British photographic history

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The location of Bradford for the National Museum of Photgraphy, Film and Television (now the National Media Museum) was always a bit problematic for Britain's London-centric visitors and arts community - notwithstanding the fact that there are almost as many potential visitors within an hour travel time of Bradford as there are to London. Overseas tourists unless they are persistent are reluctant to take a three hour train ride; scholars wishing to access the museum's collections have no choice. In the early days the museum would ship journalists and guest to exhibition openings by train in dedicated coaches. So it probably wasn't too many years after the museum's 1983 opening that thoughts turned to bringing the collections physically to a London audience in some way. The NMeM's much vaunted 'London presence' which has been discussed formally since at least 2003 still remains on the table in 2009 although a venue has still to be confirmed. Past rumours have centred on Somerset House and even a standalone space.

It seems likely that a space at the Science Museum in Exhibition Road, SW7, has been found which will open by 2011-12. Both museums are part of the National Museum of Science and Industry grouping and there would be benefits in making space available. What is known is that the NMeM is currently working with Event Communications Ltd and Thompson Brand Partners, a Leeds consultancy which undertook the museum's recent rebranding, to produce a masterplan for a London presence.The space under consideration consists of two temporary exhibition galleries totalling 1,000 sq.m. where world-class exhibitions in photography and other media could be staged. A separate entrance would allow the space to operate independently of the Science Museum's opening hours.

Funding remains problematic although the chair of the museum trustees, the James Bond producer Michael G. Wilson, has committed himself to the project and fundraising for it. Larger questions remain about what will be shown. The Science Museum closed its Photography, Cinematography and Optics galleries some years ago and the new space would allow the NMeM to showcase a changing selection objects from these subjects areas in the space. To simply showcase highlights from the collections in London would almost be an admission of defeat about Bradford as a location. What seems more likely is that the space will be used to launch exhibitions of photography in the capital before they transfer to Bradford. There is a considerable market for photography in London that the Science Museum's near neighbour, the Victoria and Album museum is unable to meet and a coordinated programme with the V&A might ensure that photography enjoys a better representation than hitherto.

The NMeM remains tightlipped about precise timings, plans and funding.

Keep watching this space.

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