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Victoria and Albert Museum, Word & Image Department, Photographs Section

Contact Details

South Kensington
London
SW7 2RL

Telephone: +44 (0)20 7942 2512 (Prints & Drawings Study Room)

Primary Email: pdp@vam.ac.uk

Primary Website: Click here

Secondary Website: Click here

Primary Contact: Martin Barnes, Senior Curator of Photographs

Secondary Contact: Louise Shannon, Curator, Photographs

Conditions of Access

The Print Room is open without appointment from Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm.
Last application for objects is at 4pm.
The Print Room is closed on Sunday and Monday.

Please note that the Prints & Drawings Study Room is closed for stocktaking for a period during September and October.

Bookings for groups visiting the Print & Drawings Study Room should be made through the V&A Bookings Line by telephoning (0)20 7942 2211 in advance. A free opinions service, where curators can offer information (though not valuations) on photographs, operates in the Prints & Drawings Study Room from 2.30pm to 5pm on the first Tuesday of the month.

Please leave your coat and bags in the cloakroom on Level O. You will be given a clear plastic bag to bring anything you need to have with you in the Study Room. Please don't bring any food, drink, chewing gum, ballpoint pens or newspapers with you as these are harmful to the objects.

Photography for personal research is allowed but only with the permission of a member of staff, and if a copyright declaration form is signed. If photography for commercial or scholarly reasons is required please consult a member of staff.

Only pencils are allowed.

Laptops are allowed, but overseas visitors are advised to bring UK adaptors.

Wheelchair access is available.

Finding Aids
Catalogue entries for photographs held by the Print Room can currently be searched using the Catalogues of the Prints, Drawings, Paintings & Photographs Collections.

Some of the photographs have been scanned and can be searched on V&A Search the Collections.

Also of value in looking for photographs are publications based either in part or wholly on the collection:

The Land: Twentieth Century Landscape Photographs, edited by Mark Haworth-Booth. 1975.

Old and Modern Masters of Photography, by Mark Haworth-Booth. 1981.

A Guide to Early Photographic Processes, by Brian Coe and Mark Haworth-Booth. 1983.

The Golden Age of British Photography 1839-1900, edited by Mark Haworth-Booth. 1984.

Camille Silvy River Scene, France, by Mark Haworth-Booth. 1992.

Photography: An Independent Art Photographs from the Victoria and Albert Museum 1839-1996, by Mark Haworth-Booth. 1997.

Photography Now, by Mark Haworth-Booth. 1998.

Clementina, Lady Hawarden: studies from life, 1857-1864, by Virgina Dodier. 1999.

Benjamin Brecknell Turner Rural England through a Victorian Lens, by Martin Barnes. 2001.

Things: A Spectrum of Photography 1850-2001, by Mark Haworth-Booth. 2005.
Summary of Holdings
The V&A holds the national collection of the art of photography in the UK. A changing selection of 19th and 20th century and contemporary photographs, drawn from the Collection, forms special exhibitions and illustrates a history of photography in the Photography Gallery. The Photography Collection is one of the largest and most important in the world. It is international and ranges from 1839 to the present. The Museum’s collection began in 1856, in the Museum’s library, later the National Art Library. The first acquisitions of photographic art were made by Sir Henry Cole, the founding director, from the annual exhibition of the Photographic Society of London. Two years later, an international exhibition of photography was held – the first at any museum.

In the 1850s, acquisitions were made direct from major creative photographers, and the collection grew into one of the richest in the world. By 1859 the Library had acquired over 8,000 prints including work by Roger Fenton and Edouard Baldus. The Museum was the first to buy and exhibit the radical photographs of Julia Margaret Cameron in 1865, and in 1868 received one of the finest early private collections of photography, the Townshend collection, by bequest, which includes an outstanding collection of photographs by Gustave Le Gray. The Museum started collecting classic early photography, retrospectively, in the 1930s and contemporary photographic art once more in the 1960s.

The collection was transferred from the Library to the Department of Prints and Drawings in 1977 to become the nucleus of the ‘national collection of the art of photography in the United Kingdom’. As such, it is international in scope and spans the whole history of the subject from 1839 to the present. It has rapidly expanded to represent classic photography of the 19th century and more especially of the 20th century, and to take a leading role in the collection of contemporary photography. Important photographers represented in the Photography Collection include Julia Margaret Cameron, Clementina Lady Hawarden, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bill Brandt, Don McCullin and many others. An index to the photographers is available in the Prints & Drawings Study Room and on line at www.vam.ac.uk/pdcatalogue

A major reference collection of publications on photography is available in the National Art Library. The Library continues to hold photographic publications that include text, including William Henry Fox Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature (1844-6) and Peter Henry Emerson’s Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads (1886). Since 1977 the Library has acquired substantially in the field of photography publications, including key journals, monographs, early texts, exhibition catalogues and experimental publications. These are supplemented by ‘Information Files’ on photographers and institutions, containing such materials as press cuttings, exhibition announcements, and sometimes correspondence. The V&A’s Museum of Performing Arts, and the Indian and South East Asian department also hold photographic archives. The Photography Collection is distinct from V&A Images and picture library where reproductions of works of art in the Museum are available.

Most photographs in the Photography Collection within the Word & Image Department (newly formed department merging the former Department of Prints, Drawings and Paintings and the National Art Library) not currently on display are available to visitors through the Prints & Drawings Study Room (Level 4, Henry Cole Wing).

There are 'Resource' or 'Topic' boxes of photographs in the Print & Drawings Study Room that contain selections of work ordered into themes, including The History of Photography, Photographic Processes and Techniques, Cultural Diversity and Contemporary Photography. An information sheet accompanies each photograph. Education Boxes are designed for use with education groups but are also useful as an introduction to the Collection. See Resource Boxes
Size of Collection

The collection consists of around 500,000 photographs and includes the following photographic processes and formats among others: daguerreotypes, cyanotypes, calotypes, albumen prints, stereographs, platinum prints, silver gelatin prints, various colour prints, albums, and lantern slides.