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Out of the woods - House

Justine Sambrook

The naming of the Robert Elwall Photographs Collection for its late curator and the previous author of this column coincided with the arrival of the archive of Martin Charles, the photographer of choice for architectural journals and publishers in a career spanning almost 40 years (here is Charles’ shot of Shaw’s Cragside). The last addition to the collection that Robert was involved in acquiring, these boxes of consistently exemplary images are a testament to his achievement as its architect. 

There was no Photographs Collection when Robert joined the RIBA as a librarian in 1976. Then architectural drawings were the valued cultural objects but Robert championed photography, gathering 5,000 photographs scattered about the institute, and by 1981 the collection was officially established with him at its helm. His keen eye sought out important accessions, including the archives of the Architectural Press and some of Britain’s foremost practitioners including Edwin Smith, John Maltby and John Donat. Recognising the need to master the digital age Robert conceived, an online image database, and brokered licensing agreements with photographers. We hold over 1.5m items dating from 1842 to the present day in a state-of-the-art climate-controlled store. It is entirely fitting that this world-class collection be named for its creator.

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