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Best of Archive

1st May - 1st June 2013

Here at the Getty Images Gallery, we enjoy a unique resource; access to the world's largest photography archive, a privilege we are able to share with you through our exhibitions and darkroom services. This exhibition celebrates the Getty Images Archive, and its myriad histories of the globe, the individual and photographic technology itself, offering just a few glimmers from this treasure trove. To truly bring you the Best of Archive we would need to take over Eastcastle Street, so instead we have filled our corner with a selection that embodies what we look for in a photograph. Each of these photographs show an engagement with the world – a face from a troubled time looking you in the eye, a moment of joy caught forever dancing, a black and white past made colour. Yet, many of these photographs were never intended to stand alone; the Picture Post photographers would have been shooting as part of an essay, and away from this context they can tell a different story, standing alone as a visually arresting image. On display are original contact sheets, revealing the working processes of the photographer or editor, and printing ephemera that details the tactile processes of photography that are lost to the digital age.

The production value of the printing process is something we prize highly at the Getty Images Gallery. We work closely with the archive darkroom, who expertly assess the range of originals from glass plate and 35mm negatives, transparencies and prints, responding to each image when printing, devoting the time and attention to achieve the best possible finish. What was once regarded as alchemy is indeed magical – in that it is a craft, an art-form, and also a precise science. Thanks to the darkroom, we can bring the archive alive and into your home – this seemingly inexhaustible resource is at your fingertips.

Best of Archive features gallery favourites and some of our bestselling images, alongside lesser seen work by our most cherished archive photographers. Gleaned from the multitude of collections that make up this ultimate collection, the exhibition's content ranges from reportage and social documentary, fashion and portraiture, cultural commentary to architectural studies. Reflecting the sheer variety of material that the Getty Images Archive contains, what the images have in common is that they tell us something of the world succinctly and eloquently. There are visual refrains to be found in captivating scenes loaded with history, and also more abstract images on show. We are delighted to bring you these glimpses into a most remarkable archive.