For the past 10 months I have been working on a project to digitise the records of the Warwickshire Photographic Survey, founded in 1890 by two local photographers, William Jerome Harrison and John Benjamin Stone. The Survey was formed to create a photographic record of the urban and rural landscape of Warwickshire which was undergoing rapid transformation as a result of the Agrarian and Industrial Revolutions. Each year the Survey Committee allocated teams of photographers to a geographic area, who would draw up lists of promising sites and buildings, after which photographic studies of the area were undertaken.
A selection of photography was exhibited annually atBirminghamArtGalleryand prints were regularly deposited at the Central Library. Despite a lull in activity during the First and Second World Wars, the Survey remained functional until the late 1950s. Birmingham Local Studies and Reference Library continued to add prints from diverse sources to the existing Survey Collection right up until 2008, which increasingly reflected a more diverse subject matter than that created during the early life of the Survey. The collection provides striking visual evidence of the changes that have marked the local landscape, for example the effects rapid industrialisation and economic decline, wartime bombing, and slum clearance and redevelopment projects. It also documents the main events that shaped the areas history and the lives of people of all classes and ethnic backgrounds.
The Warwickshire Photographic Survey remains one of our most popular collections. The digitisation project, assisted by volunteers and members of staff, aims to catalogue the 20,000 plus photographs with the digitised images forming a searchable on-line image database. This should help make this fascinating visual resource available to a wider audience electronically, whilst allowing us to address some of the custodial and copyright issues relating to the collection and preserve the original photographs in more suitable temperature-controlled storage on moving to the new Library in 2013.
Michael Hunkin, Archivist/Digitiser (Warwickshire Photographic Survey)