Fill the Archives Gap (Archives Photo Project)
Written by: Pamela Birch
The project sought to engage volunteers to take good quality images of Greensand Country to be deposited with the Bedfordshire Archives, the County Record Office, to act as a lasting record of the area. Participants learnt what makes a good record photograph so that they could help fill the gap in the archival holdings that has developed in the last 30 years due to the ending of traditional methods for photographic recording such as an in-house council photographer. The aim was to take new photographs recording changes and developments however the pandemic made this very difficult and the project had to adapt. Rather than all the photographs submitted being recently taken, several photographers submitted older images that they had taken over a number of years.
The project resulted in approximately 400 images being accessioned into the archival holdings of the county; this was 700% more than the original aim of the project. The project engaged ten volunteers, seven of whom contributed images, and raised awareness of the importance to the archives service of well documented photographs. The project was celebrated with a virtual exhibition. We are most proud of being able to adapt to fit the circumstances we found ourselves in.
Benefits to People
The project benefited the participants, who learnt about the heritage and were given new skills in understanding the importance of accurate documentation of change. It also benefited future researchers who will be able to engage with the history of the area using the photographs now held by the archives service.
I am also more determined than ever that the Archives service needs to engage people with the creation and collection of the record so that there are not such large gaps in what is handed on to future generations.
Benefits to Heritage & Landscape
Participants gained a better understanding of how the documentary heritage of the county is collected, preserved and used. The 400 images added to the archival holdings will enable future generations to better understand their heritage.
Benefits to the landscape were minimal, however, asking people to look at the landscape with the aim of recording change and the way that others engaged with the landscape gave a new focus to the participants’ own engagement with the landscape.
Challenges & Lessons Learnt
Due to the pandemic the project lost momentum: the participants were unable to get out and take photographs, some participants were unable to continue with the project, and we were unable to hold our final workshop or celebrate with an exhibition in May 2020. Remaining participants were encouraged to submit photographs they had taken before the project, we then held a couple of virtual meetings in early 2021 in order to discuss the virtual exhibition for the Greensand Festival in May 2021.
Have a longer lead in time so that we could engage more people from a wider selection of backgrounds and make sure they really understood what is required. What seems obvious to you is not always obvious to others no matter how clear you think you have made it and that can result in a lot more work for you than you expected to have to do. It is all very well wanting participants to feel a sense of ownership of the project but actually achieving that is difficult particularly if you want an outcome that suits your purposes. Don’t try doing it during a pandemic.
In response to the pandemic:
‘Some people have put rainbows in their windows. The idea is to cheer up anyone passing, would you like photos of the practice for the archive as a record of people’s response to the situation?’
‘I really want to continue with the project and I will endeavour to get out and do some photography very soon.’
In response to the launch of the exhibition:
‘Really interesting range of photos’
‘The virtual exhibition is FUN and it’s COOL!’