"We are now making history, and the sun picture supplies the means of passing down a record of what we are, and what we have achieved in this nineteenth century of our progress..."
John Thomson, 1891
Within a few years of its public announcement in 1839, photography had become an indispensible tool of documentation and artistic expression. Despite early technical limitations of slow exposures, bulky equipment and often demanding chemical procedures, the camera swiftly became a persistent and inquisitive witness to the construction - and sometimes destruction - of the modern world. Explorers, engineers, scientists, archaeologists, commercial entrepreneurs and amateurs enthusiastically embraced the medium and the second half of the 19th century saw the accumulation of a visual archive of major documentary and artistic importance. The British Library possesses a unique collection of such material, as well as major collections of early texts, patents and other technical documentation relating to the history of photography.
Despite the documentation of isolated areas of these holdings, much of the Library’s photographic collections remain uncatalogued and unexploited. In a three-year project generously funded by the Jerwood Charity, the Library’s photographic collections will progressively be made available through an integrated catalogue. This project will, in many cases for the first time, make these collections - with their broad geographical scope and diverse range of subject-matter - accessible to scholars, photographic historians and other researchers. The project will also incorporate a Library-wide conservation initiative for the future preservation of these visual resources.
The links to the right will take you to a selection of images from the Library’s collections. There is also a searchable Catalogue of Photographically Illustrated Books in the British Library.
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