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400,000 photographs to be moved from Bradford to London to create world’s largest imagery collection

The National Media Museum is due to lose its photography collection to the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) creating the world’s largest of photography in London.

More than 400,000 photographs and related paraphernalia held at Bradford’s National Media Museum will be transferred to the V&A, making the London-based museum the single largest collection of photography in the world  – a move that will see, “in the short term”, the permanent gallery space dedicated to photographs at the V&A doubling in size.

The collection being transferred encompasses vintage prints, the world’s first negative, unique daguerreotypes and early colour photographs, as well as important albums, books, cameras and the archives of major photographers.

The collection – which includes frontier photographers like William Henry Fox Talbot, Hill & Adamson, Roger Fenton and Julia Margaret Cameron, holdings by classic artists like Alfred Stieglitz, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Gertrude Käsebier, Paul Strand and Ansel Adams, and contemporary photographers like Martin Parr, Sarah Jones, Susan Derges and Simon Roberts – will be made available to the public in a collection titled The International Photography Resource Centre.

Rarities in the collection Oscar Rejlander’s 1857  composite The Two Ways of Life, Mervyn O’Gorman’s 1913 autochrome Christina, Yusuf Karsh’s iconic Winston Churchill portrait and Angus McBean’s surreal study of Audrey Hepburn.

The National Media Museum in Bradford – one of the four museums that make up The Science Museum Group – is to “refocus its photography collections to align with its own strategic emphasis on the science, technology and culture of light and sound.”

It will retain collections considered relevant to this refocusing, such as the Kodak Museum collection, the Daily Herald archive, and the Impressions Gallery archive.

The National Media Museum also stressed the development of a new £1.5 million interactive light and sound gallery, due to open in March 2017.

How so many photographic artefacts will be safely transferred, and which organisation has jurisdiction and ultimate responsibility, is still being negotiated – although the onus is on the V&A to take point.

Once transferred, the collection will be stored, digitised and made accessible for study.

The Science Museum Group said in a statement: “The Society will be keen to see the V&A expand its remit to take responsibility for the National Photography Collection. There will be further announcements over the coming weeks regarding the transfer, timings and impact on the other collections held at the National Media Museum and staff.”

Science Museum Group Director, Ian Blatchford, said: “Our two museums have a long and proud shared history and this decision illustrates just how seriously we take our common mission to cherish and share the nation’s extraordinary cultural heritage.”

V&A Director, Martin Roth, said: “The V&A and Science Museum Group have shared origins and uniting our complementary collections will create a peerless historical and artistic photography resource.

“Our ambitious plans for enhancing digital access, collaborative research, touring exhibitions and creating an International Photography Resource Centre will mean that future generations of visitors and researchers will benefit from these examples of the most important artistic developments in artistic photographic history.”