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Digitisation: Conway Library's one million photographs made available online

The Courtauld has completed a major five-year project to open up its internationally-renowned collection of photographs to the public for free, working with 14,000 volunteers to digitise over one million images from The Conway Library as part of the biggest public inclusion project in The Courtauld’s history. In addition the Courtauld has published its approach to copyright of the material it has digitised. 

Since 2017, almost 2,000 in-person volunteers ranging from ages 18 – 86 have worked closely with The Courtauld to catalogue and photograph every image in The Conway Library collection – the majority of which have never been seen before. Volunteers were recruited from a wide variety of organisations, schools and charities, including The Terrance Higgins Trust, The One Housing Foundation, BeyondAutism, and My Action for Kids. A further 12,000 volunteers participated remotely online.

Located at The Courtauld at Somerset House in London, The Conway Library contains over one million images dating from the inception of photography to the present day: photographs and cuttings of world architecture, sculpture, paintings, and decorative objects, including 160,000 prints by Britain’s leading architectural photographer of the 20th Century Anthony Kersting, documenting his extensive expeditions across the Middle East, rare 19th Century photographs of world architecture, unpublished images revealing bomb damage across Europe following WWII, and T.E. Lawrence’s photographs of Saudi Arabia.

Highlights include: 

  •  The archive of 160,000 prints of Anthony Kersting – Britain’s leading architectural photographer, the most prolific and widely travelled of his generation. Best known for his photographs of British architecture, he joined the RAF in 1941 stationed in Cairo in a photographic unit. From there he undertook extensive photographic expeditions throughout the Middle East and across the world throughout the 1940s and 50s.
  • The Ministry of Works collection – hundreds of unpublished photographs taken by soldiers, historians, and architects across Europe that reveal cityscapes reduced to rubble by bomb damage during the final days of World War II.
  • T.E. Lawrence’s photographs of Saudi Arabia.
  • The De Laszlo Collection, an archive of 22,000 glass plates including images of works by major early 20th Century British artists.
  • Images of Istanbul from the 1850s by pioneering 19th Century photographer James Robertson.
  • Important photographs documenting the history of social housing in Britain, including Highpoint Flats by Tecton Group, London, and the Brutalist Park Hill Flats, Sheffield.

The digitisation project, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, has become the largest and most diverse public inclusion project in The Courtauld’s history, introducing new audiences and uncovering new insights into this remarkable collection. The entire collection is now available as high-resolution images, making the library easier to use as a tool for research and education and enabling a wider audience to access it.

See more here:

Read the Courtauld's approach to copyright here:

Image: top: William J R Curtis, Dubarry Court, Brighton, East Sussex; lower: Norfolk Crescent, Bath. 

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Comment by Dr. Joe Rock on May 15, 2023 at 11:00

Just to clarify - the images available online are from the Conway Library architectural collection (300,000 plus images). Volunteers are working through the rest of the collection and images will become available online in the next 14 to 18 months. It is a remarkable effort on an important collection but the internet interface, with endless sub categories is a bit difficult to navigate. I think it is a matter of pleasant surprises rather than a photographic survey. Joe

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