Research Collections

Photographic Archive

The Photographic Archive comprises mounted reference images in two collections: The Paul Mellon Centre Photographic Archive and The Tate Photographic Archive. The collections cover British painting and drawing from approximately 1500 to 2000 and is particularly strong on the work of 18th century artists

24 November 2017

The Paul Mellon Centre is delighted to announce that it will undertake the digitisation of its institutional Photographic Archive collection. Recognising that these valuable photographic resources may be better utilised were they available for reference beyond our reading rooms, the Centre has committed to the digitisation of this collection in its entirety.

The collection of approximately 150,000 reference photographs of British paintings, decorative painting, sculpture, drawings and prints collected since 1964 and housed in familiar red-cloth boxes will be taken to an off-site facility for imaging. There, the front and back of each mount will be photographed and catalogued. The resulting images will—eventually—be made available for research through a new online “digitised collections” platform.

This venture will offer unprecedented access to the Centre’s photographic archive collections and will supplement the organisation’s mission to support original research into the history of British art and architecture of all periods. 

To allow the project to be undertaken, the whole of the Paul Mellon Centre Photographic Archive collection will be taken out of circulation. This comprises the following sequences: Artists A-Z ; Unidentified Artists; Sculptors A-Z ;Sculpture by location; Decorative painting; Sketchbooks, Albums of drawings, rare books & collections of prints and drawings; Paul Mellon Collection of Paintings; Paul Mellon Collection of Prints and Drawings; Sculpture in the Caribbean; all of which will be unavailable for consultation.

The Tate Photographic Archive is not included in this digitisation initiative, and will remain available for consultation as per the usual arrangements.

Project Schedule:

  • 2018 – Digitisation
  • 2019 – Research, Cataloguing, Web Development
  • 2020 – Publication

This initiative is connected to the Centre’s ongoing collaboration with the PHAROS consortium, a digital assembly of photographic archive collections from fourteen European and North American art-historical research centres. It is anticipated that this freely available commons will stimulate research in a broad spectrum of fields by linking together for the first time all of the images and their formal documentation with knowledge amassed by scholars over the years. Consolidated access to tens of millions of images of works of art will be of immeasurable value to scholarship and teaching for a wide range of art-historical research topics including provenance and attribution, conservation research, exhibition research, publication history, the history of photography, the history of art history, and a myriad of other points of information that we can hardly imagine. The project will also foster a greater understanding of the photograph as physical object and its critical role in the dissemination of knowledge. As a founding member, the Centre will add its images and catalogue data to the PHAROS corpus of materials.

We are actively seeking use-cases and feedback from researchers who utilise photographic archive collections. If you have any comments or suggestions, please contact the Digital Manager, Tom Scutt (tscutt@paul-mellon-centre.ac.uk).