The University of Melbourne’s Visual Cultures Resource Centre (VCRC) holds one of the largest collections of art reproductions in the Southern Hemisphere.
The Centre’s history dates back to the founding of art history teaching in Australia. First established in 1947 by Professor Joseph Burke, the collection today comprises almost half a million items including slides, photographic prints and etchings, postcards, films, theses, books, periodicals, catalogues, audio-visual equipment and ephemera.
The Centre operates as a visual resources laboratory for teaching, learning and research in the School of Culture and Communication. It is a non-lending, research-only library, with dedicated viewing spaces. As the country’s oldest and largest collection of art reproductions, it embodies the visual memory of a discipline − art history − as it has been studied in Australia. The collection also provides the tools to study the re-working, reframing and installation of artworks over time, and the opportunity for students and practitioners to work with material culture.
The Centre’s photographic collection includes some of the earliest forms of photographic production and technique such as lantern-slides, photogravure and albumen prints. Other photographic media include 35 mm, 120mm and 4 x 5 transparencies; and silver gelatin prints and negatives. Recent additions include born-digital works.
Over the years, significant Australian photographers have contributed to the collection including Wolfgang Sievers (1913-2007), Mark Strizic (1928-2012) and Axel Poingant (1906-86). The Centre also holds numerous photographs from archives such as the Alinari and Staatliche Bildstelle, Berlin.
Highlights of the Centre’s photographic collection include:
- An extensive 35mm slide collection of almost 300,000 items. The collection includes an important selection of Australian Indigenous art reproductions, as well as exhibition views and reproductions of art works that have since been lost or destroyed
- The Women’s Art Register archival collection. A collection of national significance that documents Australian women artists
- 4 x 5 colour transparencies from the National Bank of Australia Art collection, c. 1970s-90s
- A complete series of the Carnegie Art Reference Set for Colleges
- The Illustrated Bartsch
- Photographic prints from the private collections of Lord Martin Conway and Sir Robert Witt (acquired in 1959 from the Courtauld Institute of Art, London)
- Glass Lantern Slide collection including material acquired by Leonard Adam and Bernard Smith
- Numerous photographic collections bequeathed by individual academics, artists and institutions
In consultation with the Collection Manager, the photographic collection can be used in an Object-Based Learning (OBL) setting. Here, students are given first-hand exposure to the material collection – relevant in teaching conservation, identification and interpretation, material handling and research techniques. Items from the collection can be made available in situ or in one of the University’s OBL studios. Subjects such as Issues in Art Conservation, Researching Images and Contemporary Architectural Archives make use of the collection in this way. Presentations and tutorials by the Collection Manager on the collection's significance, archival research opportunities and photographic conservation are also offered.
The photographic archives are also available for research purposes to academic staff, students and researchers by appointment and can be digitised upon request.
The collection is housed in a climate-controlled environment and classified using the Harvard University, Fogg Art Museum Classification system.
The Visual Cultures Resource Centre is a signatory to theFlorence Declaration: Recommendations for the Preservation of Analogue Photo Archives, 2009, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, Max-Planck-Institute:
“The preservation of analogue photo archives is also affected by the scholars who conduct and will conduct research on history, history of art, the history of photography, the history of science, the history of education, social sciences, anthropology, visual studies, Bildwissenschaft and so on. Not only the current, but all future potential scientific uses of the photographic documents must be respected, so that future generations of scholars are not faced with limitations that restrict or prevent their research possibilities.”
The VCRC has an ongoing digitisation program. To date the database contains over 91,000 catalogue entries with almost 30,000 images. To ensure the most accurate representation of images possible, the Centre maintains high-end scanning equipment such as dedicated Nikon film scanners, high-resolution monitors and an A3 flatbed scanner. Academic staff and postgraduate students can request prints and slides from the collection to be digitised in support of their teaching and research. Other digitisation services include flatbed scanning and photography of new material. All images are saved and stored in two formats: medium resolution jpegs suitable for teaching and online presentation, and archival tiff files of approximately 18 MB each. Higher-resolution files suitable for publication purposes, subject to copyright, can also be made available.
Access to the online image database is password protected and available to staff and students of the University of Melbourne.
Learn more about the image collection by reading
Jolly, Dr Martyn “Big data and deep histories at Melbourne University’s Visual Cultures Resource Centre,” (300kb pdf) (Honorary Associate Professor at the Australian National University School of Art and Design). ARC Discovery Project – Heritage in the Limelight: The magic lantern in Australia and the world, 2019
Thomas, Benjamin. “Caught on film: The story of Melbourne's original visual archive,” (55kb pdf) in emaj Issue 3, 2008
Over the decades, thesis topics reflect evolving patterns of staff expertise, accessibility to primary resources, as well as trends in theoretical approaches. Many contain valuable unpublished research findings and are consulted by Melbourne University students and staff, and researchers from other
institutions, such as the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the National Gallery of Victoria and a range of regional galleries. Theses can only be viewed in the Centre – lending or photocopying is not permitted. Access to theses (including those held off campus) is by request.
The Centre holds a selection of Bachelor of Arts (Honours), Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy theses by former students of Art History, Art Curatorship, Arts and Cultural Management, Screen and Cultural Studies. The collection dates back to the 1950s and includes theses by notable art historians and curators such as Dr Leigh Astbury, Dr Janine Burke, Jane Clarke, Dr Isobel Crombie, Associate Professor Ann Galbally, Associate Professor Robert Gaston, Kelly Gellatly, Dr Edward Gott, Professor Charles Green, Associate Professor Alison Inglis, Professor Jeanette Hoorn, Dr Shaune Lakin, Emeritus Professor Margaret Manion, Associate Professor Christopher Marshall, Professor Chris McAuliffe, Professor Angela Ndalianis, Dr Mark Nicolls, Emeritus Professor Virginia Spate (AC), Dr Gerard Vaughan, Dr Vera Vines and Associate Professor Anthony White to name just a few.
Art History and Art Curatorship; Arts and Cultural Management; Screen and Cultural Studies theses are searchable on the Centre's thesis database.
Bachelor of Arts (Honours) and Master of Arts theses in Creative Writing, Indigenous Studies, Media and Communications, Publishing, English and Theatre Studies are also available for consultation in the Centre.
Screen and audio-visual resources
The Centre maintains a collection of films used to support teaching and research for Screen and Cultural Studies, Australian Indigenous Studies, as well as English and Theatre studies programs. The collection has over 2,000 titles in 16mm film, DVD and VHS, many of which are rare. When titles are not available on the University of Melbourne’s approved streaming services, it is VCRC policy to purchase, where possible, films used in the curriculum, making them available to academic staff for use in screenings and for student research. Teaching staff placing film orders are advised to contact the Centre as early as possible in each Semester to ensure screening schedules are met. Films can be viewed in the Centre's dedicated viewing rooms.
Audio-visual facilities in the Centre include a data projector with a drop-down screen that can operate as an alternative viewing space for up to 12 people, monitors designed for individual study that accommodate a variety of formats including Blu-ray, as well as Xbox and PlayStation consoles for the Game Studies discipline. A facility to format shift rare VHS footage to DVD (subject to copyright) is available on request. The Centre maintains a collection of restored viewing equipment such as 16 mm film projectors and slide projectors, important in affording the analogue collection to be viewed as originally intended.
Book and periodical collection
Other resources in the Centre include a significant book and periodical collection comprising a reference collection, monographs, catalogues raisonnées and rare books. Many titles are unique to the Centre. The book collection has been built up over decades by former staff including Professor Joseph Burke, Franz Phillipp, Professor Bernard Smith, Dr Ursula Hoff, Emeritus Professor Margaret Manion, Emeritus Professor Jaynie Anderson, Professor Angela Ndalianis and Professor Charles Green. Other resources include historical archives such as catalogues and exhibition invitations that belonged to Professor Joseph Burke, as well as support material for current teaching. The study areas are available for group study or individual research.
Technical support and copyright
The VCRC can provide technical assistance and guidance on standards and procedures for image preservation, presentation and copyright.