The addition of the Royal Photographic Society's huge collection of prints, books and equipment sees the museum create a state of the art new centre - and plans for further expansion
Designed by David Kohn Architects, the new centre will open in Autumn 2018 and more than double the V&A’s current photography exhibition space. The opening will be accompanied by a museum-wide photography festival, a new digital resource, and a new history of photography course run with the Royal College of Art.
The V&A plans to run events and activities in the new centre, and will continue to expand the facility. Phase Two will see the museum add more gallery space, and create a teaching and research facility, a browsing library, and a studio and darkroom which will enable photographers’ residencies.
The new centre comes as the V&A transfers the Royal Photographic Society’s collection from the Science Museum Group, which was formerly held in the National Media Museum in Bradford. The transfer adds over 270,000 photographs, 26,000 publications, and 6000 pieces of equipment to the V&A’s holdings – which was already one of the largest and most important in the world, including around 500,000 works collected since the foundation of the museum in 1852.
The RPS collection includes work by key historical figures such as William Henry Fox Talbot, Roger Fenton, Julia Margaret Cameron, Alfred Stieglitz, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Paul Strand, and many more, plus ground-breaking photographic equipment. It also features contemporary works by leading British photographers such as Sir Don McCullin, Martin Parr and Mark Power.
Purpose-built storage facilities will house the V&A’s expanded holdings, and an extensive project to digitise the RPS collection is now underway. While not on display, prints can be accessed in the V&A’s Prints & Drawings Study Room by appointment on Tuesday – Friday.
“The transfer of the RPS collection is a catalyst for a dramatic reimagining of the way in which photography is presented at the V&A,” says Martin Barnes, senior curator of photographs at the V&A. “It will enable a major expansion of spaces, programme and infrastructure, creating a world centre for our visitors to enjoy, as well as an accessible resource for academic research and scholarship.
“The V&A’s Photography Centre will be one of the few places in the world where a chronological history of the medium illustrated with original photographs, equipment and archive material can always be seen. We want to reach beyond restrictive definitions of photography to embrace the broader cultures of the medium.
“We have exciting plans for the combined collections that celebrate the fine art of photography alongside its technology and look forward to working closely with the RPS on this.”