IWM is celebrating the 1 millionth photograph being digitised by its mass preservation project,Digital Futures. Initiated in 2020, the project is digitising 2.1 million of IWM’s most vulnerable media, with a focus on the Cold War era. The project is protecting collections for future generations and is showcasing hidden archival treasures.

The Digital Futures project sits within IWM’s 25-year digitisation strategy which seeks to increase IWM’s impact by widening and deepening access to our collection. To transform how we enrich people’s understanding of the causes, course and consequences of war, we must convert our analogue collections to digital – which enables digital media to be used through new channels and digital experiences to build our brand and extend our reach to new audiences.

IWM holds approximately 11 million photographs across negative, print and digital formats primarily covering the activities of British and Commonwealth forces in times of conflict from official, press, and private perspectives. The collection includes international perspectives on war and conflict and includes military and civilian voices.

In addition to the 1 million photographs digitised, the Digital Futures project has digitally captured over 2,500 film reels, 5000 videotapes, 4,000 sound reels, and 29,000 pages of the War Artist Archive. The project has also completed the digitisation of IWM’s Accession Registers and art medals and this year the digitisation of the sound archive will be completed. IWM’s sound archive is over 33,000 recordings, the largest oral history collection of its type in the world.

This millionth image is from IWM’s The British Commanders’-in-Chief-Mission to the Soviet Forces in Germany (BRIXMIS) archive collection (© Crown copyright: IWM 2005-02-28) - one of 14,040 photos collected by BRIXMIS operations in East Germany at the end of the Cold War. These remarkable colour photographs are a unique record of the demobilisation and removal of Soviet troops between 1989 and 1990. This particular photograph shows Russian troops spotting a BRIXMIS team, who are photographing their every move. Both BRIXMIS and the Russian equivalent, SOXMIS, gathered military intelligence on one another in divided Germany for just over 40 years, following the end of the Second World War. Photography played a crucial part in that.

This newly digitised photograph will also be going on display in the must-see, free exhibition Spies, Lies and Deception, opening at IWM London this September. The exhibition showcases over 150 objects, newly digitised film and photography, as well as specially commissioned interviews. The exhibition will cover the role of deception, the means by which it was uncovered and the costs of being both deceiver and the deceived.