by Daniel Casey (National Photographic Archive / Dublin Institute of Technology Archival Internship 2014)

I completed an internship as part of the annual collaborative partnership between the National Photographic Archive (NPA) and the DIT School of Photography from September to December 2014.  The internship provided me with a fantastic opportunity to have practical experience of working with a previously uncatalogued photographic collection, following on from a solid introduction to theories about the Archive in my second year of the BA Photography programme.

From the large quantities of uncatalogued material in the NPA one box was selected for me to work on. The box contained 74 postcards known as the Lawrence Postcard Roche Collection. Elizabeth Kirwan, Curator at the NPA and Keith Murphy, Reading Room Manager, who were invaluable throughout the internship, provided as much background information as they had. The 74 postcards were removed from a larger collection of postcards named the Roche collection. The postcards selected were Lawrence postcards, which we know as there is an imprint of Lawrence Publisher, Dublin printed on the left side as in Figure 1.

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Figure 1 Antrim Castle, Antrim

The extraction of the selected postcards over other items in the Roche Collection was simply due to the interest in material relating to the Lawrence Collection.  The Lawrence Collection is particularly important to the NPA.  Its holdings of 40,000 glass plates were bought by the National Library of Ireland in 1943 and a significant number of printing blocks and albums were acquired later.

For any collection, it is important to know its provenance. An examination of the Roche Postcard collection turned up an acquisition note for the postcards, stating that half the collection was presented by a Mr. P. Flood and the other half by a Mr. F E Dixon on the 22 April 1980. Information on Mr. P. Flood proved elusive but Mr. F. E. Dixon was a president of the Old Dublin Society and entries relating to him were found in the Dublin Historical Records. He is mentioned by Frank Staff (Staff, 1966) and Kieran Hickey (Hickey, 1973) as being helpful to their research, and the items he donated to Dublin City Libraries can be found in a collection known as the Dixon slides.

The Roche element of the collection name is explained by its frequent occurrence among the addressees on the sent postcards. Postcards were received by Roche and Mitchell in Doneraile, Co Cork and Brookville, Ballnacurra, Co Limerick and again in Glasgow, accounting for 39 cards sent, or half of the collection. The second most popular name is that of Mrs. Irvine who had an address in Rathmines and Sandymount in Dublin, accounting for eight postcards received.

Other key information about the postcards was obtained by breaking down the constituent parts, such as the title of the postcard, the location represented, whether it was printed in colour or not, the franking, manuscript date, manufacturers text, whether it was sent or unsent, and if it matched other related materials when cross-referenced. One can date the postcards from the franking and the fact that postcards in 1902 for the first time had an image on one side with spaces for both message and address on the other. I recorded what was visible from the franking, and based on this information the earliest year of postage appears to have been 1905 and the latest 1916.

While the majority of the items are topographical views with a location mentioned on the image side of the postcard, it was decided to order the items in alphabetical order starting with the place or county, then town and so forth. Figure 2 Antrim Castle, postcard shows the title on the bottom left corner.

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Figure 2  Antrim Castle, Antrim

Fifteen counties are represented, with Co Clare occurring the most, on 14 postcards and Counties Kerry and Wicklow next. The random nature of these results can be explained by a number of different factors.  For example,  it could be the personal preference of the collector for a particular county, the aesthetic view, or the type of postcard.  On each of the postcards in the Lawrence Postcard Roche Collection the location of where the image was taken is printed. It is generally readable, but not on all postcards, as this information can be obscured where the stamp was affixed. From the 74 postcards, 23 were readable, 20 of these stated they were printed in Germany or Saxony and the last three were printed in England, Ireland, or France.Blog-Daniel-Casey-Figure-3

Figure 3 Antrim Castle, glass plate

As part of my research, I cross-referenced the NLI online catalogue with the title of a postcard from the Lawrence Postcard Roche Collection and the Lawrence Collection glass plate negatives, and also with the Lawrence Collection postcard photogravures.  This resulted in visual matches with the digitised glass plates in the Lawrence Collection (for example, see Figure 3, Antrim Castle, glass plate). There are 886 copper printing blocks in the Lawrence collection for the production of postcards, an example of which is seen in Figure 4. Antrim Castle, printing block.  The blocks were catalogued by Chantal Sweeney (Sweeney, 2012), but how they arrived at the NPA is unclear.  A cross-referencing of these printing blocks was undertaken and 17 matching titles were found, of which 13 were visual matches.Blog-Daniel-Casey-Figure-4

Figure 4 Antrim Castle, printing block

While there are differences between the title of the postcard and the title of the glass plate in the collection, matches were able to be made by close examination of the details in similarly titled items. Some items share the same title but do not match.  Thirty-seven postcards, or over half of the postcards, can be traced in this manner to the glass plates acquired in 1943 and are credited with being the work of Robert French, one of Lawrence’s leading photographers.

My final task was rehouse the postcards to preserve them for future use in a way which would allow for improved access to them  but also protect them from coming into contact with other materials.  They were placed in Mylar housing which could be then be put into an acid-free ring binder.

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Figure 5 Rehoused Postcards in Mylar

With more time, I would like to have uncovered more information on the collecting habits of F. E. Dixon and the Roche family. The Lawrence business model would be interesting also to examine more comprehensively in order to understand the broader printing processes and distribution mechanism for the postcards.

The work I completed in the NPA has given the postcards a value in the multi-layered story surrounding the Lawrence collection. It ties the postcards with the glass plate negatives that generated the printing blocks used for printing the postcards with the photographs possibly originally taken by Robert French.  The postcards were sold to the public who wrote their messages to loved ones or business partners and sent them through the postal system. They were retained for sentimental value or the aesthetic appreciation of the image, ultimately to be collected by a collector and preserved by the NPA. They are available to the public once again for consideration in the context of the wider cultural and social impact of photography.

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by Mike Bors (National Photographic Archive / Dublin Institute of Technology Archival Internship 2014)

The National Photographic Archive (NPA) and Dublin Institute of Technology’s (DIT) annual collaborative partnership provides a number of Photography students with the chance to gain practical experience of working with a photographic collection. This gives students an opportunity to benefit from experiencing the practicalities and functioning of an archive as an empirical extension to the theoretical Archives, Images, History module of DIT’s Photography BA programme. The practical project work is managed and supervised by the NPA’s curator Elizabeth Kirwan, who directs and assesses the progress of the work in the NPA, in collaboration with Ann Curran, BAS programme Director.  In the NPA, students receive training and practical guidance in preservation from National Library of Ireland’s conservator Matthew Cains, and invaluable help and support from Reading Room Manager Keith Murphy.

To begin, Elizabeth addressed the social and historical context of the existence of the NPA and having received some training from Mathew in preservation methodologies for photographic collections and working in a photographic archive, the year’s projects were introduced and assigned. A portion of the Commissioners of Irish Lights (CIL) Photographic Collection was assigned to me.

Lighthouse

The Commissioners of Irish Lights oversees the costal lights and navigation marks and is funded by light dues paid by ships calling at ports in Ireland. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the time period when the photographs in this collection were taken, the responsibility for lighthouses, lightships, buoys and beacons around the coast of Ireland was vested in the Commissioners of Irish Lights. In 2000, CIL donated its collection of 23 boxes of prints, glass and plastic slides, negatives and positives totalling around 1,000 items, to the National Library of Ireland.

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My responsibility was to rehouse the 85 black and white prints, list them in a specifically designed Excel template for methodological recording of the content of the collection. These prints are housed in three archival boxes, and document the work of the CIL in various locations around the Irish coast between 1897 and 1911. While each of the photographs bears a CIL inventory number on the verso, each can also belong to a number of categories, differing in age, state of preservation, print type (some black and white prints, while others tinted brown) and mounting type. After much research it appears that all photographs in this collection are albumen prints. The mounting of the photographs suggest that they were prepared for display at some stage. Some of the mounts showed visible signs of fading from being exposed to the light for prolonged period of time.

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The collection presented multiple possibilities for investigation. My research focused on why the photographs were taken and collected and who took them. I was trying to establish a reason why photographs of lighthouses, inspectors, livestock, building sites, vessels, and shipwrecks and army ships were gathered into one collection.

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I wrote to the CIL in the hope that there would be someone in the Commissioners office who had knowledge of the collection. I was referred to Frank Pelly, a retired Lights Engineer, who is now the part-time Consultant Curator and Archivist at the museum at the Baily Lighthouse in Dublin, who kindly shared his expertise. He confirmed that the authorship of the photographs is attributed to Sir Robert Ball.

Astronomer, mathematician, and writer of popular science books, Robert Ball, was appointed Scientific Adviser to the Irish Lights Board in 1882. “It was his duty to advise the Commissioners of Irish Lights to the efficiency of the apparatus used in the Irish lighthouses”. (Ball, 1915, p. 246). Even though he was not obliged to accompany the Commissioners on their annual inspections, he was said to rarely miss the annual trip always accompanied by his camera. The collection is thus ultimately created by an amateur, even though Ball was a scientist and a member of the Dublin Photographic Society. There is no evidence to suggest he received any formal photographic training. This led me to believe, along with no evidence of receipts of payments from CIL that his archive was created of his own accord and possibly later donated by him to the Commissioners.

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I checked the 85 photographs against the existing information about the CIL archive. The physical integrity of an archive must be understood before any work on re-ordering or re-housing can be done. After a discussion with Elizabeth, and being unable to find any reason otherwise, all of the photographs were returned to the CIL’s original numerical order. The numbers (CIL 353 to CIL 430) were already recorded on the back of the the prints and changing the numbering system would only make it more difficult to access the collection. The contents of each print were recorded onto the spreadsheet and this now forms a new and crucial part of this archive.

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The final part of the work was the re-housing and preservation of the collection, done to best international practice. After consultation with Matthew it was decided that every item would be housed in an acid-free paper sleeve and than placed into an envelope. Each item was measured and the new housing was designed and made accordingly. The most damaged items were housed with an additional card backing to prevent potential degradation and decomposition. The collection was then rehoused into five large new acid-free boxes and two items were housed separately in smaller boxes, all marked with stickers with the individual reference numbers recorded in the bottom left hand side corner consistently throughout the collection.

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The CIL collection is a window into the historical past; as not only did it capture historical machinery, maritime culture and ways of travel but also people from over 100 years ago and their contribution to the safety of others. Ball’s photographs started their lives as just ‘snaps’, captured memories from his travels with the Commissioners, but they became documents not only of the lighthouses and their keepers, but also the inspections and inspectors themselves. Ball himself called his photographs ‘snaps’ but today they are much more than that, being “a mechanism through which we return to the past” (Enwezor, 2008: 13).  The CIL’s collection is a time machine that takes the viewer back to the 1900s. The recreational use of photography is often overlooked, but it is this kind of recording of everyday life that often tells us more than the professional, arranged or staged formal portraits and picturesque landscapes. It can reveal the untold stories and different, non-mainstream points of view.

by Mike Bors

National Photographic Archive / Dublin Institute of Technology Archival Internship 2014

 

Bibliography

Ball, W. V. (1915): Reminiscences and Letters of Sir Richard Ball, Boston: Little, Brown and Company

Enwezor, O (2008): ‘Archive Fever: Photography Between History and Monument’ in Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art; Steidl

 

 

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Why is the National Library archiving key Irish websites? The web is a fluid and transformative place, and research indicates that up to 60% of URLS have been deleted or changed after just two years![1]  Web archiving involves identifying, selecting and preserving websites to ensure this record of Irish life is not lost and will be available for future researchers.  The National Library works with our technical partner, the Internet Memory Foundation, to crawl and capture websites.  We will be taking a closer look at how we archive the web in our next blog.

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Original Copy of the 1916 Proclamation. NLI EPH G102

Beginning back in 2011 with the General Election, we aimed to create and preserve a record of online life in Ireland.  Our lives increasingly revolve around the internet.  It is online where we now find information, form our opinions and interact with our communities.  For an organisation such as ourselves, with experience of preserving material for future generations of researchers (whether those researchers visit us in person or log onto our website) there is a far greater imperative that drives us towards collecting this material, and that is that unlike other formats (paper, vellum, etc.) digital material and the technology that ultimately provides access to this material is in far greater danger of disappearing.  The irony is, that unlike vellum which when stored in the correct conditions can last hundreds of years, digital material can and does disappear at the touch of a button.  Just as we have worked hard to preserve material from 1916, including the National Library’s original copy of the 1916 Proclamation above, and the commemorative material from the 50th anniversary of the Rising in 1966, below, it makes sense to capture, preserve and make available the websites that tell the story of 2016 for future generations of researchers.

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Commemorative Calendar for the 50th Anniversary of the 1916 Rising.

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The National Library has an extensive programme of events for 2016 and web archiving plays a prominent role. We have selected the theme, Remembering 1916, Recording 2016, to reflect what we will be doing this year.  We will be archiving websites surrounding the commemorations of both the 1916 Easter Rising and the 100 year anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.  We will be capturing snap shots of not only the state led official commemorations, but also smaller locally organised events in libraries, museums and communities throughout the country to give a complete picture of what is happening online in 2016.  One such example is that of the Ireland 2016 website. This official website details the State Centenary Programme of events at home and abroad for 2016.

 

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Ireland 2016 website.

Ireland.ie is one of the first websites we will be archiving this year. It details commemorative events in Ireland and abroad. Capturing this website ensures that future researchers will be able to look back on what happened in 2016.

The Library’s digital web archive collection will be complementary to the other NLI 2016 highlighted collections, and just as we reflect on the paper based record of the 1966 commemorations, researchers will look at our 2016 web archive collection to gain a better understanding of this centenary year.

We will be updating you on how we do what we do and on our progress through the blog here and also on our social media accounts, so do keep your eyes peeled!

Check out what we have already preserved here: http://collection.europarchive.org/nli/

 Maria Ryan

2016 Web Archivist

Digital Collections

[1] Andy Jackson of the UK web archive http://www.slideshare.net/andrewnjackson/ten-years-of-the-uk-web-archive-what-have-we-saved

 

 

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