Terry Grimley at The Birmingham Post profiles the keeper of photography at Birmingham Central Library…

“The library’s photographic collection was already magnificent before James arrived on the scene in the 1980s, but it was a sleeping giant waiting for someone to recognise it for what it really was. Its scale is staggering, amounting to an estimated three million items spanning original prints, negatives, lantern slides, albums and books illustrated with original photographs, plus books and periodicals on photography.”

Those interested in obtaining books on the pre-1945 history of photography in the West Midlands might be interested in…

* Coming to Light : Birmingham’s Photographic Collections, by Peter James.

The selection of pictures is nicely printed (although many pictures are not of Birmingham or the Midlands) with a single picture to each page. The book has substantial and well-researched survey essays that details the history of photographic art and practice in Birmingham — although commercial studio portrait photography is not covered in any depth.

* Tom Wedgwood : The First Photographer, by Richard Buckley Litchfield (free online at Archive.org)

Wedgwood invented nearly all the main elements of photography sometime between 1788 and 1799, while based at Etruria Hall in North Staffordshire. He was only unable find a fixative. This readable 1903 biography is a scrupulous and balanced work of scholarship based on a sound inspection of Wedgwood’s well-preserved papers and letters, and so remains a valuable resource today. The author was not, however, in a position to correctly evaluate either Wedgwood’s metaphysical thought, or the influence of his famous 1802 paper between 1802 and 1839 — more recent scholarship has since overturned his assumptions on both topics.

* Oscar Gustave Rejlander : 1813(?)- 1875 (Moderna Museets Utstallningskatalog)

rejlander-dream-1860
Oscar Rejlander, “The Dream” (1860).

Said to be the best and best-printed book on the Wolverhampton’s “father of art photography”.

* Henry Peach Robinson: Master of Art Photography by Margaret F. Harker.

Robinson lived in Leamington Spa and was a founding member, along with Rejlander, of the Birmingham Photographic Society. Both were pioneers in complex photo-combination (photo-compositing).

* A Record of England : Sir Benjamin Stone and the National Photographic Record Association, 1897 -1910, by Elizabeth Edwards.

kern-baby-1903
Sir Benjamin Stone, “The Kern Baby” (1903) part of the traditional harvest festival celebration at Whalton.

The son of an Aston glass-maker, Stone became a noted politician with an unbounded enthusiasm for photography. He lived at Erdington, Birmingham, and later became president of the Birmingham Photographic Society. A scan of Sir Benjamin Stone’s pictures : records of national life and history (1906) is freely available as a PDF from Archive.org — although sadly with terrible reproduction of the pictures.

* The Old Straight Track : Its Mounds, Beacons, Moats, Sites, and Mark Stones, by Alfred Watkins.

The famous “ley-lines” book of 1925, with photographs taken by Watkins in his native Herefordshire. See: “Lines of Sight : Alfred Watkins, Photography and Topography in Early Twentieth-Century Britain“. Tate Papers, Autumn 2006.

* Homes Fit For Heroes, by Bill Brandt.

A book-length collection of documentary photo-essays on housing conditions, made between 1939 and 1943 when Brandt worked commercially to produce images for the Bournville Village Trust in Birmingham.

There’s also a rare monograph on William Jerome Harrison of the Warwickshire Photographic Survey, written by Rodney Klukas (Arizona State University, School of Art : History of photography monograph series) and published in 1984.