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Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales’ Historic Photography Uncovered in new exhibition

A three year project to document, curate and digitise a selection of historic photography from Wales’s national collections, has culminated in a new exhibition Historic Photography Uncovered opening at National Museum Cardiff on Saturday 24 January. The Natural Images project was made possible thanks to a £600,000 gift received from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation in 2011 and the project was set out to digitise images spread across several disciplines from geology and botany to industrial history and art. Up to 10,000 images will have been digitised by the time the project ends in April 2015 and a selection of these images will be included in the new exhibition.

The ‘Natural Images’ project involved transferring the finest examples from the Museum’s extraordinary collection of around 500,000 photographs, drawing photographic and historic items, into an accessible digital format.

Images range from

  • photographic portraits from the late 19th century
  • collections of original late 19 century/early 20th century photographs of Cardiff and environs
  • A collection depicting the ‘notable’ trees of Wales
  • Pioneering wildlife photography from the early 20th century
  • Images of ships in and around Cardiff Docks taken between 1920 and 1975
  • Underground and surface photography of mines in the south Wales coalfield, taken during the 1970s and 80s
  • Images taken in Wales by the pioneering gentleman photographer, John Dillwyn Llewelyn during the 1850s and 1860s
  • Photographs taken at archaeological excavation sites during the 1930s

From 24th January until 19th April 2015, visitors to the museum will have the opportunity to discover how photography has contributed to the visual history of Wales thanks to the photographic material on display that places the history of photography within the context of the development of the Museum’s own collections. The exhibition traces the evolution of photography, as both a means of scientific and social record and also as a medium for artistic expression.

Part of the exhibition examines the familial link between Henry Fox Talbot, widely regarded as the ‘inventor’ of the negative-positive form of photography, and the Dillwyn Llewelyn family, based at the Penllergare estate near Swansea. It explores the shared experimentation in photography, and exposes how the Dillwyn Llewelyn family were early pioneering experimenters in this new mid-nineteenth century medium, creating astonishing images of the South Wales landscape and of their family life and social activities.

Other parts of the exhibition on the display showcase images from the collections, uncovered during the project, including photographic works by Robert Crawshay, Sir Thomas Mansel Franklen and James Robertson. Many images created by purely amateur photographers will also be displayed in this section, illustrating how photography has been used to chronicle ordinary as well as extraordinary events in Wales.

A wider selection of the images digitised as part of the project, will be projected on one of the walls of the exhibition and visitors will also have access to the on-line database, created as part of the project. Images will continue to be added to this database throughout the lifespan of the exhibition, leading to a launch date for the completed database at the end of April 2015.

David Anderson, Director General, Amgueddfa Cymru said:

“This display allows us to highlight some of the previously uncovered riches of these collections, made possible by the Anniversary Gift that the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation made to Amgueddfa Cymru in 2011 for the Natural Images Historic Photographic Project.

“Digitisation of these images means we are able to open up access to the collections for the public and ensure greater use of the collections in future. It helps preserve history. This wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

“This Gift has enabled us to research, document and digitise a wide selection of photographic works held across the Museum’s collecting areas and gives them the profile they deserve alongside the other great holdings in our social and industrial history, art, archaeology and natural history collections.”


Caroline Mason, Chief Executive of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, added:

 “Esmée Fairbairn Foundation has a proud history of working to help improve the quality of life for individuals and communities across the UK. We’re delighted that the Historic Photography Uncovered exhibition is open at National Museum Cardiff.


National Museum Wales has a unique collection of historic photography and it’s been a pleasure to support this initiative to bring the collection to a wider audience in Wales and beyond”.


– Ends –




Notes to Editors:

Historic Photography exhibitions in St Davids and Llanberis

As part of the Natural Images project, Oriel y Parc gallery in St Davids, Pembrokeshire is hosting a Natural Images: Historic Photography Uncovered exhibition which focuses on images of Pembrokeshire dating back as far as the 1850s.  The exhibition continues until 17 March 2015. Oriel y Parc Gallery and Visitor Centre in St Davids is owned and managed by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, working in partnership with Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales.

And at the National Slate Museum in Llanberis, a selection of photographs from Amgueddfa Cymru’s Industry Collections will be on display in an exhibition Images of Industry 19 January–30 April 2015. This is also part of the Natural Images project funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation. This selection features images of the slate industry taken by the late E. Emrys Jones.


Esmée Fairbairn Foundation  

Esmée Fairbairn Foundation aims to improve the quality of life for people and communities throughout the UK both now and in the future. We do this by funding the charitable work of organisations with the ideas and ability to achieve positive change. 

The Foundation is one of the largest independent grant-makers in the UK.  We make grants of £30 - £35 million annually towards a wide range of work within the arts, education and learning, the environment and social change. We also operate a £26 million Finance Fund which invests in organisations that aim to deliver both a financial return and a social benefit.