Tuesday 29 March 2011

more reflections on working in a film archive

I've been thinking more about what I've learned whilst working at Wessex Film and Sound Archive, and the things I listed in my last post on the subject.  One thing I didn't really touch upon but which is really the biggest revelation for me was that maybe my idea that a film archive is where I want to work in the long-term isn't necessarily as set in stone as I thought.

For years my ultimate goal in terms of where I would like to work long-term is in a film archive.  However after my, admittedly very limited, experience of working for five months in a film archive I realised that without all the paper records and research I'd be lost!  I understand that when films come into a general archive (such as John Grierson films at the Stirling University Archive) then it makes sense to pass them to a specialist film archive where they will have the skills and equipment to look after the films and make them available.  However this often means separating the films from the paper records that tell us about the creation/inspiration behind the films.  Again I understand this, specialist film archives don't have the space to look after all the paper records relating to the filmmaker.  Obviously they'll keep accession records relating to the films, and in WFSA there are also paper records created by the filmmakers or their families, such as cataloguing notes, photographs, biographical information.  However these paper records are considered secondary to the films, which in a way they are, although in my view they're also essential in understanding the context of the creation of the films.  A qualification I'll make here is that as a project worker, I know I have had the luxury of full-time devotion to cataloguing which of course means much more time to research each film, including looking at the related paper records.  If I was a permanent member of staff at WFSA, or in any Film archive, there would be so many things competing for time, such as enquiries, researchers, administration tasks, reports, funding applications etc.  Also, from the other direction, if the filmmaker is well known and their films are available on DVD then it isn't necessary for those working with the paper records of the filmmaker to have access to the original films themselves... Unless, of course, the films have been cut/altered.   Or also, as with the Lindsay Anderson Archive at Stirling University, there are so many unmade films discussed in the paper archives that of course you would never know about if you were only looking at the films themselves.  It seems like every line I write here has at least one qualification so I guess it indicates that my mind is still a bit muddled.

Ultimately working in a film archive has just convinced me even more of my love of archives, film and paper, and my ambition to continue working with both - yes, I want to have my cake and eat it!

I am enjoying my four days off now before I start my new job (which I will post about once I start) and have more nice plans for my time off.  Spending some time with a friend before she moves home (it's great to have time to spend with her, and am excited for her plans for the future, but of course it'll be bittersweet too as having only just lived in the same city again for 6 months I'm going to miss her!) One of my other plans is to continue the sewing/crafting I have started with the draft excluder I made.  Now, given that it took me months to make then it isn't a very auspicious start but I hope that my sewing skills, and my concentration/dedication will improve as time goes on.  In order to give myself a kick-start I thought I'd start another blog for my crafty goings-ons and inspirations - however I've yet to come up with a name for said blog, yet again not a very good start - and... I haven't done anything crafty! 

I've got back into cooking the past two days instead.  Yesterday was Refried Beans and Smoked Mackerel Tostadas, courtesy of Thomasina Mier's excellent book, Mexican Food Made Simple', which turned out great, as all the recipes from her book have.  Today I've just finished making Chana Daal and Saag Paneer - of course, it's important to taste as you go along so I can already confirm that dinner tonight is going to be a good one.  Maybe I'll get started on a crafty/sewing project on Thursday!

Sunday 27 March 2011

The perks of being a cataloguer/researcher.

In my last week at Wessex Film and Sound Archive (WFSA) me and Zoe Viney had a research trip to Salisbury. We timed it perfectly, picking the sunniest day of the week to go! I hadn't been to Salisbury before and Zoe hadn't been in years so we did a bit of exploring whilst we were there.

The reason for your visit was to try and gather more information on Eda Moore, an amateur filmmaker from Salisbury whose films are held in WFSA. I love her films as they cover a wide date range, from the 1930s through to the 1970s/1980s and cover a wide range of subjects. The films which we catalogued though were all about Salisbury. This was because the project 'Revitalising the Regions' is all about films from Hampshire and the surroundings regions, including Dorset. Her films about Salisbury show local events, carnivals, parades, processions etc such as the clip shown below.

She also filmed her travels, including many visits back to South Africa.  Unfortunately due to the nature of the project I was employed on, I couldn't really justify spending time sitting watching all of these but I did have a peak at a few of them and wish I'd had time to watch them all! 

Eda Moore herself, though, was proving a good deal more elusive than her films.  We couldn't find out much biographical information about her at all.  So, a trip to Salisbury was called for - oh the hardships of being a film cataloguer/researcher!  The first stop was at Salisbury Local Reference Library where we found lots of useful information, mostly through an obituary for her we found on the microfilm for the Salisbury Journal.  We found the obituary because Zoe had found out her date of death through Ancestry - I'm ashamed to admit that it hadn't occurred to me to use something like Ancestry, some archivist eh!?

Our next port of call was Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum, whom I had been in touch with via e-mail.  They had informed us they had a box of archive material about Eda Moore's father, Francis John Moore, who had been Mayor of Salisbury 1953/1954.  They suggested we might want to look through the material as it included a large book compiled of press cuttings.  Another confession - I totally forgot to get in touch and set up an appointment so we just popped in when we were there.  Terrible I know, just dropping in like that, but thankfully the staff there were super friendly and helpful!  We had a walk round the museum (which I'd highly recommend) sat outside Salisbury Cathedral for lunch and then got to look through the material.  It proved very illuminating and gave us lots of useful information - my favourite nugget was a page written by Eda Moore herself where she talks about carrying her Bolex around in her handbag with her.  I love it!  I have this image now of this very genteel lady, going to official events at the invite of her father the Mayor, all the while having her camera in her bag so she could film!

Whilst in Salisbury we also fitted in a visit to the Cathedral which was absolutely beautiful, both inside and out.  My photos, as usual, don't do it justice.  It was so satisfying to be able to fill in some gaps in the story of Eda Moore before finishing up at WFSA.  I'm going to miss my colleagues, and the films of course!, but I know I can keep checking out the WFSA Flickr to see what's new.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Today was the first day of my last week at Wessex Film and Sound Archive(WFSA) before I move on to pastures new (more of that in a later post once I start the new job!).  My post at WFSA was only a six month post and I'll be leaving it four weeks early but having completed all the work I was scheduled to do, in addition to all the extra work me and Zoe Viney have done on promoting and project and the Archive.

What have I learned?

  • Cataloguing films isn't different from cataloguing paper documents in terms of the description of the material i.e. keep it descriptive, don't use words the general public couldn't understand (unless you also provide a glossary), include as much contextual information as possible given time and availability of information constraints, include all the ISAD(G) elements
  • Knowledge of the variety of film and audio formats and knowledge of how to identify and differentiate between them
  • I've learned more of the quirks and functions of CALM as I've continued using that at WFSA
  • The wonders of Excel! - it is fantastic for keeping and managing timetables and deadlines. I can now use an Excel spreadsheet, and create one, with a lot more confidence - thanks Zoe!
  • I have been working on a Mac so have greatly increased my knowledge of using that, including simple things like learning how to take screenshots
  • I've installed and used DROID - Digital Record Object IDentification
  • I've learned how to edit film clips using Quicktime
  • Experience of using an 8mm projector
  • Plenty of experience now of using a Steenbeck - which I love!
  • Splicing film, adding leader tape
  • An awareness of the various ways and places in which archive film can be utilised, such as the Little Black Dress exhibition in Portsmouth
  • More experience of carrying out research - into film locations and film makers.
  • I now have knowledge of Hampshire, Dorset, Isle of Wight - and lots of places which I would now like to visit in person, as opposed to just seeing on film
  • Increased experience of the ways in which Twitter and Flickr can be used by Archives to promote specific projects and Archives in general.

Monday 21 March 2011

Louis Vuitton & Paris

As a Christmas present my husband surprised me with a trip to Paris which we went on at the end of February.  I've only been to Paris once before, it was January and freezing, and I didn't have much of a plan really, except to go to the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.  So this time we made lots of plans!  I am guilty of always overestimating how much can be done in a day and then trying to fit it all in anyway so this time I tried to be more realistic.

The l'Orangerie had come highly recommended by a number of friends, including Zoe at McGill Duncan Gallery so that was high on my list, as was the Rodin Museum, recommended by my Gran as a highlight of her visit twenty or so years ago!  Surprisingly, the other place at the top of my list was an exhibition about Louis Vuitton, I say surprisingly as I'm not exactly a high fashion devotee.  I found out about the exhibition here.  All I knew about Louis Vuitton was that lots of people seem to have Louis Vuitton embossed handbags which say nothing to me about fashion and everything about how much money they want people to think they've spent on said bag.  Oh, and at the other extreme, the beautiful luggage seen in Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Unlimited (one of the highlights of a disappointing film).

Photograph my own. 

However this exhibition, at the Musee Carnavalet, has completely changed my perceptions of the company and brand.  The company began in 1834 in Paris with the first store opening in 1854.  The exhibition goes deeply into the history of the company and the aims and beliefs of the Vuitton family who set up and ran the business.  Interestingly even from the beginning there was a real awareness of history, of archiving their own history and looking further back into history, as tools for marketing and promotion.  I think it was his son who researched and wrote a history of luggage through the ages and in addition to items deigned by Vuitton the exhibition also included examples of sources for inspiration for some of the designs.  There were so many stunning examples of suitcases, vanity cases, tea cabinets, travel wardrobes etc but unfortunately you couldn't take photographs - which, given my complete lack of photography skills is no huge loss - instead I will share with you this promotional video for the exhibition.  One of my favourites was a suitcase filled with hairbrushes, all of which fitted exactly into their own slots to stop them becoming dislodged in travel, and even better... when you looked at it upside down all the handles of the brushes made up a Manhattan skyline - genius!  The exhibition was laid out beautifully as you can see in the video and I suppose it all works as very effective promotion for the company but heck, what's wrong with promotion when it's so enjoyable!

Tuesday 15 March 2011

'Tweeter's' help in identifying building

Last week I was cataloguing a film (AV260/30) by Alan E Turner, an amateur filmmaker from Romsey.  The film was called 'West Country Holiday' and having a title is always useful, especially when it identifies the area shown in the film.  Inter-titles are even more useful and luckily for us Mr Turner included inter-titles in most of his films.  These are titles which appear throughout the film, usually indicating a change of location.  In this particular film there was an inter-title Ilfracombe, followed by some footage of the seaside resort of Ilfracombe in the 1930s.  The footage is lovely, showing lots of beautiful buildings, some great footage of the Lynton to Lynmouth Cliff Railway, and including this building shown in the image below.  I tried with Google Maps, walking about the streets of Ilfracombe in Google street view, looking at tourist websites for Ilfracombe but I just could not identify this building.

© Wessex Film and Sound Archive, AV966/30 - the Victoria Pavilion, Ilfracombe 
I decided to try Twitter as this has been successful before in identifying buildings, particularly when we have the name of the town to help.  This time I didn't even need to send messages to local tourist websites, I just posted the image on Twit Pic with a message on Twitter asking if anyone knew what this building was - you can see the response in the second image.  People are so helpful - I posted the request for information on the 10th of March and the replies from two individuals both came in the same day!

It turns out the building is the Victoria Pavilion.  It was built in the 1920s but in 1994 the decision was made that the costs to continue repairing it were too high and the building was demolished and replaced with the Landmark Theatre.  I used various online sources to verify the identification of the building and gather information on it but I would never have found any of this without the help from our followers on Twitter.  Or I should correct that, I might have found it, if I had been able to track down a book of old photographs of Ilfracombe but there just isn't that kind of time to devote to identifying one building so the use of social media such as Twitter are invaluable in this respect.

Friday 11 March 2011

My thoughts on the UK Archives Discovery Network (UKAD) Forum on Wednesday 3rd March 2011

My first visit to the National Archives – after getting slightly disorientated when I came out the station I eventually got on the right road and made my way to the National Archives.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of the day – would it all be too ‘techy’ and over my head, would it be practical or theoretical, what would I be able to take away and apply to my work? One thing I certainly had not expected was the high attendance of the conference, I was expecting maybe 30 or 40 people not the 100 or so people that attended.  There was a real buzz on arrival of expectation and enthusiasm which was just great.  I felt slightly overwhelmed at first as it’s the first archive meeting I’ve been to since moving down to London and although the archives world is still relatively small it is of course a lot smaller in Scotland, so not so many familiar faces for me.  However this was great as it was an opportunity to meet and chat to archivists and information professionals from all over, Scotland included.  

The event was the first event organised by the UK Archives Discovery Network (UKAD) who describe themselves as “a network of like-minded archivists and other professionals working towards opening up archival data in order to promote the use of archives.”  I liked the sound of this, had a look at the planned agenda for the day, and decided to sign up, and, the event was free – even better!

The day began.. with tea and biscuits of course! As anyone who knows me can attest I don’t function well until I’ve had my obligatory morning caffeine kick.  The day proper began with two keynote speakers in the plenary session, John Sheridan (The National Archives) and Richard Wallis (Talis).  Both these speakers talked about open data and linked data.  The definition given of linked data, as I remember it, was information that is known about the information you have, and how to exploit this using the web.  So basically how do we create the links between the information we have and other information about our information on the web.  So far so straightforward.  At least two speakers references Tim Berners-Lee’s  ‘Five Stars of publishing data’ which i really like as a brief guide of 'what to do'.
* putting on web
** make it available as structured data
*** standardized format
**** URL’s to identify things
***** link data to other data, context

So, what I have taken away from the day? First off, as a side product of the actual presentations and workshops, I came away with a reaffirmed belief in the friendliness and enthusiasm of my colleagues in the profession because of the energy and enthusiasm of the day.  I’m always banging on about how much I love being an archivist, well this day just reinforced many of the reasons why.

I also came away with some specific tips for increasing the profile of an institution, for example using Google Analytics; using URL’s which make sense & are relevant, & not using acronyms in URL’s; checking to see if there’s a Wikipedia entry for institution, if not, why not, and can we create one?

Importantly I feel I gained a deeper awareness of the importance of thinking about what we want to achieve with the use of social media.  Do we want to attract the same users as would come through the door, are we targeting specific user groups at all or do we just want to promote generally?  Is it about promotion or interaction, or both?  Generally thinking of the use  of social media in the same way you would any other activity i.e. formulating plans and aims beforehand.

The day ended with a great session by Teresa Docherty from the Women’s Library about the relaunch of Genesis.  Genesis is a project which works as a portal allowing people to search across women’s studies resources in a huge number of locations – archives, libraries and museums across the UK.  Teresa finished her talk with the sentiment that ‘lets get out data out and let people play with it.  It’s time to have some fun!’ (paraphrased).  I love this attitude as I think it’s too easy to get stuck in the trap that our Archive, or a particular set of records in our archive, would only be of interest to one set of users.  One example I can think of from my own experience so far is artists coming in and doing projects in the archive and producing outstanding new work based on the archives.  This ties into a point made earlier in the day by Alexandra Eveleigh that we are maybe too accustomed to thinking only of study and research in terms of use of our archive and we need to think of archives outside of this narrow definition for example the use of apps and gaming devices by museums.  There were of course mountain of other topics discussed and areas covered, and far more eloquently than I could summarise, so here is a link to Slideshare where some of the speakers have uploaded their presentations:

Teresa Docherty – Genesis Relaunch

Richard Wallis – Linked Data

There are also some blog posts I've come across about the day - a great post by Bethan Ruddock at the Archives Hub and another on the SALDA blog.

So, the task now is to apply what has been learned, continue to be open and receptive to new ideas, and keep up the enthusiasm!

Thursday 10 March 2011

John Stezaker at the Whitechapel Gallery - collage work using archive images

Last weekend- after a Friday and Saturday night at home I decided I had to get out and about on Sunday and do something, but, with so much choice in London what to do!  I chose to go to the Whitechapel Art Gallery which I love anyway, but which also has an exhibition on which I'd been wanting to see for a while.  The work of John Stezaker is collages which he creates from classic movie stills, old postcards and book and magazine illustrations and clippings.  He puts these together in such a way that although you know instinctively that the image is wrong, in the sense that it's been altered, there is something about them that's so right.  Often the images are lined up, for example in the image below he lines the faces in the movie still up with the edges of the cliff from the vintage postcard.  I found this whole exhibition incredibly pleasing! It made me smile as I walked around it, which is always nice on a Sunday afternoon, and you could read so much into the images, but you could also just enjoy the act of looking, the new meanings and contexts created by mixing together these old images.

It's only on for one more week, finishing on Friday 18th March and I would highly recommend this to anyone who gets a chance to visit before it finishes.  If I lived in the area it's something I would probably have gone back to more than once, in fact if I wasn't going away this weekend I think I'd be going back! 

Tuesday 8 March 2011

The most Inspirational Woman in my life - my Mother

I've just realised that tonight - on International Women's Day - I spent my time doing things inspired by the most inspirational woman in my life, my mum, Christine Mackenzie.  I finally finished a draft excluder I started making in January on the sewing machine which belonged to her.  I think it looks pretty good - as long as you don't look too closely at the bad stitching on the finish.  I used instructions I found on the Guardian website here.  The main mistake I made was not sticking so closely to the instructions given about the width - I used up at least four large bags of rice to fill it, maybe necessary if you live in a cave but slightly excessive for a small under-door draft!  I also think I should have picked a material with a smaller, more repetitive pattern, but that's purely aesthetic and to be honest given the cold weather this winter it's the function I'm more bothered about.  It took me a while to work out which needle head to use on the sewing machine but luckily I still had the instruction manual so managed to work it out with the help of that.

I was amazed that I remembered how to thread it all up, having been shown on many occasions as a young girl by my mum.  As a teenager I was always starting up art projects which my mum always encouraged - although invariably, any ones involving the sewing machine, she ended up finishing off for me.  It is very comforting for me to use her sewing machine as it brings back so many happy memories, even the noise of the foot pedal bring back memories of sitting reading a book or watching TV in the living room, hearing my mum being creative in the other room - she was never one for sitting in front of the TV, always preferring to do something creative (maybe more than preferring actually, it was like an imperative, it was essential to who she was I think). 

my draft excluder
I'll never live up to my mum's inspirational and creative work on the sewing machine but it's going to be nice to use the same machine to (hopefully!) make clothes that my mum used to make such beautiful art work - such as the first image here, an early work of a farm just across the fields from the house we grew up in in Eaglesham.  Believe it or not this is just a scanned image of a photo of the work - the texture has come through so well!  This photo of the piece, mounted on board and with explanations would have been done for the classes she taught.  This archive of my mum's work, the samples she did, the explanations she gave, is something I want to collect, along with photos of her finished art works, on a website - a project for this year I think.

© Christine Mackenzie
The mermaid is a more recent work and I absolutely love it - the colours, the skill and detail in the stitching, the romance and mythology of the boat on the water and the Gaelic text (which I know I have a translation of but can't find right now).

© Christine Mackenzie
After that I made pancakes - large crepe style ones rather than scotch ones.  It brought back lots of happy memories of making them with my mum and for my mum.  I remember on pancake day when we were younger and both me and my mum were vegetarians, and my brother just fussy, that we would make 'savory' pancakes - filling the with grated cheese - followed by sweet pancakes - filled with Golden Syrup and maybe a bit of cream.  Tonight though I stuck to the traditional lemon and sugar for me and Oliver.

The recipe for the pancakes I made tonight came from the Glasgow Cookery Book, Centenary Edition.  But the history of the Glasgow Cookery Book and the inspirational women behind it is definitely a story for another blog post!  if you can't wait for that and want more information then you can find out more about the history of the book at Glasgow Caledonian University Archives and about the centenary edition here.

I hope everyone else has had some positive thoughts, actions and memories on International Women's Day.

Monday 7 March 2011

Where private and professional meet - or should do.

Yesterday I was reading Saturday's Guardian and was very happy to find an article The Rise and Rise of Family Photographs about the issues of personal archiving, appraisal, and digital obsolescence of family photographs.  However as I continued to read through the article I got this awful sinking feeling in my stomach, the knowledge that I might have done something which is bad as both a family member, and, as an archivist.  [takes a  deep breath]... I think when I was clearing out my mum's house I may have chucked out a whole paper bag full of family photos.  Now to qualify this slightly, they aren't my immediate family photos as in my Grandparents/Great Grandparents, they are photos which my mum got when she was helping to clear out the house of a Great Aunt.  None of the photos had any names, dates or places on them and my mum didn't know who most of the people were in them.  She did say a few times that she hoped to get round to trying to put names to at least some of them, but sadly she passed away before she could do this.  I did however keep a leather envelope which contains photos belonging to the same Great Aunt and, given that these were selected and kept in better storage, it suggests they were considered of more importance, or maybe just the best of the collection.  So, in retrospect maybe what I did, or may have done (as I haven't quite got round to going through everything that I packed up from my mum's house yet so am still unsure whether I merely packed the photos away) maybe it isn't so bad after all.  I've still got a selection of the photographs, which were considered important, and I wouldn't have been able to put names to any of the faces anyway.  

I've got two boxes full of me and my brother's family photographs with our parents and grandparents, the majority of which are in albums but very few of which have dates or places attached.  I think decisions have to be made, and to me, my immediate family photographs come first.  Me and my brother will need to sit down and go through these photos, probably with our dad, in order to remember where many of them were taken.   For example the photo below is me and my brother - but where? This could have been taken on a summer holiday, most likely Arisaig or Arran, though it doesn't look like Arran to me, or it could have been a day trip away, maybe Millport or Troon - in other words even these relatively recent photos are in desperate need of labelling if they are to stay relevant to our family.  

© Kathryn Hannan (nee. Mackenzie)
When I was going through the bags of our family photographs in my mum's house there were also loads of envelopes of photographs in addition to the albums - I made the decision that I wasn't just going to carry all these on with me - I was going to make like a good archivist and sort and appraise them!  I did this with my brother, which was a great experience in itself, reminiscing about childhood memories.  We decided to remove all duplication, we got rid of lots of photographs of scenery with no people in them keeping only the best shots of a place.  For example we went to the Isle of Skye many years in a row, each year taking similar photos of the Cuillins and the Old Man of Storr, so we picked the best ones and kept them, getting rid of the others.  We also narrowed it down by getting rid of photos that were very similar, for example photos of my 8th birthday - just how many photos do you need of me and my friends standing round the table laden down with cakes and treats - answer, not as many as immediate instinct would have you keep.  We then put all the loose photos in spaces in the photo albums - at this point my archival practices went a bit out the window to be honest.  I just wanted to get them all in albums so the didn't get bent and torn in transit so I still haven't tried to date or label any of them.  Reading the Guardian article has made me want to devote a day, with my brother, to going through and doing that - not only would it be useful, but it would be fun too!

I tweeted about the Guardian article last night then today when I checked the blogs I follow I found a really interesting post by Melissa Manon at ArchivesInfo 'Culling Family Photographs'.  In her article she makes the very important point 
 "We really do not need to keep everything. We do not need to be afraid to determine what is unnecessary. We do not need to leave the "dirty work" for our descendants. If we do, eventually someone is likely to get frustrated and just throw the whole kit-and-kaboodle into the trash. Handing down a well-managed collection of personal papers and photographs to loved ones encourages them to treasure the items, keep up their maintenance, AND to value the family history that they embody."

These personal examples I've given really resonated with another point in 'Culling Family Photographs' - 
"Label, label, label. If a photo is worth keeping, you should provide its back-story. Use a photo safe pen or pencil to record the name of the person, place, and/or event depicted. If there is a "story" to the image, supply as much as you can of that too." (ArchivesInfo, Culling Family Photographs, March 5 2011).
Her article is full of useful advice about the issues of archiving family photographs, including the very important issue of appraisal i.e. do you keep it or not.  

From personal experience I, like Melissa, do take exception to the point made in the Guardian article by Michael Hewitt that in regards to uncertainties over whether something will be of value to future generations "The only answer, therefore, is to hang on to all of it, and let our descendents do the sifting."  Having been put in this position I am determined that I am not going to repeat it!  

Another thread running through the Guardian article was the issue of digital obsolescence.  Michael Hewitt makes the point that - 
"we all seem to need something approaching an information technology degree. It's a problem that will become increasingly common as we gradually entrust all our photos and home movies to digital media. Not just because of disk crashes. Format obsolescence won't help either... American Scientist recently dubbed this potential loss of generations' worth of photos and home movies the "digital dark age". We should, it says, all make an effort now to preserve them before it's too late."
There are so many issues encased in the worries over digital obsolescence, not least the fact that it is something which most people don't think about until they have a problem, for example their computer crashes and the files weren't backed up, or the files were only on the memory drive in the camera and the camera was stolen.  Also in terms of labelling - ok you might give the photo a title but where do you put the additional information - generally this would be on Facebook, Flickr, Twitpic or whatever other platform is used to share the photographs.  This means that the information about the photographs is detached from the photograph files themselves, and even if the files are backed up elsewhere is this metadata about them carried over with them?  I know that personally I didn't, until now, think of what happens to all the cataloguing I add to photographs on Flickr - not just places, dates, etc but the URL's that I'll add in to photographs of exhibitions, as just one example.  Then there are all the family photographs I haven't put up on Flickr that are just on my laptop and my camera - I should clearly have these backed up somewhere, but how do I add metadata to the photos? I don't know how to do that, I'm sure I could ask an archivist/IT friend but will I ever get round to it - I doubt it.  My option is still to print off the most important photos and put them in envelopes.  I have albums but as yet still haven't got round to putting any of the photos in them. 

It really gave me a warm glow to read this article in the Guardian though - to hear the terms archiving and digital obsolescence, and the concepts of cataloguing and tagging, discussed in such a thoughtful way.  Although I know I have a long way to go in terms of properly labelling and preserving my family photographs at least I feel aware of all the issues involved - now all I have to do is act on it and use my professional archiving skills for the benefit of my personal and family life!  

Tuesday 1 March 2011

An Oscar in the Archive

This was something I wrote when I worked at Stirling University Archives - I thought with the Oscars being topical right now I would finally get round to putting it up!

'An Oscar in the Archive', Kathryn Mackenzie, Archivist/Research Assistant, Lindsay Anderson Collection, University Archives, University of Stirling

One of the more unusual items found when the Lindsay Anderson Collection arrived at the University of Stirling was an Oscar statuette.  The ‘Oscar’ was found in the Collection when it was being unpacked by the University Archivist, Karl Magee.  The initial excitement at having found an Oscar gave way to a realisation that, going by the weight and material of the statue, it was highly unlikely it was an original!  The Lindsay Anderson Collection now contained a fake Oscar rather than the real thing, but it is precisely this fact that makes the story so interesting.

Lindsay Anderson's 'Oscar'
© Lindsay Anderson Collection, University of Stirling Archives

We knew from research into Lindsay Anderson’s films that he had won an Oscar, in 1954, for a film he co-directed with Guy Brenton entitled Thursday’s Children.  Set in the Royal School for the Deaf in Margate this 25 minute film shows a group of deaf children in their classroom.  The film is narrated by Richard Burton who describes the stories of the individual children and the learning process they go through to enable them to communicate.   Thursday’s Children won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short in 1954.  So, the question we faced now was, given that Anderson had won an Oscar, why was the one in the Archive a fake?!

LA/5/01/1/1/4 Letter from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to Brigitte Roelen (Lindsay Anderson's secretary), 17/08/1973
© Lindsay Anderson Collection, University of Stirling Archives

It wasn’t until a few months later, whilst going through the correspondence, that this puzzle was solved.  A letter from Lindsay Anderson’s secretary to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, dated 8 August 1973, was the first step in uncovering the story of the Oscar.  She explains that the Award for Thursday’s Children was collected by Anderson’s co-director as Anderson was unable to attend.  The letter is to enquire if it is possible for Anderson to receive a replica of the Oscar statue.  The Executive Director of the Academy replied only a week later on 17 August 1973.  He explained that “Our Board of Governors has established a long standing policy that no duplicate statuettes can be issued”.  Well, this must have disappointed Anderson greatly, enough in fact that he discussed it with his friends.  How do we know this?  Because at a meeting of the Lindsay Anderson Memorial Foundation’ we found out it was friends of his who bought him a replica Oscar to fill the gap on his mantelpiece where the statuette should have stood!  So we now knew the story behind the Oscar in our collection and, although a real Oscar would have been a wonderful addition to the Collection, I think the story the fake Oscar tells is far more interesting.  

'Oscar' on display in the James Hockey Gallery, University College for the Creative Arts, Farnham
© Lindsay Anderson Collection, University of Stirling Archives

The ‘Oscar’ and the letters to and from the Academy are now regular features in an exhibition ‘Is That All There Is? An exhibition of archive material from the Lindsay Anderson Collection’.  This exhibition has been on display at the Changing Room Gallery in Stirling, The MacRobert Arts Centre at the University of Stirling and the James Hockey Gallery at the University College for the Creative Arts, Farnham.

(Originally written 14/08/2010)

Post Script:
The Oscar is now part of a new exhibition display Treasure from our Collections at the newly refurbished University of Stirling Archives and Special Collection