The Val Williams Archive
The Val Williams Archive will become part of the collection at Birmingham Central Library. The material includes objects from the early years of Impressions Gallery, including the first exhibition poster and design work, plus letters from photographers including Martin Parr and Daniel Meadows. The archive also contains full documentation of Val Williams' exhibition projects and books, including The Other Observers, Who's Looking at the Family and How We Are at Tate Britain, plus photo documentary of the first and second Shoreditch Biennales, press responses, correspondence, and lists of participants.
It will also contain a full archive of Val's writing about photography in publications such as Creative Camera, the New Statesman, The Guardian, The Independent and many other publications, and including the series of interviews Val made for the Guardian Women's page in the early 1990s and her lengthy series of obituaries for the Independent.
Highlights of the archive include a collection of letters from Martin Parr, many written while he was working and living in Ireland at the end of the 1970s, the handmade dummy book for Daniel Meadows’ National Portraits, the original manuscript for The Other Observers: Women’s Photography in Britain, published by Virago in 1986, the exhibition files made by Val Williams and Susan Bright for How We Are at Tate Britain (2007) and the vintage projection slides for Plastic Metropolis, the outdoor projection for the 1998 Shoreditch Biennale, featuring the work of Derek Ridgers, Hannah Starkey, Nick Knight and many others.
The archive consists of papers, letters, audiotapes, video, manuscripts, published material, invitations, posters, press cuttings and research materials. Eighty boxes of material have been transferred to Birmingham central Libraries, in a project led by Peter James. Birmingham Central Libraries is the custodian of the Benjamin Stone collection, the Muybridge albums and numerous other important photographic works. The Library has already acquired the archives of the photographer and teacher John Blakemore, and of Professor Paul Hill.
Preserved by Val Williams over the last 40 years, the archive has now been ordered and partially scanned, and marks the beginning of a new research resource at Birmingham, in collaboration with the University of the Arts London, where Val is Professor of the History and Culture of Photography.
The archive was explored in the recent film Storage, made by Wendy Short, Belinda May and Hannah Blackmore, to coincide with Val Williams’ Professorial Platform in 2011, and the Photography and the Archive Research Centre is working on an exhibition of objects from the archive, to celebrate both the acquisition by BCL and the tenth anniversary of the Centre. A small proportion of the archive has been scanned by Wendy Short and Andy Conway.
Val Williams was born in the West Midlands, began her career as the founder co- director of Impressions Gallery of photography, where she worked with photographers such as Angus McBean, John Havinden, Cecil Beaton, Martin Parr and Daniel Meadows. From 1981,until the late 1990s she worked as an independent curator, curating and co- curating exhibition including The Other Observers: Women’s Photography in Britain (NMPF&TV), Who’s Looking at the Family? at the Barbican Art Gallery, Warworks at the V&A, The Dead (NMPF&TV) and Look At Me with the British Council. With Anna Fox she co founded and directed the First Shoreditch Biennale in 1996 and 1998, and became Curator of Exhibitions and Collections at the Hasselblad Foundation, Gothenburg until 2001, when she joined the London Institute (now University of the Arts London) as a research fellow. She curated the Martin Parr retrospective for the Barbican art Gallery in 2002, and is the author of Martin Parr Photographic Works 1973-. and with Susan Bright co curated the Tate’s first historical survey of British Photography (How We Are) in 2007. She is founding editor of the Journal of Photography and Culture, and Director of the Photography and the Archive Research Centre at UAL, based at the London College of Communication. Current work includes the text for the forthcoming retrospective book of Swedish photographer Sune Jonsson and the second edition of ‘Martin Parr’.