A Blank Wall.

This is the result of discovering over 80,000 photographs, untouched and unseen for decades. 

In December 2021, a large crate, covered in messy handwriting and wrapped in bin bags, was opened in a garage near London, U.K.

These were photographs taken by my late Grandfather Herbert Smith, who travelled around the world between 1945-87, taking photos as he went.

By the time he passed away in the late 1980s, he had travelled to over forty countries, as far flung as Afghanistan, Japan, New Zealand and Guatemala. Many of these places were visited at a time totally unrecognisable today.

Whilst the lifetime of photography was known about, it lay untouched for over 30 years.

Upon discovering the photographs in 2021, I realised this archive spanning almost fifty years had to be shared. A Blank Wall was born.

Continue reading the full story below, or use the map to explore the current archive of photographs available for purchase.

Americas Prints
EU/Africa Prints
Asia/Aus Prints

Who was my Grandfather, the photographer?

Herbert Smith was born in 1917 on boxing day, in Bolton, Manchester (UK). He grew up during the war, and started taking photos during high school and university, whilst studying to be a doctor.

He was actually arrested during the war for taking photos of sensitive military sites by accident as he was testing out a new camera, but once he explained his new passion, he escaped unscathed.

His first camera was an Olympus Rolleiflex, bought in the 1940s, and he used this to take extensive photographs of England in the 1940-60s, most of which remain untouched in perfect condition today.

As he started to build his photography collection, he became a doctor, a local surgeon in the city of Manchester, a profession which explains his extremely meticulous approach to photography and organising all the photos, evidence you see today, with all the photographs labelled, dated and in perfect condition some 70 years later.

He used the money gained as a doctor to start travelling further afield, with my Grandmother. He went to Scandinavia and the Alps, taking more and more photos as he went.

He had a respect for Ansel Adams, and much of his early work reflected large landscapes and architecture in the north of England, as well as Europe.

In the 1960s, he bought a pair of Olympus OM1s and started meeting other photographers, some professional and able to help his style and technique. He began travelling to more far flung places, such as Canada and Bolivia to take photos with friends.

This would last for the next 30 years until his premature passing in the late 1980s. He would visit countries at a very different time to today, such as Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion in the 1970s, or Nepal before climbing and walking made it so popular for tourists.

I unfortunately never met my Grandfather. He was an amateur photographer, but he was highly respected, being a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in the U.K. For this, he created a large body of beautiful portraits from around the world, some of which will be exhibited in public soon.

The collection is huge. All the colour images are in plastic and paper 35mm slides, on diapositive film, and the B&W negatives in sleeves of archival photographic film books. The negatives are a mix of medium (120 roll) and 35mm film.

There are roughly 65,000 colour images on film, and 15,000 black and white negatives.

My Grandad was extremely meticulous. He sorted all the slides into hundreds of boxes in stacks. Each stack of slides has around 20,000 photos in, in their original yellow Kodachrome I and II boxes. The oldest film from 1945-50, is in hand-sealed envelopes.

There are also hundreds of original prints, made by my Grandfather on Ilford pre-mounted boards, in their original packaging. These were developed in his lightroom at home, and still include countless test prints that didn't make the final cut.

Every single image is labelled, dated, and the location made clear in scrawling handwriting by my Grandfather. This has made my archiving considerably easier...

I have so far reviewed less than half of the collection, with over 40,000 images still to go.

A Blank Wall today is an ever-expanding photographic collection and archive, using the best images for 300gsm Giclee prints and bespoke-made framed prints.

Most of the images are curated, developed and edited by myself, a process that will likely take many years. They are professionally scanned, but many of the images are damaged and require restoration. This means each image can take hours to edit, followed by extensive photographic print testing on the final paper stock.

All prints use Giclee printing techniques, and come as standard on semi-matte 300gsm paper, with white borders to allow for easy framing. They come in A4-A1 sizes, and can be framed.

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