Monday, 24 January 2011

Investigating archives - The Wiener Library

“If we don’t save our history, it will perish” say the Wiener Library [Institute of Contemporary History] on their website.

The library was started by Alfred Wiener, who having fled Nazi Germany in 1933 set up the Jewish Central Information Office in Amsterdam; then fleeing Amsterdam in 1939, he moved the institution to Manchester Square in London. His purpose: to expose the true nature of Nazism to the world.

The library continues this work to this day. Its collection includes well over 10,000 images, a small proportion of which have been digitised and can be previewed online; there are also books, pamphlets, eye-witness accounts and other documents.

It has for fifty years remained in a building on Devonshire Street, but its lease has now expired and it will be moving shortly to Russell Square.  It will then be next door to the newly formed Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, with which it will work.

Jonathan Ross embarrassed by poor research

We all use Wikipedia for research, but as this video clip illustrates, you should always verify the information with more authoritative sources.

Further reading

'Evaluating information' in the information skills section of the Library webpages.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

V&A Prints and Drawings Study Room

On Saturday, I went down to the area of London which is apparently now known as 'Albertopolis' - to explore the V&A Prints and Drawings Study Room.

This was part of my 'Investigating the archive' course.

Here again were prints by Julia Margaret Cameron.  Alongside, was work by Fox Talbot, John Watson, Roger Fenton, Eugene Atget and Gustav Le Gray. 

The prints were more carefully looked after here than in the Rothschild archive: we learnt that the V&A use three sizes of archival box - imperial, semi-imperial and royal.

It was more accesssible too: anyone can get access to the Prints Room and ask for these prints to be brought out for their pleasure.

As well as photography pioneers, a whole range of other photographers are represented.  There are also resource boxes with a range of work to illustrate the history of photography. 

You can search the collections online.

Crimp (1993) suggests, "if photography was in invented in 1839, it was only discovered in the 1960s and 1970s."  However, I think the curators at the V&A might disagree: the first exhibition here (the first in any museum) was in 1858; they have a photograph of it.


Crimp, D. (1993).  On the museum's ruins.  Boston: MIT Press.

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]

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Photography festivals - roundup

The Telegraph website has helpfully provided a round-up of international photography festivals.

Further reading

Trenkler, K. International Photography Festivals. European Photography v. 29 no. 84 (Winter 2008/2009) p. 76-7

Monday, 10 January 2011

Old Periodicals Online

An advert in this 1910 The British Journal Photographic Almanac declares the Regent Street Polytechnic - a former incarnation of the University of Westminster - as having, "The first, largest and most successful school of photography in the world."  You will find it here.

This e-copy resides on the Internet Archive

Thanks to Jo Barker for sending me the link to the photography periodicals section of The Digital Book Index.  There are also links to early copies of Photograms of the year (copies of which are also in the library), which are gems! (see here for example). And there are other sections to explore: the Photography Collections page looks particularly interesting.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The "objectness" of art books

According to an article in The Telegraph in November, Steidl have opened a new bookshop in Soho – well not a bookshop, rather a “forum for books.” This is called Q Book but as the website only has a picture of empty shelves, I am not sure whether it has opened yet, so I will need to investigate and report back.

The Telegraph article is well worth a look, as it discusses the recent trend for art books – and specifically photographic art books – to be released in expensive limited editions (see the winner of the Lucie’s for example).

Iwona Blazwick, the director of the Whitechapel Gallery, is quoted as saying:
The pleasure for me is that if you can't afford to buy a work of art, you can afford to buy a book as a work of art. There is an interest in the "objectness" of art books.
As well as Q Book, three other bookshops in London get a mention – Marcus Campbell, Claire de Rouen, and another newly opened one at Somerset House – Rizolli.


Beyfuss, Druisilla (2010). 'Speaking volumes; Limited-edition art and photography books are increasingly treasured as works of art in themselves'. The Daily Telegraph, 13 November, 11, 12, 14. Available from Factiva [Online Database] [Accessed 18/12/2010].

See also

Steidl special editions [PDF]

Related posts

Useful libraries and bookshops in London