Amelia, Galleries Events & Marketing Assistant, shares some of her favourite photographs from the Godfrey Bingley Archive. 

There is a treasure trove of about 10,000 images in the Special Collections at the University of Leeds, donated by the photographer and Victorian industrialist Godfrey Bingley in 1913, and is an archive of his life’s work.  

Born in 1842 on Skinner Lane, Bingley lived a stone’s throw from the beating heart of the city centre. His early experiences of Leeds would have been a cramped, dirty and fast paced city. Conditions were improving thanks to the 1842 Leeds Improvement Act and Bingley remained in the city for most of his life, living and working as an engineer at Harper Street foundry with his uncle.  

In the periphery, the medium of photography was developing. It could be said the history of photography started in 1717 with Johann Heinrich Schulze, while he was experimenting with silver nitrate. It began to take off in the mid-1820s when Nicéphore Niépce first managed to fix an image that was captured with a camera. Then from 1839 a viable photographic process was developed. Alfred Stieglitz, partner of Georgia O’Keeffe, was one of the first to pioneer photography as an art form. In 1887, at the age of 23, Stieglitz wrote his very first article, “A Word or Two about Amateur Photography in Germany”, for the new magazine The Amateur Photographer.  

Few people know about Godfrey Bingley and his photographic work. Thanks to his work as an engineer and iron founder, Bingley was able to retire at the age of 42. By 1887 he had become deeply interested in photography. Over the next 26 years he traveled widely taking photographs, to destinations which included Norway, France and Mexico. His interests in geology, history and travel are reflected in his photographs. Bingley would also lecture on photography, primarily about technical matters. 

Spanning from 1884 to 1913, when he gave up photography due to failing eyesight, the donated work covers a wide range of subjects. Professor P. F. Kendall, in accepting the gift in 1913, described the archive as ‘probably the most magnificent collection ever made of lantern slides, illustrating architecture, archaeology, geology and scenery in all parts of England, but especially Yorkshire…’ A particularly noteworthy feature of the collection is the inclusion of Bingley’s notebooks in which he detailed the place and date of each shot. 

Being that there are over 10,000 images on the collection, I have yet to make it to the end. Here are some of my favourites so far.  

In Bingley’s work we can see early traces of documentary and street photography, framing and timing images at a decisive or poignant moment. Street photography can focus on people and their behaviour in public, thereby also recording people’s history. This photograph reminds me of Martin Parr’s portraiture style whereby no one can smile. The scene depicts several fishermen taken aside from their everyday work, presumably, surrounded by their sons who are starting to learn the trade.  

Another poignant scene is this mother and child. The woman’s eyes are looking dead set into the lens and thus the viewer is drawn into her life. John Berger famously said, “The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.” We’re left wondering: who she was and what was life like? It not only showcases a domestic scene in Columbia, but also the extent to which Bingley travelled. It amazes me that Bingley, having spent all his life in Leeds, decided to travel as soon as he retired and photograph the world. 

Another great example of candid photography is this seafront scene in Stonehaven, featuring men, women and children packing herring. Only a few people have their eyes to the camera in a questioning and guarded expression. Bingley has captured a moment of their everyday lives, the two women in the forefront will be forever moving across the image. Compared to the previous two photographs which appear more staged, this image shows Bingley was interested in everything: how people worked, where people lived, different cultures and a lot of churches. And I mean a lot. There’s possibly over 1000 images of churches and their features alone. 

One photograph, that only with time seems a little humorous, shows a man standing dangerously close to Stonehenge. Although at the time it was taken, it wasn’t fenced off like it is now. The man is stood staring out of the frame, his motionless pose and top hat echoing the statuesque nature of the stones. Was this another candid moment? Was Bingley waiting for this man to pose or did he merely walk into the shot? 

These are only four images taken from the extensive archive and in no way sums up the range or talents of this man. If you want to see more from the Godfrey Bingley Archive you can search online here