British photographic history

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The news of the death of Peter James from organ failure which has just been announced has shocked and saddened the world of photographic history. Photography has lost one of its most active and accomplished historians and a wider champion for photography. In a community which is not a large one Pete was a giant and the words of one long time collaborator and friend sum up the sense of loss: "British photo history will not be the same .... Pete was an unsung hero. He achieved more, and to greater effect, than most in the field. He was truly astonishing." Another historian commented: "a great loss to the field as Pete was universally loved and his work widely admired...I will miss his wonderfully laconic emails and dry wit."

Pete was Head of Photography at the Library of Birmingham for over 25 years and a former Chairman of the Committee of National Photography Collections. He was one of the catalysts for, and a founding member of, the Photographic Collections Network. He received the Royal Photographic Society's Colin Ford Award for Curatorship and received the Society's Fellowship twice. 

During the course of his career he worked with a wide range of photography organisations in Birmingham including Ten:8, Building Sights, PhotoCall, Arts Council West Midlands, Photopack and Seeing the Light/Rhubarb. He was co-founder (2012) and Co-Director of GRAIN: the photographic hub and network for the West Midlands.

He developed and delivered partnership projects with a range of academic institutions including exhibitions, PhD supervision, awards, conferences, lectures, research and was a visiting lecturer at a number of universities including BCU, University of Birmingham, Falmouth, Nottingham, Staffordshire, and Ulster and delivered papers at a range of academic and photographic conferences. He has been a portfolio reviewer at events such as Rhubarb Rhubarb, Format Photo Festival and for GRAIN.

He researched and curated exhibitions of historical and contemporary photography at institutions including the V&A, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Ikon Gallery, the Library of Birmingham, The Royal Photographic Society, and Museum Africa, Johannesburg amongst other venues.

Before leaving the Library of Birmingham in October 2015 he completed working on exhibition / publication projects with Mat Collishaw and Broomberg & Chanarin. He was also a speaker at the Fast Forward: Women and Photography conference at Tate and contributed an essay for the catalogue accompany the exhibition At Home with Vanley Burke (Ikon July 2015). (Information part taken from PARC).

One of his last major projects Thresholds, a virtual reality installation with the artist Mat Collishaw, based on Talbot’s exhibition of photogenic drawings in Birmingham in 1839 opened at Somerset House in May 2017 and is currently on show at the National Science and Media Museum, Bradford. At the time of his death is was researching the life of the early Birmingham photographer George Shaw. 

Accomplished and prolific, Pete was also a friend of many and willing to share his knowledge. His publications and work will be a lasting legacy for someone who still had much more to give. 

A fuller obituary will be published shortly. 

Pete's family has published a notice on Twitter here: @patinotype. Details of his funeral will be announced shortly. 

Images courtesy Michael Pritchard.  Pete James at the Library of Birmingham with the RPS Historical Group. 

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