Birmingham Library boosted by important photography archive

  • 21 April 2011

A collection of rare photographs from the first photography commission for a Royal trip abroad has been purchased by Birmingham Library and Archive Services. Taken by the pioneering British photographer Francis Bedford (1816-1894), they chronicle the 'Tour in the East' made in 1862 by the Prince of Wales, (the late Edward VII).

Francis Bedford became the first official photographer to accompany a member of the British Royal Family when he was invited to travel as part of the entourage of the Prince of Wales on a ‘Tour InThe East’ which covered Athens, Corfu, Constantinople, Tripoli, Egypt, Syria and the Holy Land.

Birmingham Library and Archive Services has acquired a rare set of the 172 photographs resulting from this tour for £55000. We contributed £32,500 towards the purchase, and £15,000 came from the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund.

The collection will be housed in the Library of Birmingham, currently under construction and due to open in 2013.

Pete James, Head of Photographs, Birmingham Library and Archive Services, said, “We are very grateful to the Art Fund and to the V&A for their continued support in enabling us to strengthen and diversify our collections and Birmingham’s reputation as an international centre of excellence. This truly inspiring body of work by Francis Bedford will further enhance the value of our collection for scholars of the Middle East from educational institutions all over the world.”

In addition to recording the official Royal visit, Bedford was permitted to photograph Christian and Muslim holy sites previously restricted as sacrosanct. His photographs therefore represent a unique visual diary of the tour and an important architectural and archaeological record of the Middle East.

‘Tour in the East’ is regarded by most photographic historians as being amongst the most important body of nineteenth century photographs of the Middle East and the crowning achievement of Bedford’s photographic career. Opening to critical acclaim in 1862, the exhibition at the German Gallery in Bond Street, London was described by the British Journal of Photography as ‘‘perhaps the most important photographic exhibition that has hitherto been placed before the public”. Bedford received a silver medal for the series at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867.

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