The Warwickshire Photographic Survey project is now into its third year since work began in November 2010 and continues to make good progress. Staff and volunteers have now digitised and catalogued over half of the collection, accounting for 17,000 of an estimated total of 30,000 prints.
The Survey Collection has always been one of our most popular visual archives from both the perspective of our users and staff engaged in outreach work with schools, community organisations and local history groups. The main impetus for the project has been to improve access to the collection by presenting the digital content in a way that will make the collection more accessible to users both within Birmingham and outside of the city.
From next year we hope to make this digital content accessible using a range of web-based resources, exhibitions and catalogues. Re-packaging the earlier photographs and creating digital surrogates will allow the physical collection to be preserved more effectively temperature-controlled storage areas properly suited to the storage and permanent preservation of historic photographs.
The collection has been very complex to catalogue and digitise due to the haphazard way in which it evolved after the Second World War. The core collection, estimated to number around 12,000 items, includes the administrative records and collected prints of the original Survey (c1890 – 1958) plus 300 prints of the Handsworth Photographic Survey (c1898 – 1911) and around 1500 topographical views of Warwickshire collected by the local historian Howard Shakespeare Pearson (c1890s – 1910s). Additional photographic material numbering around 18,000 items was brought into Central Library the core collection after the Survey Committee was disbanded around 1958.It will be unclear exactly how many items the collection will number until the project is completed as no itemised catalogue exists, access to prints traditionally made possible via a card index. A good deal of work has also been done making contact with copyright holders, if they are known or still exist, to establish procedures for reproducing, displaying and accessing digital content in a way that is compliant with copyright law.
Here are two strikingly different examples of the many images we have found during the course of this project, which I think encapsulate perfectly both the artistic and social-documentary approach of the diverse photographers whose work appears in the collection. The collection as a whole provides a vivid and sometimes moving visual record for posterity of the changing face of Birmingham and Warwickshire over 100 years of the region’s history, as well as the lives of the region’s urban and rural population.
The progress that has been made so far could not have been achieved without the support and hard work of colleagues and volunteers who have assisted on this project – many thanks to them!
Archivist (Warwickshire Photographic Survey)
For previous posts about the Warwickshire Photographic Survey click here.