British photographic history

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Historic photographs of the Sutton Hoo excavation fully digitised

Over the winter of 2019/2020 images from the archive at Sutton Hoo were digitised in their entirety for the first time. The images, captured by Mercie Lack and Barbara Wagstaff, were taken during the summer of 1939 and provide a remarkable insight into the people and processes behind the excavation of the Great Ship Burial. The entire collection is now available to view online and at Sutton Hoo.

The image collection consists of 11 photograph albums, loose black and white images, contact prints and negatives. The collection includes one album of colour prints, an incredible survival from the very earliest days of the use of colour reversal film, and original 35mm Agfa Isopan F negative film. The colour prints, as far as research has shown so far, appear to be the earliest surviving original colour photographs of a major archaeological excavation. The significance of this collection has been reflected in a successful bid for internal funding as part of the National Trust’s Collections Conservation Prioritisation (CCP) programme to both conserve and digitise the images to ensure they survive for future generations.

Mercie Lack (1894–1985) and Barbara Wagstaff (1895–1973) were members of the Royal Photographic Society and happened to be passing the excavation. 

Read the full story and search the collection here:

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