It’s cultural vandalism says Bradford, as 400,000 historic photos are shipped down to London

Curator Kate Burnatt in the photo archive of the National Media Museum in Bradford
Curator Kate Burnatt in the photo archive of the National Media Museum in Bradford
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THE transfer of a collection of 400,000 images from Bradford to London has been described as an “appalling act of cultural vandalism”.

The Science Museum Group announced that the items housed at the National Media Museum (NMM) in Bradford will be moved to the Victoria & Albert Museum to create “the world’s foremost single collection on the art of photography”.

400,000 historic photographs are being moved from the Bradford Media Museum to London

400,000 historic photographs are being moved from the Bradford Media Museum to London

But politicians in Bradford have criticised the move, claiming that it is London-centric and appears to contradict Government plans to create a “Northern Powerhouse”.

The museums said the transfer of the collection reinforced the NMM’s new focus on science, technology, engineering and maths.

In an open letter to the V&A, Simon Cooke - leader of Bradford Council’s Conservative Party, said: “This is an appalling act of cultural vandalism.

“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, many will never have visited Bradford - care not one jot for our heritage and history.

The National Media Museum in Bradford

The National Media Museum in Bradford

“I know you are incredibly excited by all this but, trust me, you could - had you the guts and vision - 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.”

Read more: Why IS Bradford’s Media Museum allowing a major photographic archive to be moved to London?

Judith Cummins, Labour MP for Bradford South, said: “I think this could permanently change the function, role and importance of the Media Museum. It’s a national media museum and I want it to continue being a national media museum.

“This represents 10% of the museum’s collection and, if it’s to be shipped off to London, obviously this does start alarm bells ringing.

Bradford Councillor Simon Cooke

Bradford Councillor Simon Cooke

“I just see it as an attempt to downgrade what is a wonderful cultural facility for Bradford.”

Ms Cummins, who recently received assurances in Parliament about the future of the NMM, said she would be asking the Government “pertinent” questions.

She said: “Maybe I should ask the Prime Minister and George Osborne to reconfirm exactly what they mean by the Northern Powerhouse in relation to cities like Bradford.

“We are very proud that we have got the national museum. People in Bradford know where London is and would like people in London to know where Bradford is.”

She added: “Visitor numbers are up, it’s a popular local, regional and national museum, what is the sense in trying to change it?

“We’ve not got many cultural treasures on our doorstep so we want to keep the ones we have got.”

The NMM will retain collections that support an understanding of the development of photographic processes, the cultural impact of photography and have specific relevance to Bradford.

It has received investment of around £2.5 million this year for its increased focus on science and will open a new interactive gallery in spring 2017.

But in 2013 it was only narrowly spared closure, and today’s move may fuel fears of a new threat to its long-term existence.

The Bradford museum houses around three million historic photos, though not all are on public view. In London, the collection will be stored, digitised and made accessible for study.

Among the pictures moving to the V&A are works by British pioneers William Henry Fox Talbot, Hill & Adamson, Roger Fenton and Julia Margaret Cameron.

In a statement, the museums said: “An historic agreement between the Science Museum Group and the Victoria and Albert Museum is set to create the world’s foremost single collection on the art of photography, as the National Media Museum launches its new focus on the science and technology of light and sound.”