Building an Empire: The Photographic Factory of Valentine & Sons

Building an Empire: The Photographic Factory of Valentine & Sons
8 March – 7 April 2013: The Beetroot Tree, Format International Photography Festival, 2013, Derby

Exploring the festival’s theme “Factory”, This exhibition celebrates the arrival of the mass-media and the photographic factory. The St Andrews Library Photographic Archive holds a large collection of approximately 120,000 photographs and postcards from Valentine & Sons, a Dundee-based company founded by James Valentine in 1855.

An epitome of the Edwardian era, the humble picture postcard characterises a crossroad where serious industrial growth and consumer culture collide. This exhibition celebrates the arrival of the mass-media and the photographic factory. A varied selection of postcards showing descriptive scenes of popular interest is intersected with romantic rural landscape from all over the globe, revealing changing tastes and the developing landscape. There are un-manipulated scenes, colourful hand-tinted images and graphic layouts combining multiple images. Not all of the postcards have simply a descriptive, or even romantic appeal, but rather succeed due to their comedic value. These humorous additives, when viewed today, present an understanding of the consumers desires to send and receive these small tokens of consideration.

James Valentine was one of Scotland’s greatest entrepreneurs who built the foundations for a business that went on to monopolise the picture postcard market. The variety of postcard images available began to increase at a rapid rate; purchased from local photographic firms or produced in-house by a team of photographers. The business went from strength to strength and branch offices were were opened internationally. Valentine & Sons factories continued to print postcards throughout the twentieth century until its productivity began to decline in the 1980s leading to the closure of the final Valentine factory in 1994.

This exhibition, within the context of the Format Photography Festival 2013, offers a differing approach towards the theme of the ‘Factory’ that provides a historical background for the understanding of the contemporary works being shown throughout Derby while also commenting on the rise of industrial mass-production and mass culture.

Building an Empire: The Photographic Factory of Valentine & Sons was curated by Ashley Lumb, Hazel Johnson, Kay Watson, and Fangfei Chen with generous support from The University of St Andrews Library Photographic Collection.

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