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Britain's photographic heritage is likely to be adversely impacted if proposals in a leaked National Trust discussion document come to pass. Written by the Trust's visitor experience director Tony Berry, it sets out a ten-year vision that will directly impact historic properties, curatorial and conservation posts and put collections in to storage. The Times newspaper (21 August 2020, p.5) reported on the paper and art historian Bendor Grosvenor, who also had sight of the document, flagged it on his Twitter account @arthistorynews
National Trust Director-General Hilary McGrady responded to the claims (https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/blogs/directors-blog/our-vision-fo...) as partial, but as Grosvenor noted she failed to deny a number of the claims, including that the Trust will 'dial down' its status as a 'major national cultural institution', make specialist curatorial staff redundant and take objects off display.
The Trust has been significantly impacted by COVID-19 not least a loss of £200 million in income caused by the closure of many of its 550 houses, parks and gardens and has already announced significant redundancies affecting some 13 per cent of its workforce, putting 1,200 employees at risk. The Trust has £1.3 billion in financial reserves, although much of these are designated and cannot be used for general purposes.
So, what does this mean for photography? The short answer at the moment is that it is unclear. The Trust has significant collections of historic and important photography - at least 50,000 images, although more is yet to be documented, across its historic properties. This includes material that is significant in its own right, along with photographs collected and made by individuals associated with its many properties.
The following are areas that the wider photographic community should be aware of, and be prepared to support, should the need arise:
This piece by Grosvenor is worth reading and does not bode well for Lacock Abbey https://www.arthistorynews.com/articles/5685_Inside_the_National_Tr... In the absence of anything from the National Trust one fears the worst.
See also: https://www.museumsassociation.org/museums-journal/news/2020/08/nat...
See also: https://www.theartnewspaper.com/comment/national-trust-restructurin...
Images: © Michael Pritchard. Top: the entrance to the Fox Talbot Museum; lower: entrance to Hardman House.
Note: none of the individuals mentioned above have spoken to BPH in connection with this blog piece.
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This is appalling and depressing news. Our photographic collections are so important and need to be preserved and seen by the public. We have so much expertise available which is lost when curators are no longer employed. It is also good to have collections in different venues, not just centralised.
I saw the Hardman House in Liverpool pre the National Trust take over, they still have a strong band of volunteers who are very enthusiastic. Groups like this may help to preserve historic collections or buildings, I do hope so, but they do not have the expertise required of curators and we cannot rely on them for the conservation of our national collections.
I regret that the proposed moves are symptomatic of the views of many museums and cultural heritage organisations, that they are very inward looking and over-protective of any outsider viewing or researching any of their stored items. They seem to lose sight of their original purpose, which was to protect and maintain history for the benefit of the public not themselves or their circle. If items are stored away long term, they will inevitably deteriorate, on the out of sight; out of mind basis and are of no benefit to the public. If the National Trust are not prepared to display their photographic collection, then perhaps it should be taken away from them and given to a another body who will conserve, restore and display this collection.
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