British photographic history

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Birmingham Central Library has acquired an important archive of photographic work by prominent artist John Blakemore, who was born in Coventry. The archive was acquired directly from the artist for £91,650, of which £42,695 came from the Art Fund. Additional support came from the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, the Friends of the National Libraries and The University of Derby. The archive will be permanently housed in the new Library of Birmingham when it opens in 2013.

The collection includes exhibition prints and smaller reference prints, spanning Blakemore’s career from his first photographs made in Libya in 1956 through to large colour works exhibited in 2002. It represents not only the final photographs exhibited or published, but also allows for a comparative study of the artist’s development, especially through the inclusion of some pairs of prints made from the same negative at a distance of several years, and the rich selection of hand-made books beginning with his first, made in 1984, and including others made within recent years.

Pete James, Head of Photographs, Birmingham Library and Archive Services, said: “The John Blakemore Archive, a comprehensive collection of the artist’s best-known work, allows for the in-depth study of the development of the work of one of the leading figures in recent British photographic history. John's profound, yet accessible work, will engage, enthrall and help develop new audiences from all walks of life. This is an important addition to the Birmingham Photographic Collection as we develop the Library of Birmingham. When it opens in 2013, we will be able to showcase our collections for the first time, with state-of-the-art exhibition gallery space and new online facilities.”

“The Library has received a number of grants from the Art Fund enabling it to strengthen and diversify its collections, enhance its reputation as an international centre of excellence, and provide free public access to important material reflecting the history of photography in the UK and in the Midlands region.”

John Blakemore said: “I like the idea of my archive, having become used to the idea that I have such a thing, being housed close to my birthplace, and to the areas where the bulk of the work has been made.”

Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, said: “With its arresting observations of nature, captivating portrait shots and beautiful still lives spanning several decades, this archive also includes negatives and hand-made books that have never before been on public display. We are delighted to fulfil John Blakemore’s wish in making this extraordinary archive available for future generations to experience, in the area where he is from.”

Professor Huw Davies, Dean Faculty of Arts, Design & Technology, University of Derby, said: “John Blakemore is a passionate educator who has inspired many generations of students and still continues to do so to this day. We are delighted to collaborate in the creation of this archive of his work, which provides a fitting and lasting legacy of his contribution to the photographic arts”.

Birmingham Central Library holds one of the UK’s national collections of photography. The collection was awarded Designated Status in 2006 in recognition of its national and international significance.

John Blakemore was born in Coventry in 1936. He discovered photography during National Service with the Royal Air Force in Tripoli in the 1950s and is self-taught. Wartime childhood experiences and Edward Steichen’s The Family of Man exhibition inspired him initially on his return home to photograph the people of Coventry and its post-war reconstruction. He initially worked as a freelance photographer for the Black Star agency and then in a variety of studios. He has worked in diverse areas of photography from documentary, through portraiture to still life, and is recognised as one of England's leading landscape photographers. He is currently Emeritus Professor of Photography at the University of Derby, where he taught from 1970 to 2001. Holding an MA in film studies, he is also an external assessor for the Royal College of Art.

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Comment by Donald Stewart on October 16, 2010 at 15:58
Great news, I can't imagine a better place for John's archive and look forward to 2013. Well done Pete and the Arts Fund. It's great to see one of the best British photographers of his generation being so positively recognised. Nice one, JB.

Donald.

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