Scores of leading photographers and artists, including Don McCullin and David Hockney, have demanded that a decision to move the historic Royal Photographic Society Collection from West Yorkshire to London be reversed.

War photographer Don McCullin is among more than 80 prominent figures opposing the move of the historic photo archive from Bradford to London
[Photo credit: © C Cheesman]

Renowned photographers Martin Parr and David Hurn also join a list of more than 80 senior figures to oppose the already controversial move – designed to create the single largest collection on the art of photography in the world at the V&A in London.

In letters sent to The Guardian and The Times, the 83 signatories claim the decision to move the collection from the National Media Museum (NMM) in Bradford, West Yorkshire, is a ‘backward step in our understanding of the importance of visual culture’.

The letter adds: ‘The present move to separate the interdependent aspects of the art and science of photography reverses prevailing worldwide practice and takes the study of photo history in Britain back several decades.

‘Moving the majority of the museum’s photography collection away from Yorkshire goes against government policy when the museum was opened – to put facilities outside London – and against the present government’s claimed “northern powerhouse” strategy.

‘A number of us who have deposited our photographs in the museum did so specifically because we wanted our work to be preserved in the north.’

The collection includes the world’s earliest surviving photographic negative, created by William Henry Fox Talbot.

And Fox Talbot Museum curator Roger Watson is among the prominent figures opposing the move to Bradford, as is the film director Mike Leigh and actor Timothy West.

NMM/Science MuseumThe National Media Museum in Bradford

Resistance to the impending relocation from the NMM was reported by Amateur Photographer (AP) at the start of February, soon after AP first revealed the plan.

Initial anger at the Science Museum Group’s plan was then voiced in a public petition against ‘cultural asset stripping’ of the West Yorkshire institution.

It has since been confirmed that the archive to be transferred contains 270,000 images, 6,000 pieces of camera equipment, 26,000 books and periodicals, plus 10,000 items of archival materials that chart the invention and development of photography over the past 200 years.

The trustees of the Science Museum Group have decided to review 85,000 of the 400,000 objects they cited in their original announcement.

The precious collection 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.

For the full list of signatories, see The Guardian letter HERE.

The move to the V&A, which is 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.

As we reported last month, among those fighting the proposal was 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, 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.’

The RPS itself first expressed fears that the move to the V&A would lead to a ‘selective and narrow appreciation of photography’.

In a statement issued on 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.’

Magnum photographer Martin Parr

Magnum photographer Martin Parr has joined the list of 83 signatories

[Photo credit: © C Cheesman]