Bradford’s life and times filmed

PHOTOGRAPHS play an essential role in our history. Images of important events, the evolution of our landscape, our industry and our culture. They are a visual timeline of life through the ages.

Used by historians, researchers and members of the public, the Photographic Archive is one of the most important libraries in the country.

Bradford is blessed with one of the most comprehensive and fascinating photographic archives in the UK.

Part of the Bradford Museums and Galleries collection, the Bradford Museums Photographic Archive is held at the Bradford Industrial Museum in Eccleshill.

The museum department has held photographic collections in one form or another for many years, but the idea of ​​centralizing them has evolved over the past two decades.

In 2004 the museum acquired the extensive CH Wood collection – 350,000 prints and negatives generated by a Bradford-based commercial photographer whose work spanned the 1930s through the 1980s. The business closed in 2000.

“He was a pioneer in aerial photography. He took his first flying lesson at the age of 14 shortly after the First World War – when aerial photos were first used for reconnaissance – and was already taking pictures at the time,” says John Ashton, assistant to the Bradford Museums Photo Archive.

“After acquiring his work, we started to look at our photographic collections differently. This coincided with the creation of a website allowing the public to view the images and purchase copies.

The various collections include images taken in the early 20th century by Christopher Pratt, the grandson of the respected furniture maker and retailer of the same name, offering a unique view of the city’s society and industry in the years that preceded the First World War. The collection was donated by his son.

The Belle Vue Studio collection reveals captivating portraits of individuals and families taken over decades at the Belle Vue studio on Manningham Lane.

“Famous, the collection was rescued from the studio premises,” says John

“The studio was run by photographer and retoucher Tony Walker. He photographed many newcomers to Bradford from the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and South Asia in the 1950s-1970s. The approximately 17,000 images he left are a valuable record of the people of Bradford at that time.

Much of the studio’s original work was lost along with most written material when it closed in 1975. The studio was emptied in 1985 and 17,000 glass negatives were acquired. The collection has approximately 17,000 studio images, 10,600 of which have been digitized and can be viewed online.

“A Belle Vue portrait is of Mohammad Sharif. His grandson called me one day to tell me that he had found the only photo he had ever seen of his grandfather. It was quite moving . »

The BHRU’s extensive photography and audio collection was produced in-house by the Bradford Heritage Recording Unit in the 1980s and 1990s.

Other images include those in the Bradford Scientific Association’s collection of lantern slides, the Frank Hartley collection relating to public transport in Bradford, the Salts collection and many corporate collections.

“Since Bradford’s first museum opened in the 1870s, smaller collections and individual photographs have come in through donations,” says John. “Although we encourage donations, as with all other collections, each is judged against established criteria before being accepted. For example, the content must be relevant to Bradford.

“The beauty of the archives as a whole is that their collections flow chronologically – from the first small collections in the mid to late 19th century to Christopher Pratt in the early 20th, CH Wood, all the 20th, BHRU years 1980-90 and now our latest Through Our Lens, all digital, some phone shots, documenting young people‘s experiences of the pandemic.

The collection is an important historical record of the neighborhood and its growth and of those who lived and worked there.

“A picture can tell a story on its own or it can be combined with other historical records to help us build a picture of what Bradford was and is today,” says John. “It allows us to experience moments in history, such as the arrival of the first motor car in Bradford, Busby’s Christmas parades and the changing face of the area from new buildings to Italian migration, d Eastern Europe, South Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. the neighborhood.

“Certainly, it is a tiny fraction of the whole archive. There are 18,375 images available for the public to view online. We are currently exploring ways to speed up digitization, but this is time consuming or expensive if we have an externally digitized collection. »

Thousands of images in the collection are still unpublished.

John adds: “At most of the events or seminars we attend, other museums have photo collections of tens of thousands at most. We have over half a million in total. It is also significant that we own the copyright to the vast majority of our photos.

“At least some of the collections – Belle Vue and CH Wood – we believe have national and local significance.”

The valuable collection of negatives and prints on glass and film is carefully preserved.

“Each negative has its own archival envelope with four flaps, so it can be opened without touching the negative and then placed in a specially designed unit that will hold thousands,” says John.

Photographs are also affected by relative humidity and temperature which can affect the life of the image and are stored under conditions necessary for their proper preservation.

The archive contributes to many exhibitions in Bradford. “As the negatives are scanned at high resolution, they can be printed in very large format,” says John.

“As a department of the museum, we are fortunate to have had colleagues from earlier eras who recognized the importance of photographic collections in telling the story of our community. Our ongoing task is to bring them together under a recognized name, to raise its visibility and, above all, to add it so that the photo story continues.

*To access the Bradford Museums Photo Archive, visit

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