Historic World Objects: photography and beyond

Felicity McWilliams – Project Officer

This summer was very busy for the Historic World Objects team. By the middle of July we had pretty much put together the final shortlist of the six hundred objects from the Historic World Objects collection that will be featured on the new Reading Museum online catalogue. The next stage was to make sure there are good quality photographs of each of the objects to accompany their online catalogue records.

Photography in progress

Photography in progress at the Reading Museum store.

To this end, Greta, Ollie and I spent a significant portion of the sunny months of July and August inside Reading Museum’s remote store, an Aladdin’s cave of objects in a warehouse-style building on the outskirts of Reading. Buildings designed for objects rather than people don’t always make fantastic working environments, but the lack of natural daylight did mean we could control the light applied to the objects during photography very well! We had two days of training from the University’s photographer and used new photography equipment supplied as part of the project – a fancy DSLR camera, a pop-up illuminated background, and flash lights with soft-boxes and umbrellas. We hope that, once they’ve been tweaked during the editing process, the new photographs will really make a valuable addition to the online catalogue.

A recently photographed object from the Historic World Objects collection.

A recently photographed object from the Historic World Objects collection.

I am now moving on with the research phase of the work on this collection. A new member of the team, Adam, will also be working on this with me for one day a week. We will be carrying out further research into the objects, documentation and collectors. This research will then enable us to write short pieces of text to accompany the basic object information on the online catalogue records. Adam and I will be starting by researching some of the collection’s known collectors. These include Dr Joseph Stevens, the first curator of Reading Museum, and Robert Gibbings, an artist and wood engraver who collected objects whilst travelling in the Polynesian Islands. Last Friday Adam and I attended a Museum Ethnographers Group study day in Birmingham, entitled ‘Researching Donors of Museum Ethnography’. The day was full of really useful tips and advice, and we made some real progress researching some of the donors whose names we had taken along to the event. We hope that some of the objects in the HWO collection will be brought to life in new ways by the stories of the people who collected them and brought them to Reading.

The Chronicle Collection

Sophie Fitzpatrick – Project Officer

One strand of the Reading Connections project is to create a web resource, in which material from the collections will be made viewable online. I am working largely on the Chronicle Collection belonging to Reading Museum; a photographic collection impressively boasting over 20,000 images taken between 1938 and 1962 for use in the Berkshire Chronicle Newspaper – now the Reading Chronicle.

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A large and interesting collection, the Chronicle’s content is diverse and covers a wide range of subjects such as war and peace, school, dance, theatre, religion, fetes, weddings, monuments and statues, sport, railways, trams and trolley buses, road accidents, floods, work outings, pubs, agricultural shows, Royal visits and famous visitors (including authors, politicians, theatre performers, film stars, sports men and women, musicians, artists, singers and variety show personalities), all centred in Reading and its surrounding geographical areas.

I have spent the last few months carefully selecting 2,000 images from the collection for the online resource which will essentially create a ‘shop window’ into the diversity and scope of the images the Chronicle Collection has to offer.

Whilst the photographs selected will reflect the varied nature of the collection, ‘war’ and ‘peace’ are particularly strong themes and link to the 2014 ‘Reading at War’ exhibition at Reading Museum. I have therefore selected a moving image from 1939 of a child being fitted for a gas mask to share with you.

Many of the images selected for the online resource are in the form of glass plate negatives which are currently in the process of being digitised using specialist scanning equipment. As this strand of the project evolves, I’ll be sure to keep you updated of my progress.

New gadget alert!

Written by Danielle Mills, Digitisation/Data Officer for Reading Connections

MERL have recently had an ICAM ‘GUARDIAN’ camera installed for the ‘Reading Connections’ project, funded by Arts Council England and Renaissance Strategic Support Fund. The GUARDIAN is a large freestanding piece of photographic equipment consisting of a digital camera mounted on a column with a base unit that can accommodate many different formats and sizes of documents, as well as bound volumes through the use of the book cradle which is situated under a piece of glass.

The book cradle with glass lowered and ready to photograph

Book cradle demonstration using a Ransomes engineering drawing register

 

Instead of scanning the negatives, a process that can take up to 15 minutes for 2 quarter plate (4.75” x 6.5”) glass negatives, using the GUARDIAN and a lightbox we can now digitise a box of 50 negatives in about an hour.

 

GUARDIAN with glass lowered, base insert in place and lightbox and negatives

GUARDIAN with glass lowered, base insert for flat documents in place, and with lightbox and negatives ready to go!

Photograph of a negative taken on the GUARDIAN that has not yet been inverted and flipped to a positive image

Photograph of a Collier negative taken on the GUARDIAN that has not yet been inverted and flipped to a positive image

 

I have been spending the last week getting to know our lovely new purchase and have found it really user friendly. I hope to make some good headway through the Collier collection over the next few months!

Digitising MERL’s Local Photographic Collections

Written by Danielle Mills, Digitisation/Data Officer for Reading Connections.

Local photography is one of the themes of the Reading Connections project and a large part of my role is to digitise and catalogue some of MERL’s local photographic collections. We are making these images available to view online via our catalogue Adlib to increase accessibility to these wonderful resources for local history.

I am currently digitising the Collier Collection. Phillip Osborne Collier (1881-1979) was a commercial photographer and postcard publisher working in Reading from around 1905. The collection consists of approximately 6000 glass plate negatives showing Berkshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire from 1905 to the 1960s.

The collection is split into three sections, early (1905-mid1930s), late (mid1930s-1960s) and miscellaneous plates (1905-1960s). I have scanned and catalogued the early Reading plates (P DX323 PH1/E150) and I am now making my way through the early series alphabetically by place name, from Abingdon to Yattendon. Whilst scanning Ascot negatives I noticed an image of the racecourse dated 1911-1912, and as Royal Ascot is this week I thought I’d share it!

 

 

Ascot Racecourse, 1911-1912 (P DX323 PH1/E6/10)

Ascot Racecourse, 1911-1912 (P DX323 PH1/E6/10)

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Enlarged section of the image above to show spectators and police officers in more detail

Whether it’s a 1905 snapshot of the road that I drive down to work everyday, the beautiful architecture of churches and buildings in Reading, or people in Berkshire caught in front of the camera lens whilst going about their lives, each day I am coming across amazing images and I hope to share more of these with you over the coming year.