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Doctoring a Massive Picture Archive

23 April 2008

THEY WERE some of the most intriguing before-and-after pictures ever taken, and now they are to become a national treasure.

Up to 500,000 snapshots of orphan and homeless children who sought refuge with Dr Barnardo and his organisation between 1870 and 1989 are to be digitised for the future.

Many of the photographs are in a poor state of repair, and need extensive re-touching work before they can be scanned.  The work is expected to take up to two years before the 24 volumes of images are returned intact to the Barnardo’s organisation.

Archivists Topfoto have begun the long and painstaking process of creating an online database of the pictures.

Managing Partner Alan Smith said: “It’s impossible to put a value on these photographs, because quite simply they are unique and absolutely priceless. There are pages and pages of bewildered children’s faces – some defiant, some sad, but all totally compelling.

They are an important record of British history in their own right. They also have considerable commercial value for book and web publishers, and advertisers.”

Founder Thomas Barnardo knew the power of the photographic image, which was the “new technology” of its day in Victorian Britain. Right from the time he set up his homes for children in the late 1870s, he photographed every new child – before, and after they’d received his care … and sold the pictures to raise funds.

Photography continued until 1989, when the last official Dr Barnardo’s home was closed.

Barnardos now campaigns against child poverty, and runs adoption and fostering services. It is planning to use the newly-digitised archive to continue to raise much-needed funds for its continuing work.

Current copyright laws and the Data Protection Act mean that photos of former Barnardo’s children and their families still alive will not be available commercially.

Many of the newly-digitised images will be on first public display at the Picture Buyers’ Fair at London’s Business Design Centre between May 7 th and 8th this year. To register for a free ticket, go to