National Buildings Record

I have been making my annual, largely futile, effort to clear the pile of books which accumulate on the floor of my study.   The only benefit, apart from a modicum of improved tidiness, is the discovery of books which I bought and then forgot about, or never had a chance to read.   One of these is John Summerson’s short account of the foundation of the National Buildings Record, published to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary in 1991.   He gives a good description of how government was galvanised into action to provide a full photographic record of historic buildings which were about to be bombed and of how he became its founding Deputy Director on 6 January 1941.  I think I may have bought the book in search of information about the work Bill Brandt did for the NBR.   He was hired in 1941 to undertake a survey of Cathedral monuments.   The caption to his photograph of the Dean Fotherby Monument in Canterbury Cathedral says that ‘some of his images evince an eye not normally found in the work of those who merely document’ which sounds as if it could have been a double-edged compliment.   Helmut Gernsheim was meanwhile taking his amazing photographs of tombs in Westminster Abbey which, I think, are still in files in the Warburg Institute.


2 thoughts on “National Buildings Record

  1. marinavaizey says:

    that is really fascinating. I think the Gernsheims were early pioneering collectors and scholars and writers, historians of photography and could not persuade any of the powers that be in the UK to take an interest in acquiring their material, although the V and A is the first permanent museum collection–with Julia Margaret Cameron in effect the first photographer in residence. I think the Gernsheim material all went to the US,either Arizona or the University of Texas; UT has what many think is the first photograph, that is a permanent image on a surface which was accidentally wiped off, but the surface remains as well as a photograph of the photograph…..

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