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100 years of the Photographic Department: Part One

A history

In the first part of our centenary celebrations, we look at how the team has evolved over the last 100 years

History of the department

Image: Staff members Lucy Close and Betty Churchyard in the 1970s

The Photographic Department started life as a team of three in 1919. Their original function was to photograph the collection for record and to produce prints and cards for sale. By 1939, this work had expanded to record the cleaning of pictures.

The war years

Image: Images from a wartime photo album (now in the Gallery's Archive) showing paintings in the slate mine in Manod, Wales

During the Second World War the staff was reduced to two, and when the Gallery’s collection was moved out of Blitz-struck London to a disused slate mine in Wales, a photographic studio and dark room was set up in the mine.

After the war, the department grew to support the work of the newly established Conservation Department and took over X-radiography from the Scientific Department who had been producing X-Rays since the 1930s.

The digital years

1993 saw the construction of the first secure, environmentally controlled and monitored Photographic Archive. It contains the Gallery’s photographs from establishment to the present day, providing a historical record of the collection, people, and building. The archive was relocated to its current site in 2003:

During the mid-1990s, when digital photography was in its infancy, the Gallery embarked on the ground-breaking MARC (Methodology for Art Reproduction in Colour) project, funded through a European Community research scheme, to develop a digital camera capable of making high resolution images of our paintings. Using a second version of this camera, capable of producing final colour images with a resolution of c.10000 x 10000 pixels, our entire collection was photographed and digitised over a period of 18 months starting in 2000.

Photographing the collection

Technology may have changed over the years but the need to photograph the collection has stayed the same:

Technical photography

A large part of the department's remit involves technical imaging to support research undertaken by curatorial, scientific and conservation teams.

Different forms of technical imaging can reveal aspects about paintings not always visible to the human eye, for example:

The department today

Image: The department today in the Photographic Studio

Now a team of eight, we continue to work at the highest level of cultural heritage photography, providing high quality, colour managed images worthy of the masterpieces in our collection.