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.