Our 40th anniversary year saw great press coverage celebrating the achievements of the company and its founder and Executive Chairman, Harriet Bridgeman. To round off a brilliant twelve months, Director magazine ran an unusual double interview featuring Harriet and Victoria Bridgeman
Harriet: I founded the company 40 years ago while editing an art magazine. I discovered a problem getting the images from museum collections. They hadn’t set up the photographic departments that now exist. We had to send people to photograph a painting that had been photographed many times before, which was neither good for the conservation of the painting nor affordable.
Victoria: I joined the company 10 years ago; I’ve been CEO for the last five. It’s hard to imagine that when Harriet started Bridgeman, museums didn’t retain copyright for images. Pictures libraries existed but Bridgeman was the first to focus on art. Harriet’s actions meant museums had control over the future use of an image.
Harriet: My initial investment was £500 matched by my then business partner ACS Cooper (photographer to the Queen). We started in the basement of my home with a typewriter and a secretary. We signed up museums, first in England and then around the world, on the basis that we gave them 50% of any money we made. We moved onto institutions, historic houses and representing archives, including a large offering of works by Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and Picasso.
Harriet: Technology has brought enormous changes. In the very early days we used file cards of key words to catalogue an image. Now the collections are available online. Consultants said it was impossible to digitise paintings because there was far too much content and pixilation in a picture – we quickly proved them wrong.
Victoria: When searching database people still most frequently use the keyword Harriet put on a card 40 years ago.
Harriet: the word was our oyster in the early days. There was no other way that people could access images because a lot of collections didn’t have the money to produce their own catalogues. With Google, everything is up for grabs.
Victoria: That is why we have invested heavily in technology – building our archive of digitised images, launching an internal digital asset management system and website. Customers now want an immediate, high-resolution service at a more competitive price.
Harriet: Looking back, it’s amazing that newspapers thought they could get away without paying for digital rights to an image. Fortunately, we were on the ball enough to not let them get away with it. Now the digital rights have taken over from the printed versions.
Victoria: Some artists have no interest in making money out of their content – they trust us to do it for them. For others, copyright is enormously valuable. One of the first things I did was to add contemporary artists to the library. Today artist are happier to work to commission – working exclusively for Paperchase, for example – which means content that is commercially viable.
Harriet: Victoria is very hands-on, managing on a day-to-day basis, but we work together. She talks to me about any decisions and I am still very much involved in any new strategy. A lot of my time is spent on the Not for Profit Artists’ Collecting Society, which I set up to administer resale rights.
Victoria: My background in art history, which I studied at the Courtauld, was good preparation for working here, plus my previous career in the antiques business gave me experience in making swift decisions and grasping opportunities.
Harriet: I am extremely lucky to have Victoria as a daughter-in-law. I couldn’t have chosen better. If I had used a head-hunter [for the role of CEO] I would have been delighted if they had brought her to the table.
Victoria: People always ask me how I can work for (and live next door) to my mother-in-law. It is down to Harriet being such good fun to work with and being very generous-spirited.
Harriet: As we have expanded, with offices in New York, Paris, Berlin and an office in Los Angeles specialising in video footage, it has been valuable for me to have Victoria move in and take over a lot of the responsibility and a lot of the travel.
Victoria: If we play our cards right we will continue to develop and expand our market and take on the great collections that make people turn to us for art, history and culture. We will get our message out to a broader audience. It is about growth, consolidation and strengthening the Bridgeman brand so that it is good for another 40 years.
Words: Richard Dunnett; Portrait: Gemma Day
Director Magazine. December/January issue 2012/13