Sir Benjamin Stone and the Olympic Games
Athletes from today’s US Athletics team who are staying and training in Birmingham will be able to see photographs of some of their illustrious predecessors in a small outdoor display being mounted outside the Library of Birmingham this summer.
The photographs were taken by Sir Benjamin Stone (1838-1914), a wealthy Birmingham industrialist, antiquarian and Member of Parliament for East Birmingham East. Popularly known as ‘Sir Snapshot’, he is perhaps best remembered for his extensive and enthusiastic advocacy of photography as an historical record.
Stone started collecting photographs as a record of everyday life at home and abroad in the 1860s. Finding he could not always buy the images he wanted he took up the study of photography and from the early 1880s began taking his own ‘History Photographs’. He then set out on a monumental personal project to create a vast visual encyclopaedia of the ancient and modern world. On entering Parliament in the early 1890s he also set himself the task of photographing every MP, the entire Palace of Westminster, its staff and all the important visitors to the ‘Mother of All Parliaments’.
In 1903 Stone travelled to Greece with a party of antiquarians and archaeologists from Birmingham. During this trip he visited Olympia, known for having been the site of the Olympic Games in classical times. Although the site was re-discovered by the English antiquarian Richard Chandler in 1776, the first excavation of the site did not commence until almost a century later in 1875. Whilst at Olympia Stone photographed key sites and objects related to the ancient Olympic Games.
Five years later Stone photographed athletes from the American Olympic team when they visited the House of Commons following their success in the 1908 London Games. Many of those photographed were drawn from the famous Irish-American Athletics Club, popularly known as ‘The Winged Fists’. The Club proudly boasted that its members won 10 of the U.S. Olympic teams’ total 23 gold medals in London. A selection of original prints from this visit is also on show in the display Olympic Encounters at the National Portrait Gallery until 25 November 2012.
Consisting of 22,000 photographs, over 600 stereoscopic prints, 2,500 lantern slides, 17000 glass negatives and over hundred albums and scrapbooks, the Sir Benjamin Stone Collection will move to the Library of Birmingham in 2013. The new Library of Birmingham will provide a showcase for the city’s internationally important collections of archives, photography and rare books. New facilities including state-of-the-art gallery space will open up public access to the collections for the first time.
A small display of Sir Benjamin Stone’s Olympic images will be presented in the frames mounted on the Library of Birmingham hoardings, outside the Birmingham Rep from 13th July – 9th September.
Working in partnership with the Colmore Business District, Birmingham City University and Squires Sanders, the Library is also staging another outdoor photographic exhibition as part of Birmingham’s Olympics offer. Magnum Sport: icons and the Everyday, features 70 images by 40 of the world’s leading documentary photographers, all members of the noted Magnum Photos Agency. For more information go to www.magnumsportbirmingham.co.uk
Benjamin Stone Olympic Photographs
The Benjamin Stone Collection
Magnum Sport Exhibition 16 July to 9 September