'Broke' Royal Photographic Society to quit HQ and move to country town

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The Independent Online

The world's oldest photographic society is close to going broke. Yesterday, the general secretary of the Royal Photographic Society admitted: "There is nothing in the bank."

The world's oldest photographic society is close to going broke. Yesterday, the general secretary of the Royal Photographic Society admitted: "There is nothing in the bank."

In a final effort to remain in existence, the RPS, established in 1853 with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as patrons, is leaving its grandiose headquarters at the Octagon, Bath, and moving into a "canal-side site" in Devizes, Wiltshire.

Barry Lane, the society's general secretary, said: "If we don't get out within six months, our reserves are gone. Balancing the books has not been on for a long period now. It is a non-sustainable ambition."

The society, which has almost 10,000 members world-wide, moved from London to the Octagon, a Grade I listed building in the centre of Bath, in the 1980s. It is one of the few top exhibition spaces in the world devoted to photography.

But Mr Lane said the building had become an albatross around the society's neck. "We have been running at a loss in overall terms since we moved to Bath," he said.

"It is a bit like the Dome - the whole basis of running a big visitor centre and a tourist centre like Bath was that we would get loads and loads of money from the people paying to come in to see the exhibitions. But this has not been the case for 20 years."

Roy Green, editor of the society's journal, said it had "never been significantly supported" by the Arts Council, and almost completely relied on funding from its members.

Lord Puttnam, a fellow of the society, warned that moving from the Octagon risked alienating "a large group of enthusiastic supporters who see the Octagon and the centre of Bath as part and parcel of its accessibility".

Regarded as one of the largest and most prestigious exhibition venues of its kind in this country, the Octagon has attracted historic and contem-porary exhibitions from world renowned photographers such as Sabastiao Salgado, Don McCullin and David Bailey.

It is also home to one of the most important collections of photography in the world, with more than 120,000 images on various mediums from salt prints to waxed paper. It features work from photographic greats, including the Crimean War photographer and founding member of the society Roger Fenton, Ansel Adams, Larry Burrows, Yousuf Karsh and the fathers of photography, Joseph Nice-phore Niepce and William Henry Fox Talbot.

The collection also includes 6,000 pieces of photographic equipment, 13,000 books, 13,000 bound periodicals, 5,000 letters, research notes, catalogues and scrapbooks. Stuart Frank-lin, a photographer with the Magnum agency and a World Press Photo award winner, who recently exhibited his monumental project The Time of Trees at the Octagon, said its loss would be "a tragedy" for photography and Bath.

The new 35,000 sq ft complex in Devizes would be part of a partnership deal with several organisations including Wiltshire County Council, but would have no rail links.

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