Reeves Photographic Studio Archive
The Edward Reeves photographic studio in Lewes High Street was founded in 1855 by the current owner's great grandfather. The shop has been in the same location, handed down from father to son, for four generations. We have reason to believe that it may be the oldest surviving photographic studio in the world.
This archive, hitherto closed to scholars, is of international significance and important in the history of commercial photography. Unique to this collection is the existence of the contextual paperwork. Because the original ledgers have been kept by the family we can caption, date and locate most of the 105,000 glass negatives which are the work of the first three generations of Reeves. The current owner, Tom Reeves, has added approximately 150.000 analogue and digital images to this collection, since he took the business some thirty five years ago.
The collection consists of formal studio portraits and scenes of daily life, in equal measure.
The Edward Reeves Studio houses a unique archive, having retained documentation about most of the images, in the original ledgers. It is this information which is to be made searchable. This archive of commercial photography provides an unrivalled insight into English provincial life, work, fashion and recreation. Unlike more high-profile studios in urban centres, its collection features few celebrities. Instead, about half the plates are formal portraits of townspeople with the remainder depicting everyday life and events in and around Lewes.
Alongside records of the weddings and funerals, there are pictures of people in shops, factories, in prison, at school, and on outlying farms, and, surprisingly perhaps, many pets. There are photographs of sporting events, records of houses and streets, people at work and at leisure and going to war. In addition to this there are interesting records of artifacts, photographed on commission over the years.
As a Senior Research Fellow in photography and Deputy Director of the Photography and Archive Research Centre of the University of the Arts in London I have discussed with the Reeves family the importance of cataloging and mapping this archive.
We are now working closely together to develop a long-term strategy to make this valuable historical resource accessible to the wider public and to researchers in the future. With the support of the University of the Arts, the next step is securing funding for what will initially be a word-led project. Only when this is in place can the decision be made about what pictures should be scanned and make the archive usable to the wider public.
Stories Seen through a Glass Plate is the first of a series of exhibitions of photographs as light boxes in windows throughout the town and surrounding villages. This first showing is part of the Brighton Photo Biennial and will run from 4 October until 2 November, and illustrates life in the High Street.
The backlit images will be displayed in shop windows in close proximity to the location where the original picture was captured. We will juxtapose the historical images onto the present townscape bringing the work to a wider public, beyond the usual gallery audience. The exhibition is showing from the railway station up Station Street to the Reeves shop and down to the bottom of Cliffe.
The Tourist Information Centre, at the top of Station Street, will make available one of their windows for the duration of the exhibition, and they will hand out maps and information on the project. Two related exhibitions will be on show in the Reeves Studio and Lewes Castle Museums.