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News: 11 December 2017


The Photographic Record and Survey Movement: a predecessor to Images of England
A new book published to accompany a display at the Victoria and Albert Museum reveals the Images of England project is not without historical precedent.

The book, A Record of England: Sir Benjamin Stone & The National Photographic Record Association 1897 - 1910, reveals the extent to which the Images of England objectives, using photography in creating an historical record for the national good and using a volunteer workforce, were active in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in The Photographic Record and Survey Movement.

The book and exhibition focus on the history of one of the most high profile of these earlier schemes, the National Photographic Record Association (NPRA), and the role of its founder and most prominent member, Sir Benjamin Stone (1838 -1914). In 1897, Queen Victoria's Jubilee year, the Birmingham industrialist and Member of Parliament announced the formation of the NPRA.

John Collier, Portrait of Sir Benjamin Stone, c1897
John Collier, Portrait of Sir Benjamin Stone, c1897
Photo courtesy of Birmingham Central Library


The prime objective of the NPRA was to record the antiquities, ancient buildings, folk customs and other 'survivals' of historical interest for the future, forming a national memory bank in order to foster "a national pride in the historical associations of the country, or neighbourhood, in family traditions, or in personal associations."

The same ambitions which prompted the preservationist endeavors of the NPRA were reflected in the founding during the same period of The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (1877) and The National Trust (1895) to folk-song collecting, dialect societies, as well as the arts and crafts movement.

Photographic Record and Survey, Amateur Photographer, 22 May 1902
Photographic Record and Survey, Amateur Photographer, 22 May 1902
Photo courtesy of Birmingham Central Library


Stone set the agenda for the NPRA not only administratively but also intellectually and aesthetically, believing in 'straight' record photography. He was also the major contributor to the project. The V&A display represents a fraction of the 1532 platinum prints that he contributed to the 5883 photographs deposited at the British Museum by the NPRA's amateur supporters from local camera clubs and antiquarian societies between 1897 and 1910. In 2000 these prints were moved to the V&A.

Members of the Warwickshire Photographic Survey on an outing to Kinver, c1895
Members of the Warwickshire Photographic Survey on an outing to Kinver, c1895
Photo courtesy of Birmingham Central Library


In 1916, six years after the demise of the NPRA, members of the Surrey Photographic Survey, which had emerged as one of the most active and systematic, published a book, The Camera as Historian, which described techniques, archiving practices and, above all, systems of classification which reflected the increasing connection between surveys and the needs of the growing local studies collections in free libraries.

Although few British survey initiatives survived World War 1 in their original form, and despite decreasing coverage in the pages of the photographic press, survey photography remained a significant component of the work carried out by amateur photographers in clubs and societies until the 1950s when, like the Survey of Warwickshire, many were drawn to a close due to lack of support.

Nevertheless, the idea of local surveys however exists to this day across the world, institutionalized across multiple social levels from, in Britain, local camera clubs, through to community photography projects and perhaps most prominently today in the Images of England project.

Thank you to Pete James, Head of Photographs, Birmingham Central Library for sharing this information with us.

Exhibitions

Sir Benjamin Stone's Parliamentary Pictures
National Portrait Gallery
Room 28 case display
5th August -14th January 2007


Festivals, Ceremonies and Customs: Sir Benjamin Stone and the National Photographic Record
Victoria and Albert Museum
26 October 2006 - 14 January 2007

Publication

A Record of England: Sir Benjamin Stone & The National Photographic Record Association 1897-1910
Elizabeth Edwards, Peter James, Martin Barnes
Dewi Lewis Publishing and the V&A
October 2006.
ISBN 10: 1-904587-37-2

Collections

Birmingham Central Library
Sir Benjamin Stone Collection
Warwickshire Photographic Survey Collection
www.birmingham.gov.uk/libraries

National Portrait Gallery, London,
Department of Photographs.
Sir Benjamin Stone Parliamentary Portraits
www.npg.org.uk

Victoria and Albert Museum, London,
Department of Photographs.
NPRA Archive
www.vam.ac.uk



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