Obituary: Barbara Heller (1935-2020) – Director of Werner Forman Archive


The director of the collection of ancient art and culture photographed by Werner Forman passed away peacefully at home just after Christmas.

Born in Tasmania in 1935, Barbara moved to London where she met publisher Martin Heller, her future husband, and through him the art, culture and ancient history photographer Werner Forman. She provided the organisational flair and distribution expertise for the Werner Forman Archive, allowing Werner to travel the world photographing ancient sites and museum relics for the 80 books he co-created as the sole photographer.

Barbara was a long-time participant in the stock photography industry and was known and liked by all she met for her kindness and knowledge of history and antiquities. Bob Prior, Publisher of StockPhotographyDirect says, “I will sorely miss Barbara, she was a long-term industry personality, highly knowledgable and a kind and empathic personality. All the time I knew her she conducted her business with impeccable competence. I am sad that I will no longer see her to chat at industry events as we often did. I wish the family my sympathies.”

Archaeology and World Heritage expert, Themis Halvantzi, who worked closely with Barbara and managed the archive for many years said, “I started working at the Archive in 1995 as a picture researcher and in 1997 moved up to become manager. In all these years it was apparent what a great person Barbara was and a good employer. She was a staunch supporter of BAPLA and very forward-looking: Werner Forman Archive was one of the first small libraries to embrace the digital technology revolution. She was very pro-active in researching subjects and contributed articles to magazines based on images in the collection.

“She was also an intrepid traveller and visited places like Machu Picchu and Indonesia to experience the ambience of the locations in the Archive so she could have a deeper knowledge of ancient cultures.

“I really do appreciate the chance she gave me and she changed my life. An awesome lady.”

Julian Jackson, writer and Manager of Werner Forman Archive says, “I worked with Barbara for many years. She was an exceptional woman who brought a lot to the industry, during a period which saw profound changes as photography moved from film to digital. It was a privilege to have known her.”

Her husband predeceased her, she is survived by a son and a daughter who have both forged careers in the creative industries.

Werner Forman Archive continues to trade online licencing images from the collection.