The Royal Photographic Society Collection at National Media Museum/SSPL

 
MG: Which three key images in the RPS Collection do you think are particularly important and why?
BL: Three key images are Alfred Stieglitz’s The Steerage (1907), which is considered, and debated, to be the first ‘modern’ photograph. George Davidson’s The Onion Field (1890). This image started the fight that led to the Photo-secession movement and William Henry Fox Talbot’s Portrait of Talbot’s Wife, Constance (1840) which is the first true photographic portrait. My personal favourite is Roger Fenton’s Aira Force, Ullswater (1860) because it’s just a beautiful photograph.

Aira Force, Ullswater, Roger Fenton, 1860

Aira Force, Ullswater, 1860, Albumen print, Roger Fenton (1819-1869)
© The Royal Photographic Society Collection at National Media Museum/SSPL

 
MG: Which is the earliest photo in the collection?
BL: The earliest is Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s Un Clair de Lune – a pewter plate from c. 1827 showing the first and only known example of a photographic process invented by Niépce. The discovery was announced at the Museum in 2010.

Un Clair de Lune (unframed)

Un Clair de Lune, c 1827, Photograph on pewter, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, (1765-1833)
© The Royal Photographic Society Collection at National Media Museum/SSPL

 
MG: Which better-known photographers’ work is in the collection, for example, for example, Julia Margaret Cameron?
BL: Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Roger Fenton, Frederick H Evans, Peter Henry Emerson to name just a few.

MG: Why is it important to have a National Photo Collection, in particular what does the RPS Collection add to the overall collection?
BL: Photography affects every part of people’s lives on a fundamental basis. Without photography we wouldn’t have television, cinema, the masses of images we have online today. The National Collection cares for the objects and images that have created this history so it can be shared with everyone and preserved for future generations.

Separately, both the National Media Museum and the RPS had very significant collections in their own right, but when the two came together it was ‘hand in glove’. Where we were under-represented, or there were gaps in the National Collection, they were strong; and vice versa. It could not have been a better match.

MG: How important, in your view, is it that people know about such collections and how important is it that people look at such collections physically as opposed to online?
BL: Digitisation and viewing images online obviously makes the Collection more accessible to more people, and is therefore very important. However I would always recommend seeing the objects in person whenever possible, particularly items like daguerreotypes and autochromes as I’ve never yet seen a photographic reproduction that comes close to the real thing. The exhibition, Drawn by Light gives a perfect opportunity to do that, although the collection can also be visited by prior appointment.

Constance Talbot, WHF Talbot, 1840

Constance Talbot, c 1840, Salt paper print from a calotype negative, William Henry Fox Talbot
© The Royal Photographic Society Collection at National Media Museum/SSPL

 
MG: Do many people visit the RPS Collection?
BL: I’d say almost every single visitor to the Insight research centre at the Museum will be shown an item from the RPS  Collection. They’ll either request to see something, we’ll suggest it, or it will make up part of their general visit. The Collection also features in many of our photography exhibitions which are seen by thousands of people each year.

Drawn by Light is co-curated by Colin Harding Curator of Photography and Photographic Technology at the National Media Museum; Claude W. Sui, Curator; and Stephanie Herrmann, Associate Curator, of the Forum of International Photography of the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen, Mannheim, Germany. Drawn by Light first appeared at Media Space in the Science Museum and is presented in collaboration with the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen, where it will go on display in 2017.

Visit the Collection
Appointments are available during the third week of the month from Monday – Friday, 10am-1pm and 2pm-5pm. To book, contact the Collections Access Assistant by emailing: research@nationalmediamuseum.org.uk.
Or write to Collections Access Assistant, National Media Museum, Bradford, BD1 1NQ. Places are limited, so please give us as much notice as possible to avoid disappointment.

Free Guided Tours
These take place from Tuesday-Thursday at 1pm. Places are limited, so please book in advance by contacting the box office on 0844 856 3797.
Visiting The RPS Collection.

Photo Books – Open call for books for On Landscape #2 London

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ON LANDSCAPE # 2 OPEN CALL FOR BOOKS
On Landscape #2 seeks to instigate a series of discussions, raise questions and incite debate on representations of landscape. A central element of On Landscape Project consists of a library of self-published, hand-made or short-run artists books relating to representations of landscape.

To this end, the On Landscape team (Dafna Talmor, Emma Wieslander and Minna Kantonen) is calling for submissions with a deadline of 16 February. The books will be chosen by Chiara Capodici and Fiorenza Pinna of 3/3, Gianpaolo Arena of Landscape Stories, Matèria’s gallery director Niccolò Fano and the On Landscape Project team. The book display aims to provide a platform for wider debates around landscape whilst presenting an opportunity for a range of practitioners to showcase their work.

The books from On Landscape #2 will add to a selection of titles stemming from the first edition of On Landscape Project last year, for which I chose titles with Bruno Ceschel from Self Publish Be Happy. It was a real treat to sift through over a hundred books and the diversity in terms of approach and design was notable. This selection was showcased in March 2014 at Yinka Shonibare’s Guest Projects in London and was a popular aspect of the show. See images below.IMG_8759 IMG_8752 IMG_8740 IMG_8748 IMG_8758 IMG_8735 IMG_8760 IMG_8756
All iPhone photos. Miranda Gavin

This year, titles from both editions of the project will be showcased within Matèria’s gallery space between April 17 and May 16, 2015 where photographic works by Dafna Talmor, Emma Wieslander and Minna Kantonen, (founders of On Landscape Project) will be on show.

DEADLINE
16 February 2015

SUBMISSION FORM
Click here

Photo News – Library of Birmingham Photography Archive threatened with closure and staff cuts

Tented hospital accommodation on the University campus: Patients in an open air ward watching a display in the grounds of the university.  c1916 MS 2724/2/B/4088

Tented hospital accommodation on the University campus: Patients in an open air ward watching a display in the grounds of the university. c1916 MS 2724/2/B/4088. From the extensive First World War archive housed at the library.

Professor in the Culture of Photography at the University of Brighton and Financial Times photography critic, Francis Hodgson wrote a post on his blog, Another One Bites the Dust (22 Dec 2014), alerting readers to the significant cuts being proposed at the Library of Birmingham (LoB), which were announced just before Christmas, and vitally to the proposal to close the Photography Archive and axe the entire staff, effective from May 2015.

Understandably, Hodgson was miffed. He refused to remain silent and carefully articulated the reasons why he believes that this proposal is wrong, as well as pointing out how:

“A host of funders, years before the new library opened, have raised money on the assumption (and, I suspect, on the contractual guarantee) that works purchased would be available to be seen by the public. How are they to react to the news that those pictures will now be locked into drawers, hidden, inaccessible, and neither circulating as they were intended to circulate nor preserved as they were intended to be preserved?

“It is one shameful thing to say a wealth of professional expertise is going to be thrown away. It is quite another to say that if the photography department of the Library of Birmingham is mothballed, then a number of fancy donors will in effect have been lied to. The donors should know that, and react to it.”

The LoB photography archive houses a collection of historical and contemporary photography of international importance and in the run-up to Christmas, it was a proposal that could easily have been lost in the holiday period, something that the council may well have anticipated in the hope that the proposals could be pushed through without a fight.

Hodgson noted that the closing date for representations is Monday 12 January 2015, and ended his post with a clear rallying call:

“You haven’t got time to do nothing. Take up the invitations below, where a number of contact addresses are given. React by whichever channel you choose, but react.”

Go to Another One Bites the Dust for ways to respond.

I circulated the petition link and tweeted news of the proposed cuts to my network of photo aficionados and photographers, as well as to some media personalities based in the Midlands who I have interviewed in the past. We can still keep up the pressure and, for those of you who are not UK-based, this is a matter of pressing concern for anyone interested in photography and its heritage. The proposed cuts and the rather underhand manner in which it is being carried out is shameful.

Director-General of  The Royal Photographic Society, Dr Michael Pritchard, also circulated an open letter to the press in support of UK photography and our photographic heritage, urging people to sign the letter, writing: “This matters to all of us as photographers, historians, institutions, organisations and companies working with photography.”

This is the RPS letter in its entirety:

LETTER FOR PUBLICATION

5 January, 2015

Sir,

As historians, scholars and photographers at the UK’s leading academic departments and photographic organisations we wish to express our profound concerned about the impact of the proposed cuts to the Library of Birmingham’s Photography Collections and axing of its entire staff.

The LoB’s photography holdings are one of the UK’s National Collections of Photography and designated of national and international importance. Built since the nineteenth century they contain major collections of historic photography from pioneers such as Francis Bedford and Francis Frith, to later photography from Sir Benjamin Stone, Birmingham Corporation, to the personal archives of important contemporary British photographers such a Paul Hill, John Blakemore and Daniel Meadows, and organisations such as Birmingham Photographic Society. They are collections which document the history of both professional and amateur photography in the UK.

In recent decades the Photography Collections Team has successfully attracted over £1 million in external sponsorship to support their work mounting major exhibitions, acquiring collections of international importance and undertaking the vital cataloguing and conservation work required to make them publically accessible. It has also had a national profile for its work commissioning contemporary photography from students and established artists. The archive has also formed the basis of numerous outreach projects with culturally diverse communities in and beyond the city. It has also presented exhibitions internationally in countries as diverse as Brazil, China and South Africa. The Photography Department has attracted huge audiences over the past 25 years through a combination of its gallery-based exhibitions and outdoor gallery which has brought the collections into the reach of everyone in the city. The Library is now widely recognised as a major photography hub for new and established photographers in the West Midlands and as a model for the intelligent, integrated presentation of both historical and contemporary photography.

At a time when government is actively encouraging precisely the kinds of partnerships between public and private funding which have proved so successful at LoB and emphasising the need to reach out to new audiences we believe that the photography collections, in particular, at the LoB should be protected and harnessed for the social, economic, cultural and educational benefit of the city and UK. Whatever the outcome of the city’s funding cuts consultation, the fait accompli abandonment the Photography Collection is wholly unwarranted and will have a disproportionate impact on the region, the UK and internationally. If Birmingham City Council feels unable to properly fund its internationally important photography collections then government via DCMS needs to step in.

Signed by:

Professor Elizabeth Edwards, Photographic History Research Centre, De Montfort University

Dr Michael Pritchard, The Royal Photographic Society

Photo Competition: Visual artist Lucia Pizzani and filmmaker David Jackson win Hotshoe Photofusion Award 2014

Now in its fifth year, I was delighted to announce the winners of the Hotshoe Photofusion Award 2014 at the gallery last week (11 December) with a short comment on the work, which I have reproduced below. The winners are:

LuciaPizanni
Lucia Pizzani for her Impronta series 2013 of ink-jet prints derived from the wet-plate collodion process. The work is a hybrid of sculpture, performance and photography and engages with the idea of the chrysalis on a number of levels, including its physical form through the use of specially-made chrysalis costumes. This series of delicate and slightly bizarre black-and-white images recalls the style of 19th-century Victorian ethnographic portraiture and suggest women on the verge of emerging, as well as ideas of metamorphosis and transformation. (photo above © Lucia Pizzani)

Film Still_04 Film Still_03 Film Still_02
David Jackson, This Is Not My House is a short film of 14 minutes shot in Malta and centred on the filmmaker’s widowed father. Gentle and beautifully crafted, the film avoids the usual clichés and instead offers a series of tenderly stitched vignettes that give a sense of the now increasingly solitary life of his ageing father. At one point in the film there is a short exchange between father and son, who also share the same first name, that conveys so much about their relationship and a growing similarity in mannerism, posture and even dress. (film stills above © David Jackson)

The winner/s receive a feature (in this case I have interviewed the winners for a post next week) on http://www.hotshoeinternational.com, and a free annual magazine subscription. Previous winners received a feature in the magazine but since it has changed to a quarterly frequency, this is no longer the case.

Since I started judging the selection in 2010, there have also been changes in the way the award is organised. For the first two years, I judged the winner from a shortlisted selection of six photographers and visual artists on show at the gallery. Since 2012, Photofusion has organised a salon-style hang showing single images from its members and this year for Photofusion SALON/14 there were over 1200 images from 140 artists.

People often ask me about judging photo competitions and in an early post, Discovering Your Competitive Side, I talked about how I select work. This year, as in previous years, I asked Photofusion to send me a folder with all the entries stripped of the photographer’s name so that I only have a number for each entry, plus an artist statement and CV with the names removed. In my line of work, there is, inevitably, work that I may recognize, but that is the nature of photo competitions so I try to maintain as much parity in judging the work as I can.

I like to look at the work first, reflect on it, return to it, and see which images stay in my mind over a couple of days. I also read the artist statement once I have looked at the images, not before, as they can help anchor the work, point to conceptual aspects that may not be gleaned solely by looking at the work, and suggest points of investigation by the photographer. Lastly I look at the CV, although in most cases I do not refer to this at all. I am only interested in the work submitted and supporting statements or captions, it makes no difference to me whether someone studied at the Royal College of Art, or a lesser-known institution or whether the entrant is self-taught. For me, it is about the work, not the perceived pedigree.

I then whittled 100 folders of single images down to a longlist of around 20, for which I requested any further images by the photographer who was, at this stage, named. For those of you who are interested here is the longlist:

Wendy Aldiss; Valerie Bennett; Tom Broadbent; James Clark; Scarlett Crawford; CJ Everard;  Gabriella Fabrowska; Keith Greenouth; Robert Hackman; Grace Hardy; Esme Horne; Aron Klein-Barge; Lucy Levene; Emilia Moisio; Vincenzo Sassu; Heather Shuker; Emma Evelyn Speight; Nai Wen Hsu; Remy Whitling

Help Kickstart Pierfranceso Celada’s book Hitoride, or By Yourself, Alone

After a five-year journey, I am very glad to present the project Hitoride in book form. You can make it a reality by pre-ordering your copy, or getting one of the limited edition offerings.
Pierfranceso Celada

cover

I get news of a fair few crowdfunding campaigns, some of which are by lesser-known photographers who need support in pushing out their campaigns further. Pierfrancesco Celada‘s Kickstarter is one such campaign. I first came across the project a couple of years ago at a Brighton-based Slideluck event and singled out his work as one of my favourite multimedia pieces in the selection. See previous post about his film Japan I wish I knew your name

Now you can help him produce the book for which he has just eight more days to reach his target. You can make a pledge and/or circulate news of his campaign to others. Follow this link to the Kickstarter campaign page HITORIDE. The book will be printed and distributed from Italy. For this project to receive its funding it must raise at least £12,000 by 9 Dec 2014 18:41. To date he has raised £4,513, so a big push is needed.

japan, I wish I knew your name
03_celada_hitoride
japan, I wish I knew your name

HITORIDE (Literally: By Yourself, Alone) is a photographic book by the Italian photographer and is based on his award-winning project Japan I wish I knew your name. The project reflects on miscommunication and isolation in Japan, one of the most populated countries in the world.

The book will cost £24, plus shipping costs. A selection of five limited edition prints from the project will be available for backers to choose from and will be available in three different sizes.

01_celada_hitoride

Pierfrancesco Celada (b.1979, Italy), after completing a PhD in Biomechanics is now concentrating his attention on a long-term project on life in Modern Megalopolis.In 2011 he won the Ideastap and Magnum Photo Photographic Award and interned at Magnum Photo.  His work has been exhibited internationally and his projects published on Newsweek, Times Lightbox, Amica, D-LaRepubblica among others. He is currently working on the second chapter of Modern Megalopolis: “People Mountain People Sea” exploring life in Chinese Megacities. For enquiries: photo@pierfrancescocelada.com

06_celada_hitoride

The Tokyo-Nagoya-Osaka Megalopolis, also called Taiheiyō Belt is a unique example of urban agglomeration with an estimated population of over 80 million people. Despite this incredibly high number of chances to interact, it seems that society is moving in the opposite direction.

If, in small societies, people have more of an active social role, with multiple connections and greater effect on the community [Eriksen, 2001]; in a larger society some people struggle to communicate with each other, or tend to maintain close contact with only a small number of the closest friends or family members. Some people tend to privilege other communicative systems offered by modern media and communication tools; others have an even more extreme approach.

“Nobody is ‘together’ in his work.” Ueyama Kazuki

Hikikomori (“pulling away, being confined”) is an acute social withdrawal phenomenon; a Japanese term that defines reclusive people who have decided to socially isolate themselves for periods longer then six month; often these time periods can be counted in years or even decades. It is estimated that 1% of the Japanese population may be Hikikomori. The young people portrayed in this project are all members of Newstart, a NPO working with Hikikomori and NEET (people not in education, employment or training) with the purpose of helping them to re-enter society.

japan, I wish I knew your name

All photos © Pierfrancesco Celada.