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The transfer of the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) collection from the Science Museum Group will add more than 270,000 photographs, 26,000 publications and 6000 pieces of camera-related equipment to the V&A, which already holds one of the most important photography collections in the world.

Pioneering works

RPS items include work by British pioneers such as William Henry Fox Talbot, Hill & Adamson, Roger Fenton and Julia Margaret Cameron, as well as major holdings by international artists like Alfred Stieglitz, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Gertrude Käsebier, Paul Strand and Ansel Adams.

Through its FuturePlan development project, the V&A will establish a new Photography Centre. Due to open in autumn 2018, it will be accompanied by a museum-wide photography festival and a new digital resource for photography enthusiasts around the world. 

The creation of the centre will mean the V&A can more than double its current photography display area in original 19th century picture galleries by 2018.

Phase two of the project will include expanding the gallery space further and providing a teaching and research space, and a browsing library.

New purpose-built storage facilities have been created to house the expanded photography collection, and an extensive project to catalogue and digitise the RPS collection is now under way. This digitisation will provide web access and research resources for all audiences around the world. The museum will also continue its programme of major photographic exhibitions at the V&A and other venues in the UK and overseas. 

WEB Benjamin Brecknell Turner, The Willowsway, .jpg

Benjamin Brecknell Turner, The Willowsway, Elfords, Hawkhurst, 1852-4, Albumen print ® Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The integration of the RPS collection with the V&A’s photography holdings unites precious objects, such as William Henry Fox Talbot’s first cameras with his handmade prints and 1844 publication, The Pencil of Nature. Julia Margaret Cameron’s camera lens joins her entrancing photographic portraits and letters, while Frederick Scott Archer’s glass-plate camera is reunited with the photographer’s prints.

The V&A’s new Photography Centre will showcase these historic stories as well as many modern and contemporary images.

When not on display, photographs from the V&A’s collection can be accessed in the Prints & Drawings Study Room.

Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A, said: “Photography is set to become one of the defining collections of the 21st century V&A. We have been conserving and interpreting photography since 1852, and we are now delighted to welcome the RPS collection to the museum.”