Pam Roberts

I am an independent researcher, curator and writer. My most recent exhibition and catalogue/biography was on Alvin Langdon Coburn (2014/2015). The exhibition showed at Fundación Mapfre in Madrid and at George Eastman Museum in Rochester, USA. From 1982-2001, I was the Curator of the Royal Photographic Society in Bath, UK, where I curated over 70 exhibitions and wrote catalogues on a wide variety of photographic subjects, both 19th & 20th centuries. In 2003 I was a guest scholar at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. My book A Century of Colour Photography; from the autochrome to the digital age, a survey of the history of colour photography, was published in 2007 & 2010. 

Helen Messinger Murdoch (1862-1956). Fearless photographer, autochromist, aviator and artist.

Self-portrait, July 4, 1914, Manila. Photo (actually) by Mr Sedgwick. Royal Photographic Society_SSPL

Boston-born Helen Messinger Murdoch travelled round the world from 1913-1915, photographing as she went, using the autochrome (an early colour photographic process on glass plates), a lone American woman travelling in the Middle East and Asia on the brink of World War I. She gave frequent public lectures on her travels, projecting her autochromes through a magic lantern slide projector.

My interest in Murdoch began when I was the Curator at the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) from 1982-2001. I fell totally in love with the several thousand autochromes in the Society’s Collection, amongst them, many glorious examples by Murdoch which intrigued and amazed me with their beauty and their air of intrepid adventure. After contacting a Murdoch descendant, I was able to acquire several hundred more of her autochromes to expand the RPS’s holdings of her work.

Self-portrait, Senchal Dak bungalow, Tiger Hill, Darjeeling. April 1914. Photo (actually) by Cunjee Dunjee. Autochrome, ten minute exposure. Royal Photographic Society_SSPL

Over the years, I talked to several British publishers about a publication on Murdoch - little interest was shown - but, as and when time permitted, I would chip away at more research on her. The Peter E. Palmquist Memorial Fund for Historical Photographic Research kindly awarded me a grant in 2005, enabling me to make various trips to further my research.

Eventually, I had an article on Murdoch published in the American publication The Magazine Antiques, November-December 2010.

Now many of Murdoch’s autochromes are online, and easier to see, at: 

Or at:

Bishareen children, Assuan, with shadow of HMM & camera on tripod, January 1914. Photo by Helen M. Murdoch. Autochrome. Royal Photographic Society_SSPL.

I have recently been searching electronic resources, online newspapers and journals etc. to put together a more detailed biography and chronology of Murdoch’s life and work. This research has been enhanced in 2017 by very positive and helpful connections with a separate branch of the Murdoch family.

I am hoping to make a research trip to the USA in 2017, subject to available funding, as I have located more Murdoch autochromes in American collections, as yet, undigested. In the interim, I will approach publishers again or maybe create a website on Murdoch if I can get clearance on reproduction rights.

Laughing Peon boy, Bombay, with pomelo. March 1914. Photo by Helen M. Murdoch. Autochrome. Royal Photographic Society_SSPL.

Murdoch’s autochromes have continued to travel within the UK. In 2001, the RPS sold its entire photographic collection to the National Media Museum in Bradford, West Yorkshire and it was finally transferred there in 2003. In 2016, the Museum decided to change its mission statement and acquisitions policy, concentrating more on the scientific. (It is now named the Science + Media Museum). So its collections of “artistic” photography, including the entire RPS Collection, were transferred to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London where they are currently housed. This makes access far easier so I hope to be able to do more work on them soon.