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UAL Research Online

The John Wall Archive: The Directory of British Photography Collections

Williams, Val and Christan, Robin (2014) The John Wall Archive: The Directory of British Photography Collections. In: Archives 2.0, 25 to 26 November 2014, National Media Museum.

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Type of Research: Conference, Symposium or Workshop Item
Creators: Williams, Val and Christan, Robin
Description:

A joint collaborative presentation by Val Williams and Robin Christian which explored the archive of the Directory of British Photographic collections in a paper by Val Williams and a film by Robin Christian.

The Directory of British Photographic Collections was published by the Royal Photographic Society in 1977. In the introductory section,its editor, Dr John Wall noted that the Directory: "provides a comprehensive account of all the photographic collections of note in the British Isles, in response to a widespread need felt, and voiced, increasingly in the world of photography at large." He was at pains to point out that: "every kind of photographic collection has been the subject of this enquiry and none has been excluded from consideration: private or commercial; personal or open to public view; published or unpublished; ‘historic’ or contemporary; negatives, copy-negatives or positive prints and transparencies."

In the introduction, Wall stressed the instability of the photo collection, noting that: "Like the units of a conventional book-form library, the units of a photographic library can be removed, dispersed, transferred to other collections, begged, borrowed and even stolen. There is an unstable quality about even the most apparently permanent of photographic collections. What we have done is ‘fix’ or record a collection at a particular moment in time, just as a photograph of, say, a moving object is itself ‘a moment frozen out of time.’"

The Directory took four years to compile. Although Wall was the beneficiary of the files collected by a number of other records projects, including the proposed Register of Photographic Surveys of Buildings in the British Isles, and Colin Osman’s planned National Register of Photographic Archives, most of the research was carried out by Wall and his team. The Sunday Times launched a campaign to help to fund the work, and the RPS published and sold sets of reproductions of photographs from the Society’s collection to provide extra income.

The archive is mainly made up of papers - letters from Wall to archivists and collection managers, letters to him in response to the appeal for information about collections and hundreds of file cards. Organizations and individuals were asked to complete a questionnaire about their collections, many of which are still in the archive. During this time, important relationships were formed – Wall’s with the RPS and with the publishers of the Directory, with helpers and staff and owners and managers of collections. Most of these relationships developed via correspondence, and so become accessible to us, over three decades later. Wall had a particular style of letter writing, very much of its time - courteous, slightly old fashioned, sometimes apologetic, as the demands of the project and the publication became pressing. Making a collection of file cards, letters and minutes of meetings come alive is no easy task, and because of this, PARC commissioned Robin Christian, who is managing the collection, to make a short film which captures the essence of the archive, its tone and its presence.

Official Website: http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/Collection/ArchivesConference
Your affiliations with UAL: Research Centres/Networks > Photography & the Archive Research Centre (PARC)
Colleges > London College of Communication
Date: 25 November 2014
Related Websites: http://www.photographyresearchcentre.co.uk
Event Location: National Media Museum
Date Deposited: 22 Dec 2014 15:04
Last Modified: 26 Jan 2016 13:43
Item ID: 7719
URI: http://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/7719

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