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It was Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, a staunch supporter of the Society, who suggested that the Society began to collect photographs to record the rapid technical process in photography, which was supplemented as time went on by collections of books and apparatus. A major influence on the collection was exercised by John Dudley Johnston, who was President twice and a curator of the collection for 31 years. It was he who steered the collection in the direction of pictorialism and established it as one of the most important photographic collections in the world.
During its two decades in Bath a series of important exhibitions have used the collection as their basis and a permanent exhibition on the history of photography drawn from it was arranged in the gallery of the Octagon.
In June 2002 a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of three and a quarter million pounds was announced to transfer the collection to the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, now the National Media Museum, in Bradford, which is part of the National Museum of Science and Industry.
The Collection remains alive with work from contemporary photographers and leading Society members being selected and added each year.