TopFoto - the imagery of nearly everything

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Partner profile

TopFoto is an independent picture library based 45 minutes south of London in Edenbridge, Kent, England.

The archive contains 10 million images from medieval documents to today’s digital files being sent in by FTP from all over the world.

The core of the hardcopy archive comprises of 120000 negatives from John Topham (an individual photographer and TopFoto’s founder) plus millions of negatives and hardcopy prints from a variety of historic press agencies that have been collected by the current owner, Alan Smith, since 1975.

TopFoto supplies primarily editorial content to clients but is extremely diverse and its pictures are reproduced in all areas of visual publication.

TopFoto was a pioneer in digitisation and electronic transfer and through new technologies has formed close links to international partners in over 40 countries around the world.

TopFoto employs 15 people and prides itself on the specialist personal research service that it provides to clients.

Partner contribution to the project

For the EuropeanaPhotography Project, TopFoto is digitising negatives (mostly quarter plate glass negatives but including some very fragile nitrates) from its collection between the dates of 1890-1939. After adding metadata, it will make 60.000 images available on the Europeana website.

TopFoto has identified four key collections to concentrate on for the project:

  • Central News, 1890 – 1930
    The collection was the picture library of the news agency of the same name est. 1870. It has world coverage and includes many masterpiece portraits of Royals and famous personalities from the era.
  • Alfieri, 1914 – 1939 (c.20.000 relevant glass plate negatives)
    Was a London based agency that supplied images to the weekly press and magazines. Although it had a global network it primarily covers London and the surrounding area with a specific focus on society and London life during this fascinating period between the wars.
  • Planet News,  1928 – 1939
    Contains a wide range of editorial news events from all over the world. This collection also has some isolated nitrate negatives on important subjects that we would like to rescue, including Russian spy trials and the Spanish Civil War.
  • John Topham, 1927 – 1973
    John Topham’s legacy, the founding collection of TopFoto image library, is over 120,000 negatives of superb social history capturing the disappearance of rural life as the South East of England began to disappear under a swathe of concrete. The Arts Council of England funded a touring exhibition of his work, Memory Lane, curated by the Impressions Gallery in York, and his work is significant to the Imperial War Museum and the Museum of Rural Life, amongst others. Topham began as a policeman in the East End of London in the 1920s. When he sold his first picture for the equivalent of a week’s wage, he quit the Force and from 1931-1973 he photographed, as he put it, the “little things of life – the way it really was”.

Dissemination booklet

  • TopFoto working with the EU (.pdf, 5327 kb)
Children riding on horse and cart. 7 September 1936.,©John Topham / TopFoto,John TophamFrinton Tennis Tournament - Miss. J.E. Stevens and Mrs. Craddock  15 July 1929.,©TopFoto,AlfierGabrielle Coco Chanel . French fashion designer. 1923.",©TopFoto,Central NewsSpanish Civil War - A Spanish Government plane bombing a Rebel position. 22 September 1936.,©TopFoto, Planet NewsThe new policy adopted by police to deal with motorists who feel inclined to speed when confronted with the straight stetch of road on the Mall. They are pulled up by uniformed police officers, cautioned and allowed to go on their way. 21 May 1937, ©TopFo