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Birmingham City Council

The Val Williams Archive goes to the Library of Birmingham

The Val Williams Archive is to become part of the nationally and internationally significant photography collections at the new Library of Birmingham. The archive consists of papers, letters, audiotapes, video, manuscripts, published material, invitations, posters, press cuttings and research materials documenting the work of one of the UK’s most important curators and writers on photography. The material spans Williams’ entire career from the early years of Impressions Gallery through to more recent exhibition projects and books including The Other Observers (1986), Who's Looking at the Family (1994), How We Are (2007) and a full archive of Val's writing about photography in publications such as Creative Camera, the New Statesman, The Guardian, The Independent and many other publications.

Highlights of the archive include a collection of letters from Martin Parr, many written while he was working and living in Ireland at the end of the 1970s, the handmade dummy book for Daniel Meadows’ National Portraits, the original manuscript for The Other Observers: Women’s Photography in Britain, published by Virago in 1986, the exhibition files made by Val Williams and Susan Bright for How We Are at Tate Britain (2007) and the vintage projection slides for Plastic Metropolis, the outdoor projection for the 1998 Shoreditch Biennale, featuring the work of Derek Ridgers, Hannah Starkey, Nick Knight and many others.

Preserved by Val Williams over the last 40 years the archive represents a unique record of one of the most important periods in British photographic history. The archive will form a major new research resource at Birmingham. It will be made available after an extensive cataloguing programme undertaken in collaboration with the University of the Arts London, where Val is Professor of the History and Culture of Photography.

The archive was explored in the recent film Storage (vimeo.com/47670926) made by Wendy Short, Belinda May and Hannah Blackmore, to coincide with Val Williams’ Professorial Platform in 2011. The Photography and the Archive Research Centre is working on an exhibition of objects from the archive to celebrate both the acquisition by the Library of Birmingham and the tenth anniversary of the Centre.

Eighty boxes of material have been transferred to Birmingham Central Library prior to a move to the new Library of Birmingham this spring. The new Library of Birmingham, which opens on 3rd September 2013, holds one of the UK’s national collection of photography including the Benjamin Stone collection, the Francis Bedford Collections and major collections by Roger Fenton, Edwaerd Muybridge, Emma Barton, Bill Brandt, and Vanley Burke. Over the last five years the Library has begun to assemble archives of work by major British photographers and has already acquired the archives of the photographer and teacher John Blakemore, and of Professor Paul Hill and the Photographer’s Place.

Val Williams says:

“I am delighted that my archive will now be part of the Library of Birmingham collection and that it will form a new resource for the study and interpretation of photography and cultural networks from the early 1970s, and will complement the existing collection.”

Pete James, Head of photographs at the Library of Birmingham says:

“We are thrilled to be able to provide a home for Val Williams’ extraordinary archive. The material documents the career of one of the UK’s most significant curators and writers on photography and spans a hugely important period in British photographic history which saw the emergence of photography as a major art form. It also complements our existing collections and will eventually enable us to establish major research, exhibition and publication projects in partnership with the Photography and the Archive research centre at University of the Arts, London.”

Press Release 31 January 3013