Brigitte Lardinois, Senior Research Fellow at University of Arts London (UAL) based at London College of Communication, has been working with Edward Reeves Studio in Lewes in East Sussex – the world’s oldest commercial photography studio (1855-present) – to open up 80 previously unseen images of the First World War culminating in a public exhibition.

Yeoman of the Guard; Miss & Mr Stone – 1914 [H06991] & Miss May Stone in uniform – 1916 [H09052]. Edward Reeves Archive, Lewes.

Yeoman of the Guard; Miss & Mr Stone – 1914 [H06991] & Miss May Stone in uniform – 1916 [H09052]. Edward Reeves Archive, Lewes

1916: Lewes Remembers – First World War Photography

The exhibition shows images that cover the First World War period, concentrating on the year 1916 to commemorate the Sussex regiment’s heaviest losses. These will include portraits of individual soldiers or family groups, group portraits of the many thousands of men billeted in the town,as well as photographs of civilian life during the war. They will be displayed in a street exhibition of 80 lightboxes – 1916: Lewes Remembers – in 67 windows of shops and houses from 29 October-20 November 2016.

Working with Tom Reeves, the current owner of Edward Reeves Archive (the great-grandson of founder Edward Reeves) and his wife Tania Osband, Lardinois has begun the process of revealing over 150,000 glass plates, the work of the first three generations of Reeves photographers. This unique archive, dating back to 1855, contains the relating ledgers and many account books which means that the people in the pictures can be identified. The original Victorian daylight studio is still in use with original backgrounds and accessories preserved.

Brigitte Lardinois, Senior Researcher at University of Arts London (UAL) based at London College of Communication said:

The Edward Reeves Archive is a treasure trove of photography and huge credit is due to the Reeves family who have preserved it. UAL are working with Tom Reeves and Tania Osband to open up the archive and share 150 years of local history. In digitising the collection, we are turning it into a resource for photography enthusiasts and scholars as well as our UAL students, providing new insights into the history of photography and social change

Professor Elisabeth Edwards, Research Professor in Photographic History and Director of Photographic History Research Centre, De Montfort University said:

The study of this hitherto hidden archive is one of the most exciting developments in the history of British Photography.

This project has involved working with over 40 local volunteers to digitise the unique accompanying photographic ledgers. These tell us who is in the photographs, where they were taken and how much they cost. These historical details are often unavailable for this type of archive, as although photographic plates have often been preserved, the corresponding paperwork has mostly been lost.

Fawsett Group of 10 men in a bed, Oct 1914 [H07181]

Fawsett Group of 10 men in a bed, Oct 1914 [H07181], Edward Reeves Archive, Lewes

The project has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund which has provided a £10,000 grant as well as UAL and local private and public funders.

This project was recently featured on BBC Radio 4 Today programme on Saturday 29 October in an interview with Brigitte Lardinois, Senior Research Fellow at UAL. Listen to the interview here (from 1hour 20mins in): http://bbc.in/2dTf8Kq

The latest news on the UAL research project can be found on Opening The Shutters