Widely regarded as one of the world’s most important and largest collections on the art of photography, part of the Science Museum Group‘s three-million-strong photography collection is currently housed at the National Media Museum in Bradford. Now, a decision to move 400,000 objects from Bradford to the V&A in London is attracting widespread criticism.

The Science Museum Group claims that by merging the work from Bradford with the V&A’s existing collection of 500,000 photographs they will be creating a world class archive, creating a new International Photography Resource Centre. However, others see it as a clear indication of favouritism towards the capital – one that places the very existence of the Bradford museum under threat.

Simon Cooke, leader of the Conservatives on Bradford Council, told the Guardian: “It is an act of cultural rape on my city. I know London is a big, grand and fantastic city but to denude my city of these photographs reminds us that you – all the V&A’s trustees are based in London (and) many will never have visited Bradford – care not one jot for our heritage and history.”

The V&A’s response is that they are honouring an historic agreement between themselves and the Science Museum Group to create the world’s foremost collection on the art of photography. Martin Roth, director of the V&A, said: “The V&A and Science Museum Group have shared origins and uniting our complementary collections will create a peerless historical and artistic photography resource.”

Some of the treasures that are being moved include works by British photography pioneers William Henry Fox Talbot, Hill and Adamson, Roger Fenton and Julia Margaret Cameron. Work by international artists such as Alfred Stieglitz, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Gertrude Käsebier, Paul Strand and Ansel Adams will also be part of the transfer.

The collection will be stored, digitised and made accessible for study. In addition, the permanent gallery space dedicated to photographs at the V&A will be doubled.

Science Museum Group director, Ian Blatchford, said: “Our two museums have a long and proud shared history and this decision illustrates just how seriously we take our common mission to cherish and share the nation’s extraordinary cultural heritage.”

Nevertheless, despite the V&A’s claims that it will “continue to tour and lend its collections both in the UK and internationally”, Cooke claimed they could have “had the guts and vision to have based this new resource centre in the north, in Bradford, where they would have been loved and cherished in a way you in London can never understand”.

Online petition

An online petition has been set up by writer Neville Walker calling for the move to be abandoned and describing the decision as an act of ‘cultural asset stripping’.

The petition claims the imbalance in cultural spending between London and the rest of the UK is ‘inexcusable as it is’, adding that the UK’s national collections are ‘supposed to be for the benefit of all its citizens, not just the minority who live in London and the south-east. This move will only exacerbate that imbalance’. With a target of 15,000 signatures it has already received over 11,000.

A number of comments left by signatories called for more collections to be moved out of London – not the other way round. David J said: “National treasures should be spread around the country. Far too much is concentrated in London. So much for the government’s Northern Powerhouse when they want everything in London.” Violet G added: “London is grabbing the lion’s share of grants and assets and encouraging rural decline.”

Kathryn S claimed the move would ultimately lead to the closure of the National Media Museum. She said: “This is closure by the back door. Why were Picturehouse allowed to take over and lower the quality of films shown? Why has Bradford Film Festival been cancelled indefinitely?” She also warned: “What about the city’s UNESCO status [Bradford is UNESCO City of Film] if there is no longer a media museum?”

Monique H added: “They have shut down our manufacturing and now they have come for our culture. Northern Powerhouse? More like Northern Poor House.”

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