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A salted paper print of a row of books in Fox Talbot's library.
CREDIT: The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A


Research Blog Image
Researching historical photographers

A feature by Dr Michael Pritchard FRPS, Director of Education and Public Affairs. 'Many people wish to research historical photographers. Perhaps you are tracing your family history, a distant relative was a photographer, or you are trying to date an old photograph you have.'

CREDIT: © Michael Pritchard FRPS
The history of the RPS

The history of The Royal Photographic Society, its activities and membership are a key source for British photographic and social history. Dr Michael Pritchard FRPS, RPS Director of Education and Public Affairs, explains how you can research the RPS and its members. 

Side-by-side image of a nineteenth-century and a twenty-first century RPS Journal.
RPS Journal Archive

The RPS Journal first appeared in March 1853 and it has been published continuously ever since. Now freely available and fully searchable, the digital archive provides an unrivalled wealth of photographic history at your fingertips. 

Charles Thurston Thompson, Exhibition of the Photographic Society at the South Kensington Museum, 1858 copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London
CREDIT: Charles Thurston Thompson, Exhibition of the Photographic Society at the South Kensington Museum, 1858 copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A

In the 1850s, founding members of the RPS started a collection that eventually amounted to around 270,000 photographs, thousands of pieces of photographic equipment, 26,000 books and many letters, diaries and notebooks.

It was announced that the Collection would be moving to the V&A in 2016. Since the move extensive work has been taking place to catalogue it, digitise much of it and display some of the most important work from the history of photography in the new Photography Centre. The Collection is also available to access in person in the Print Study Room.

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Sea Of Steps, Frederick H.Evans
CREDIT: RPS Collection
Keeping and Caring for Photographs

New archives need to be planned for a purpose and designed to ensure that material can be accessed by those who wish to view items or use the archive for research.  Decisions need to be made at the outset about what is to be stored, where it will be housed and what information is going to be recorded to identify items.  Information is most likely to be stored digitally and for a small archive a spreadsheet may be adequate whilst larger projects may be able use one of the free software packages designed for museums and archives. The largest projects may require dedicated programs. The care of old family photographs requires similar decisions on what to keep and how...  

Fred Jones Printer Shop 2
CREDIT: Jones Family Archive/Ed.Bylina
Digital Restoration of Photographs

This is possible using a variety of photographic software programmes such as Adobe Photoshop and Affinity, but one of the most important steps is how to handle and get the photograph into the computer which needs to be carefully considered. Advice on handling photographs and negatives is available in the resources listed in “Keeping and Caring for Photographs”...