Sunday, 16 January 2011

Photographic collections of London

I’m not a hoarder, nor a collector – not even of books; I don’t have a personal archive: I am not a typical librarian at all in fact.

However, I have become interested in archives of late and have enrolled on a course – Investigating the archive: photographic collections of London.

The first of our visits was to the Rothschild Archive - housed in an impressive building, close by the Bank of England.

It is not particularly accessible – two referees are needed to gain access to the reading rooms - and it is not specifically photographic: the Rothschilds are a banking dynasty, so the archive is as often as not accessed by economic historians.

However, the archive includes a photograph album once owned by Charlotte de Rothschild, which includes prints by Julia Margaret Cameron and has the largest collection of autochromes in the country – over 700 plates taken by Lionel de Rothschild . There are also photographs relating to the running of the company: portraits of staff, and some great pictures of people at work in the gold refinery.

Many archives – personal and business – have photographic materials, including incidentally the archives of The University of Westminster (see their flickr stream).

In some of the reading in preparation of the visit, some rather unflattering conjectures on the nature of collecting were discussed. But, as well as collecting being possibly a “masturbatory pursuit of solitary pleasures,” it is also “one way in which we hope to understand the world around us, and reconcile our places within it.” (Pearce, 1995: 8; 25).

Further reading

Ford, C. (2002) ‘Hannah, Charlotte ...and Julia’ in Rothschild archive review of the year; April 2001 – March 2002. The Rothschild Archive Trust. Available at [accessed 14/01/2011]

Pearce, S. M. (1995). Collecting processes: an investigation into collecting in the European tradition. London: Routledge

'The colours of another world' [pdf] Available at [accessed 14/01/2011]