British photographic history

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George Bernard Shaw's photography collection

Man and Cameraman is a project to conserve, catalogue, digitise and promote the photographic collection of George Bernard Shaw. Shaw collected around 16,000 photographs taken by himself and others and these will be fully investigated for the first time to reveal Shaw's activities and the evolution of photographic processes. Bernard Shaw was not only a prolific playwright, writer and social-political commentator and thinker but an avid amateur photographer: taking and collecting images from the 1860s until his death in 1950.

Shaw left his paper and photographic archives to London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and the British Library and his home (Shaw's Corner, Hertfordshire) to National Trust (NT), it is here the photographs were initially housed before being transferred to LSE. Thus the project extends his desire to open up his collections to researchers and interested parties.

Photography lets us peer into the past and Shaw's photographs give us an informal view into his circle including writers, reformers, actors and actresses. Photographs show us how places used to look and what people did in their private lives - they inform our knowledge of society and its famous personalities: revealing the heritage of us all. Shaw's images include informal prints of people such as: Auguste Rodin; Augustus John; Beatrice and Sidney Webb; Harley Granville-Barker; and Lilliah MaCarthy. They offer a glimpse into the early 20th century theatre and film and include images of stars of Shaw productions such as Vivian Leigh as well as visuals of sets.

Now photography is regarded as an artistic form but in Shaw's time it was not, the collection lets us see how photographers were pushing the boundaries and using it in experimental and artistic ways. Shaw played with light and perspective to advance his craft. He also wrote on the subject for example, reviewing early photography shows.

The project partners (LSE and the National Trust) have worked with free-lance conservators, staff and volunteers to dust and re-house the photographs in high-purity storage materials. Shaw's photographic albums have been conserved in a specialist studio to repair damage and will be photographed so people can look through them. As well as prints there are about 8,000 negatives, these are particularly fragile as they degrade in even moderate conditions. They will be sealed in special bags and frozen to halt their deterioration.

Work on cataloguing the 16,000 photographs and digitising 8,000 photographs and all the negatives is now underway and this will let people know what the collection contains. Cataloguing can also reveal stories behind the images as each one is researched. Digitising will provide virtual access to those images taken by Shaw and those out of copyright ensuring their long-term preservation and revealing for the first time Shaw's photographic legacy to the nation and providing a window into his world.

For more information click here.

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Comment by Alan M. Preston on November 7, 2010 at 21:53

Very interesting - I also have an interest in the great photographic interest of GBS's old friend, T.E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia - who I have just helped my late friend (94) to research a very comprehensive biography of his other great interest the famous Brough Superior motorcycle (see my entirely coincidental BPH site)

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