A letter to Birmingham City Council

Paul Herrmann, Director of Redeye and chair of the British Photographic Council, has today sent the following letter to Birmingham City Council in response to the proposed cuts to the Library of Birmingham and potential closure of the photographic archive there.

There are two petitions running against the proposed cuts, one directly related to the photographic collection and one related to the library itself.

I am writing as chair of the British Photographic Council, the umbrella body for membership organisations representing photographers and photo libraries in the UK, to express our deep worry about the proposed cutbacks to the Library of Birmingham and in particular the potential closure of the Photography Collections Team and associated photographic archive and services.

Over the last two decades the Library has become one of the most important photographic centres in the UK. It leads the way on research and best practice around photographic archives, and has a wide reputation and influence across the whole of the country and sector, as well as internationally.

It has played a central role in building partnerships across photography both directly and through the network GRAIN. It has helped strengthen the Midlands fine art and historical photography scene since the demise of Rhubarb Rhubarb; this alongside the commercial and enthusiast photography support from The Photography Show at the NEC has made Birmingham a key photographic destination, with consequent increased expenditure by visitors in the city. For example the LoB successfully hosted the most recent National Photography Symposium - that single event we estimate generated £20,000 of visitor expenditure in the city, as well as dozens of articles and blog posts about the Library.

As I am sure you are aware, the photographic archives contain a rich collection including work referencing Birmingham's long history in the manufacture of photographic materials and apparatus. The pioneer of photography Fox Talbot bought daguerreotype plates from a Birmingham manufacturer in 1839.

Francis Hodgson of the Financial Times wrote recently "It is quite arguable that the Library of Birmingham is in fact now the very centre of British photography."

The loss of the department and archive would send out the signal that Birmingham places little value on its visual and artistic history. At a time when the popularity of photography and a hunger for knowledge about the subject is vastly increasing, this potential closure seems irrational and will certainly decrease connected visits to, and inward investment in, the city.

We urge you to reconsider your decision and in fact to continue building the Library as a photographic centre.

Redeye, Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Market Buildings, Thomas St, Manchester M4 1EU, UK
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