The National Library of Wales houses over 950,000 photographs connected to Wales. These range from works by pioneering photographers from the earliest days of photography to portfolios by contemporary practitioners of the art.
The collection comprises mostly images connected to Wales. This includes views of Wales, the work of Welsh photographers and photographs of Welsh personalities.
Two years after the invention of photography the Rev Calvert Richard Jones took the earliest recorded photograph in Wales. Taken on 9th March 1841, it is a daguerrotype of Margam Castle, the house of his wealthy friend Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot.
Reverend Calvert Richard Jones was one of a circle of early photographers in Swansea. This circle was centred around the enlightened industrialist John Dillwyn Llewelyn of Penlle’r-gaer.
William Henry Fox Talbot had invented another, ultimately more successful photographic process. Using paper negatives, Talbot’s process allowed the production of multiple copies of an image.
Talbot was a cousin to Emma, wife of John Dillwyn Llewelyn. Through this connection John Dillwyn Llewelyn and his family became early pioneers of photography during the 1840s and 1850s – see Early Swansea Photography
By the late 1850s photography had reached the high street and photographers’ studios were common in most towns and cities. Most people chose to have their portraits mounted on small pieces of card, called cartes de visite. These would be exchanged with friends and relatives and became very popular. The Library has numerous examples of these from a variety of photographers.
John Thomas started off selling cartes des visite of Welsh celebrities of the day. He also took photographs of ordinary people, often at their place of work. He is best remembered today for his topographical views. Some 3,000 of John Thomas’ photographs can be viewed via our website.
John Thomas challenged the work of photographers such as Francis Frith and James Valentine who portrayed only the scenic beauty of Wales. The National Collection of Welsh Photographs contains over 35,000 views by Francis Frith.
As the 19th century progressed photography broadened its appeal. Technological advances gradually brought photography within reach of all social classes and the snapshot rose to prominence, such as this view of bathers at Aberdaron by J Glyn Davies.
Local high street photographers were as popular as ever and the work of D C Harries of Llandeilo, PB Abery of Builth Wells, William Harwood of Cricieth and Arthur Lewis of Aberystwyth are all represented in the collection.
The largest individual collection in the Library is that of Geoff Charles, a photojournalist with North Wales Newspapers for 50 years. Geoff Charles worked throughout north and mid Wales from the late 1930s onwards. Much of the valuable Geoff Charles collection has now been digitised and can be seen on our website.
Much of the material in the National Collection of Welsh Photographs has been donated to the Library. In recent years we have received important collections from the Cambrian News, Harlech Television, Hyder, S4C, and the Wales Tourist Board.
In addition the Library continues to buy relevant works by contemporary photographers.