Plans to move the historic RPS Collection from the National Media Museum in Bradford to London have sparked anger as thousands sign a petition against ‘cultural asset stripping’ of the West Yorkshire institution.
Hands, 1930s, by Atelier von Behr
© RPX/Royal Photographic Society/Science & Society Picture Library
The move to the V&A – expected to take place in the summer – aims to create an International Photography Resource Centre at the London museum, which already holds 500,000 photos and the ‘single largest collection on the art of photography in the world’.
However, more than 11,000 people have backed a petition calling on the government to intervene and prevent the Science Museum Group’s relocation of the 400,000-strong photographic archive.
‘This is pure asset stripping. It will endanger the long-term viability of the Bradford museum and further concentrate the nation’s cultural treasures in an already grotesquely bloated capital,’ claims a petition launched on 38degrees.org by Neville Walker.
Among those against the proposal is Simon Cooke, leader of the Conservatives at Bradford Council who, in an open letter, wrote: ‘We don’t have much up here and it fills me with a kind of sad rage that you felt able to visit this act of cultural rape on my city.’
Also lobbying against the move to the capital is Bradford South MP Judith Cummins.
Launching a petition on change.org, Cummins called on the government to ‘stop the stealth move to downgrade our National Media Museum’.
Cummins added: ‘The National Media Museum is a hugely important part of the cultural offer, not just in Bradford and the region but for the nation as a whole.’
Amateur Photographer has sought comment from the V&A.
On Monday, we reported the RPS’s concern that the move will spell the loss of a ‘national museum of photography’ which, in the past, has been able to focus on the science as well as the art of photography.
The RPS fears the move to the V&A will lead to a ‘selective and narrow appreciation of photography’.
Although the RPS said it has received a ‘commitment’ that the collection ‘will be retained as a distinct entity’ within the V&A, it stressed that the transfer will mean ‘no future national museum of photography’.
In a statement dated 31 January, the RPS said: ‘While the move will prove beneficial in opening up access to the RPS Collection, the Society is concerned that the absence of a single institution with the curatorial expertise to collect and interpret all aspects of photography beyond its art will lead to a selective and narrow appreciation of photography that existed before the formation of the National Media Museum in 1983 when the V&A and Science Museum worked independently.’
The RPS added: ‘There will be challenges for the V&A, which houses the national collection of art photography, to deal with photographic technology and science that forms a key part of the RPS Collection.’
In response, a V&A spokesperson told Amateur Photographer on Monday: ‘V&A photographs curators will take on overall responsibility for the research and conservation of the entire RPS collection and will work collaboratively with experts in all aspects of photographic history.’
The precious archive has been held at the NMM in Bradford since 2003, when the institution was called the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television. Before then, it was housed at the RPS’s base in Bath.
As well as precious photos, the RPS archive contains 8,000 pieces of photographic equipment and 31,000 books, periodicals and documents, charting the invention and development of photography over the past 200 years.
‘Sadness’, by Julia Margaret Cameron 1863 © Royal Photographic Society/Science & Society Picture Library
Bewengungsstudie’ (Movement study), 1926 by Rudolf Koppitz © RPX/Royal Photographic Society/Science & Society Picture Library