From Lantern Slides to Laptops
A collection of architectural images was first established at the Architectural Association during the late-Victorian period. The collection principally consisted of lantern slides donated by AA students and staff on their return from documenting sites of architectural interest. In 1904 a Lantern Slide Sub-committee was founded with the daunting objective of extending the collection to include ‘all subjects of interest to the Architectural Profession’. In 1929 Rachel Morrison was appointed as the first full-time Curator of the collection. Under her curatorship the collection began to take its present shape.
Marjorie Morrison was appointed as Slide Librarian in 1935 (a position she was to hold for the next 40 years) and continued to expand the main collection, carefully choreographing donations from contributing photographers in order to document new buildings and fill gaps in the historical sections. The widespread introduction of colour film in the early 1950s led to the start of the Slide Library’s massive conversion process from black-and-white glass slides to 35mm colour transparencies. Increasing interest in the collection from publishers during the 1960s saw the Slide Library begin to supply illustrations for books and journals on a commercial basis.
In 1971 students were officially admitted to the Slide Room in the Library to borrow slides. Many began to contribute photographs from their unit trips and other travels, further boosting the geographical and historical diversity of the collection. In 1980 the Slide Library relocated to the reconstructed basement in 36 Bedford Square (the space currently occupied by the Digital Prototyping Lab). The next two decades saw an expansion in both the educational and commercial sides of its operation. During this period the renamed Photo Library began to document both the life of the School and the work of the various units and programmes. It also became responsible for the film and audio archives. In 2007 the Photo Library relocated to the ground floor of 37 Bedford Square.
The Photo Library is currently engaged on a comprehensive digitization programme for each of its archives. As a key stage in this process, the Photo Library website was launched in 2005 featuring 8000 images representative of the broad scope of the main collection. From lantern slides to laptops, the history of the Architectural Association Photo Library spans an era punctuated by cultural and technological shifts in the archiving and use of images.
Many of the lantern slides originally donated to the School in the 1880s and 1890s were taken by amateur architectural photographers during the AA’s Annual Excursions. In 1893, several regular slide donors formed the AA Camera Club with John Loftus Robinson – the ‘Camera Man’ – as first President. Relaunched in 2006 with an exhibition and a student competition to design a new badge, the AA Camera Club consists of all our current contributors to the collection .
If you are interested in contributing images to the Photo Library, both transparencies and large digital files are acceptable. Please contact Valerie Bennett for more detailed specifications.