Exhibitions Research Short read

Portrait of a Living Archive

Portrait of a Living Archive Exhibition
Portrait of a Living Archive Exhibition

It’s with great excitement that we can announce that descriptions of The Portrait of a Living Archive photographs are now appearing in Library Search. This collection of photographs is particularly poignant to us here as they portray people whose work is held on our shelves, but more importantly these are photographs taken by our own photographers, Jamie and Gwen.

Jamie Robinson & Gwen Riley Jones, two of our photographers from the Imaging Department, made a series of photographs for an exhibition held here in 2013 that bring us face to face with some of the people who appear in our collections. And now, these photographs have become part of the Rylands collection of photographic art, adding a depth to our knowledge of the people represented on our shelves. This collection of 13 images also expands our rich holding of photographic portraiture, as previously discussed by Curator Anne Anderton, by bringing it right up to date with current techniques, processes and people.

When people think about a library they tend to see it as a home for written rather than visual culture, so this collection of portraits could be seen as something of an anomaly for a library setting. However, since 2012 when we began curating and managing a designated Visual Collection, the Library has been invested in bringing our visual culture to the fore and using it in creative and imaginative ways to enhance our student learning and to find different ways of engaging with our public audiences. We’re keen to join in conversations looking at the impact of visual literacy, and we hope that the promotion of our photographic, fine art and object collections will have a resonance with our audiences.

Portrait of Michael Schmidt, from Portrait of a Living Archive. VPH.52.9
Portrait of Michael Schmidt, from Portrait of a Living Archive. [VPH.52.9]

For a specialist library like the Rylands people are often unaware that our collections are constantly growing as we acquire new items from contemporary writers, poets and novelists, translators, bookbinders and printers. The exhibition, POALA, explored the connection between our archives and these ‘living’ writers and artists through portraiture. Each participant was asked to be photographed in a location that was significant or meaningful for them. Michael Schmidt, the poet, novelist, critic and Managing Director of Carcanet Press, is seen in his office, sat at his desk, surrounded by shelves full of books with his computer partially hidden behind him. It’s easy to imagine him there creating some of the work and archival material boxed on our shelves. Similarly, the poet Grevel Lindop was photographed at Lud’s Church, Derbyshire, a very different environment and atmosphere to the previous image, but it is easy to picture him pondering on the landscape and taking inspiration from such a setting; and again those thoughts are captured in volumes and in archive format on the Rylands’ shelves. Grevel Lindop gives his thoughts on being in the archive at Rylands in his blog here.

Portrait of Grevel Lindop from Portrait of a Living Archive. [VPH.52.7]
Portrait of Grevel Lindop from Portrait of a Living Archive. [VPH.52.7]

It’s interesting to reflect on the impact the photographs made on the visitors to the exhibition. Would they have recognised the commonality between the photographs, for example those writers who chose to be photographed against a backdrop of heavily laden bookshelves or the artists, printers and bookbinders, photographed with the tools of their artistic practice? These photographs add another dimension to our understanding of the creative process, where the writers work and their places of inspiration, and in their simplest form they add a face to a name.

Cataloguing these images has proved a little bit tricky. We’re in the fortunate position of having Jamie and Gwen on site to ask questions of and clearly we have lots of background information about context, the hows and whys behind the exhibition too, but where to add it? Yes, it makes a full cataloguing record, but would we normally add all that extra detail, is it consistent with how our other photographs are catalogued and will it be relevant to those who want to engage with the image? Hopefully, we’ve managed to include all the pertinent information, but you can always get in contact with us if you wish to know more.

All Images Copyright Gwen Riley Jones and Jamie Robinson

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