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In addition to our manuscripts, archives and printed books, the John Rylands Library holds a number of important visual collections, which have been actively curated since 2012. They include, fine art (paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures), decorative art (textiles, ceramics, and glass), and photography. The photography collection is perhaps the most substantial and significant of these with the number of photographs held in the collection in excess of 100,000.  The photographs date from the 1840s to the present; the scope is international with an excellent representation of British and local photographs and it includes a full repertoire of analogue photographic processes and formats.

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The collection is most rich in the area of British art photography, especially of the Victorian period. Particular strengths are evident in the genres of portraiture, landscape, and architecture. There are excellent examples of early British photo-books and the collection contains examples of works by eminent British Victorian photographers, including William Henry Fox Talbot, Roger Fenton, Henry Peach Robinson and Francis Frith. With support from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art the ‘Out of the Ether’ project aims to make accessible the currently undocumented collection of Victorian British photography by making it discoverable via our library catalogue and online image collections, unlocking its use with our audiences. It will also help to further our understanding of the origins of the photographic medium within Victorian British Art.

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Calotype of large Anchor

The first item to be fully catalogued is Intérieurs anglais a portfolio of cyanotypes from Bedford Lemere & Co. the leading English firm of architectural photographers between 1870 and 1930. Given the title, the album was likely compiled for the French market, where the Prussian blue coloured cyanotypes enjoyed greater popularity than here in Great Britain. The photographs within the album document the interiors of some of the grandest houses in England, Scotland, and Wales, as well as notable public buildings, c1900.  The images themselves focus on fireplaces, staircases and entrance halls, key areas in which opulence and decadent decoration told a story of the wealth of the owners of these fantastic properties. A record detailing every one of the prints will soon be accessible via the University of Manchester library search and available as digital images via our online image collection in LUNA within the coming weeks.

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The Bedford Lemere & Co. Cyanotypes

The significance of Bedford Lemere’s work cannot be over-estimated. The company was established by Bedford Lemere in 1861; his son Henry (also known as Harry) Bedford Lemere joined the family firm in 1881 and was one of the principal photographers. The company built a reputation for technical excellence but also for creating images of great beauty. John Ruskin recommended the work of Bedford Lemere should be available in ‘Every Art School in the Kingdom’ [1].  Historic England holds an extensive archive of Bedford Lemere material which has been conserved, catalogued and digitised. It comes as no surprise to uncover our own connections to the work Bedford Lemere, as they photographed both Althorp the former home of our main printed Spencer book collection, and this very building, the beautiful John Rylands Library, looking  magnificent, as always.

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Look out for the next post about the Intérieurs anglais album and the fascinating discoveries about the places featured in this amazing snapshot of Victorian culture.

All images unless otherwise stated are copyright of the University of Manchester and can be used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike Licence.

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Reference [1]. Winter, G. (2016). Getting value from a collection: Bedford Lemere & Co at the Historic England Archive, The Journal of Architecture, Volume 21, Number 6, pp. 964-980.