Monthly Archives: November 2015

Picture this….

ORIGINAL BROWNIE

Tullie staff’s interaction with visitors is often memorable; I never cease to be amazed at the turns our conversations with visitors can take.  Recently in Old Tullie House, a very elderly man and his grown-up granddaughter appeared.  We started talking about the Pre-Raphaelite artists, but the conversation swung to how the young woman was about to start the third year of her degree in photography as fine art.

Her course was heavily film-based; that’s to say very little digital and lots of rolls and sheets of film and long, absorbing hours of darkroom work.  The grandfather’s love of photography had infected her, and she was taking an opportunity he had never had.  He was clearly bursting with pride and was overjoyed that she understood film.

There’ll be plenty now who have never seen a roll of film but will doubtless have seen a film camera – maybe in a junk shop or car boot sale or in the back of that rarely-opened drawer.

Recently I started a trawl through the cameras in the Tullie collection, improving their descriptions on our database.  It was interesting to see how many of the very old simple cameras are still fully functional, and to be reminded how solidly even some of the cheapest of them were built.  Of course “cheap” is relative.

They deserve attention, after all these old cameras were in at the beginning of popular photography and are the devices that gave us our most detailed social record.  This year the People of Earth are expected to take well in excess of one TRILLION photos.

What surprised me a little was that more than half the 90-or-so cameras in the collection turned out to be Kodak-made.  They are mostly the cameras of the “common man” (although for years Kodak’s advertising deigned to acknowledge that even a woman could take a photo). They are also of a time when photography was still something quite special.  The majority are box and folding cameras, the earliest about 1898, the latest about 1984, with the 70s and 80s represented by the odd Instamatic and one or two cine cameras. There are no what you would call “good” modern cameras. There are a few amazing pieces of machinery in the collection.  But a, or better, THE stand-out camera of the lot is this model of simplicity pictured here.

This unassuming black box camera is the camera that took photography into the price-bracket of the ordinary person.  This is THE Kodak Brownie of 1900-1901.  The one-dollar camera.  That was about five shillings, or 25p, in Britain then.  Add another dollar and you could buy a Brownie and a film AND get it processed and probably get fish and chips for two with the change*.

Kodak made 245,000 original Brownies from February 1900 to October 1901. They were wooden boxes with a mostly cardboard interior (check out the picture – you almost feel you could make one at home).

They had a simple metal rotary shutter and took just half a dozen pictures 6cm square on 117-size roll film.  The small box on top of the camera is a reflecting viewfinder, which could be bought as an accessory.  Without it the user had to almost imagine what would be in the photograph using two lines marked on the camera body as a reference.

The Brownie is fully functioning, and in remarkable condition taking into account its age, construction and the amount of use it could have had.

*Fish and chips in 1901, say 3d or a bit less maybe?  So taking inflation into account, about £1.50 each now?

Andy Whysall – Curatorial Assistant

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Volunteers – Working with collections

Helping give access to collections

21115_1Collections Access is a new, exciting strand of volunteering projects working with collections.  These activities help the museum make better use of stored material and make them more available to greater numbers of people.

The Head of Collections and Programming Andrew Mackay tells us a little more about the background to the projects:

“Tullie House has outstanding collections – we know because we are regularly told by this by external experts. There is very little point in having such important collections if we do not share them, so Tullie House has made a commitment to making the collections more accessible and we are delighted that we are able to work together to develop a range of collections based projects with a dedicated team of volunteers.

The ideal arrangement sees projects being developed that benefit both the museum and our volunteers. The volunteer provides time, enthusiasm, knowledge and commitment in exchange for hopefully developing their own skills and understanding by working closely on the collections with specialist museum staff. The collections become more accessible (and therefore more usable) by being catalogued, photographed, better stored and researched.

An ongoing project is undertaking an inventory of all of the archaeology stored at Shaddon Mill. This essential work allows the museum to better understand what it has in store (which in turn can help with exhibitions, research and engagement activities) and it also provides key information which will help assess future storage requirements.

We are therefore very grateful to the volunteer workforce for being so committed to helping make our collections more accessible. Without this invaluable help the level of engagement activity we can deliver by using the collections at Tullie would be so much harder to achieve.” 

191015 (5)Over the last few months two further projects have begun.  The Costume Collections Audit is a project to condition check and ensure correct data for every single item in the costume store.  The team has also been involved in preparing the costume for the Pages From History exhibition opening on 14 November which we’re all excited to be sharing with visitors.

Secondly, the First World War project is bringing together documentation, images and research for the major Carlisle at War exhibition opening in autumn 2016.  We’ve already found some telling and often poignant images of many different people involved in the war effort, not just service personnel.  These images give me (and hopefully other non-specialists too) a different and locally-focused perspective on this tumultuous period of history.

Kirsty, a volunteer on both projects says:

“It’s given me a real insight in the work behind the scenes of the museum that you don’t get as a visitor.  It’s great experience too for helping me get a job in museums after my Masters degree.”

kirsty31115 (2)Not only is Kirsty benefiting from this experience but she is helping Tullie maintain the collections for future generations.

If you’ve been inspired and we’d be delighted to welcome you to the team .  If would like to get more involved with these projects or volunteering then please visit the volunteering page.  Here you can sign up to our mailing list that lets you know about all projects first, more information about our existing projects and how to join the team.  We’d love to welcome you.

 

Claire, Volunteer Co-ordinator

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