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Reference Works

Library of Birmingham launches city’s largest ever photography commission, in response to the creation of new iconic cultural destination


Reference Works

On Tuesday 3 April 2012, the Library of Birmingham will publicly launch Reference Works: a major photography commission in which four leading photographers will make visual responses to the current Central Library building and to the build, transition and relocation to the new Library of Birmingham.

Established by Birmingham City Council to reflect and record this momentous event in the city’s cultural history, the project – supported by the Arts Council - represents the largest and most significant photography commission ever undertaken in Birmingham. The resulting works will go on display in the new Library of Birmingham when it opens in 2013.

The four commissioned photographers are Michael Collins, Brian Griffin, Andrew Lacon and Stuart Whipps. Three of the artists will focus on the buildings and their contents, while one, Brian Griffin, will focus on portraits of people linked to the building project. The work of all four photographers will be shown in the first exhibition in the new Library of Birmingham Gallery in September 2013. There will also be a related exhibition of photographs drawn from the Library’s internationally renowned archives charting the history of Birmingham’s libraries and an accompanying book. Some of the work will also be presented on digital displays and interactive screens built into the fabric of the new Library of Birmingham..

Find out more about the four photographers

The Library of Birmingham is also working in partnership with Birmingham City University to manage and deliver a mentoring programme linked to the large scale commission. Five new and emerging artists will be mentored by the leading photographers and project managers over an 18 month period to enhance their professional practice, knowledge and skills. The young photographers will also make individual bodies of work about the old and new library buildings that will be exhibited in conjunction with the main gallery show.

Brian Gambles, Assistant Director of Culture at Birmingham Library and Archive Services, said:

We’re thrilled to be able to launch this commission which will record a great moment in Birmingham’s history, celebrating the new library building and the people who make it happen. These new photographs, taken by illustrious artists, will serve as a great record for the people of Birmingham for generations to come. We are also pleased to be able to nurture new photographic talent through our collaboration with Birmingham City University, and we look forward to welcoming visitors through the library’s doors to see the photographs of all these artists on show in 2013.”

Pete James, Head of Photographs at Birmingham Library and Archive Services, said:

We’re really excited about Reference Works, which is the largest and most significant photography commission project yet undertaken in Birmingham. The differing approaches employed by the four commissioned photographers will give a richness and diversity to the project, enabling current and future generations to explore this historical moment from a variety of creative perspectives. The new works by Michael Collins, Brian Griffin, Andrew Lacon and Stuart Whipps will be tremendous additions to our collection. We are confident that the work will be significant not only to us, but to other photography institutions and collections at home and abroad, and that touring the show will help cement Birmingham’s place as an international centre for photography.”

Reference Works has been made possible with the help of a £62,000 grant from Arts Council of England and partnership support from Birmingham City University. Further sponsorship for the project has come from Capita Symonds, Carillion, Mecanoo and The Flash Centre, Birmingham.

The commission is led by Birmingham Library and Archives Services’ Photography Department who have a successful record commissioning contemporary photography, curating exhibitions, developing private and public sector partnerships, and managing the institutions massive historical photography archive. In 2006 the archive was awarded Designated Status by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council in recognition of its national and international importance. The department has an established track record of commissioning and acquiring new creative photography about the city and this project is another example of this vital work.

Reference Works website

Reference Works sponsors