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Protest Grows Against London V&A’s Transfer of Photography Collection from Museum in Yorkshire

In an effort by the Victoria and Albert Museum, or V&A, in London to make photography a priority, they will be turning one wing into a center dedicated to the medium and intend to add a collection of 400,000 photographs from the National Media Museum in Bradford, West Yorkshire, to the V&A, according to Gareth Harris in the Art Newspaper. However, the proposed move of this portion of the Bradford museum’s collection has drawn protests and critics, some of whom signed a letter to the Guardian this weekend, including artists David Hockney and Martin Parr. They claim the move will strip the northern city of a major cultural resource, and further expressed concern that it could lead to the closure of the National Media Museum. The leader of the Conservative politicians on Bradford’s council, Simon Cooke, even went so far as to call the deal “an act of cultural rape on my city.”

The transfer agreement was made as part of a deal announced in February between the V&A and the Science Museum Group, which runs the museum in Bradford, and stipulated that a portion of the Bradford museum’s collection of over three million photographs would join the V&A’s existing collection of 500,000 photographs. Most of the items included in the swap are owned by the Royal Photographic Society (RPS), which has collected photography since 1853. Its holdings include early cameras and work by such figures as Julia Margaret Cameron and Roger Fenton. The V&A plans to begin moving the works at the end of this year.

Martin Barnes, the senior curator of photographs at the V&A, notes in response to critics that the RPS holdings have only been in Bradford since 2003, and that “the items to be transferred are mainly light-sensitive and have therefore been viewed via limited appointment in a study room,” further defending the move by saying “in the long term, this will benefit photography and give even better access to these astonishing collections. We need the photography community to support us in this collaborative initiative.”