The archive contains a large photographic collection including portraits of notable geologists, landscape photography and many items covering all aspects of geology. The material includes early photographs dating back to the 1860s and contains a number of important collections. The photographic archive is an important historical and scientific record, often providing evidence of geological localities that have now disappeared.
William Jerome Harrison (1845–1908) was an important, pioneering amateur photographer. In 1880 he became Chief Science Master to the Birmingham School Board, and until his death was responsible for the teaching of science in Birmingham’s schools. Harrison was interested in natural history, particularly geology, and published widely on many aspects of the subject. He was active in many Midlands scientific societies and became a close friend of Lapworth, accompanying him on numerous field trips in the region, and attended his geology classes at Mason College. Harrison was interested in all aspects of photography and became a leading authority on the subject, publishing many important works. He realised the importance and potential of photography for producing historical records, and for illustrating educational material. It was Harrison who produced the first geological book illustrated by photographs.
The collection includes geological photographs by Harrison, particularly of Midlands geology, and field excursions with Lapworth. There are also many copies of photographs that he contributed to the National Collection of Geological Photographs.
The photographic collection also includes over 7000 glass lantern slides many dating back to the early days of Mason College and used by Lapworth and his colleagues for teaching.
Other slide collections have been donated and include slides of photographs taken by Tempest Anderson (1846–1913), who was an ophthalmic surgeon by profession, but also an important and influential photographer. In addition, he was a keen geologist with a particular interest in volcanology, in which he became an authority. He spent much of his free time travelling to active volcanic regions to study the eruptions. The Royal Institution commissioned him to study and report on the 1902 eruptions of La Soufrière on St. Vincent, and Mount Pelée on Martinique, in the West Indies.
As with W.J. Harrison, Tempest Anderson promoted the role of photography for illustrating geology, and his photographs of volcanoes form an important, and often unique, record of eruptions and their effects.