Monday, 18 January 2010

Bedford Lemere

The past is meant to be a comfortably blurry and indistinct place recalled via unfocused images around which a lazy eye may wander and dream of past glories. The architectural photographs of Bedford Lemere (BL) offer a much more bracing experience. Twelve by ten glass negatives carry an almost excruciating amount of unforgiving detail, revelatory in small quantities but somewhat indigestible on a large scale. The company was in business from c.1867 to 1954 and was the pre-eminent photographer of buildings, interiors and exteriors, of its time. The Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME) acquired 18,000 glass plates from the period 1885 to 1925 after the demise of BL.

The only publication I’ve been able to track down exclusively devoted to BL photographs is The Streets of London, published in 1990 by Editions Limited of Liverpool. It’s a 64 page card covered book tantalisingly sub-titled, Volume One: Westminster. There’s no trace so far of a Volume Two. Other than that, there is a fine selection to be seen in Kathryn A. Morrison’s endlessly diverting book, English Shops and Shopping: An Architectural History. As for the images themselves they seem to have been divided between English Heritage (EH) and the National Maritime Museum (NMM). The NMM has made a decent effort to facilitate online access on its own website and on Flickr but EH has a very modest selection of thumbnails for online browsing with industrial strength water-marking to render the experience even more dismal. EH charges over £12 for a high-res download which compares very unfavourably with what’s available free of charge in the US from American Memory at the Library of Congress or the Detroit Publishing Co. (and other agencies) via Shorpy. A 7 by 5 print from EH will set you back £5, plus £2.50 for post and packing. There would seem to be many publishing opportunities for EH in both book and digital form but the fact that they have to date only digitised 92 of their 18,000 negatives suggests we may wait a long time to see any progress.


Anonymous said...

The National Monuments Record, English Heritage's public archive, holds around 23,000 Bedford Lemere negatives and aims to display them all online - FREE OF CHARGE - by 2012.

We have recently begun to conserve, catalogue and scan this fantastic collection and have already added over 1500 Bedford Lemere images to This is English Heritage's free website of images, which currently displays over 60,000 images from our historic photographic collections. So, although only a small selection is available for purchase via our commercial site, you can see many more at no cost on our Viewfinder website.

In April 2011 we will publish a book on the collection to coincide with an exhibition on the work of Bedford Lemere & Co., which we're holding at the V&A's architecture gallery.

In the meantime, you can see a good collection of our Bedford Lemere photographs reproduced in Merchant Palaces: Liverpool and Wirral Mansions Photographed by Bedford Lemere & Co. This book, written by Joseph Sharples, was published by Bluecoat Press to accompany an exhibition we held at the Lady Lever Gallery in 2007. Another important publication, produced in 1976 and now sadly out of print, is Nicholas Cooper's The Opulent Eye: late Victorian and Edwardian Taste in Interior Design; with photographic plates by H. Bedford Lemere.

Phil Beard said...

Many thanks for this. All very encouraging and a comprehensive riposte to my rather pessimistic sentiments. Thank you again!