Collections Long read Photography Series

ICP placements with the Imaging team – Part 1 – Specialist digitisation of the Li Yuan-chia Collection 

ICP placements with the Imaging team – Part 1

The ICP placements offer students hands on experience with the collections and training in cultural heritage digitsation by the Imaging team.
Photo by Jamie Robinson / Courtesy of the Li Yuan-chia Foundation.

Student work placements play an integral role in postgraduate study on the University of Manchester Institute for Cultural Practices (ICP) Programmes. As part of the Rylands ICP placements, two MA students, Kai and Yunshuang, were matched with the Imaging team.

The project will get the students involved in digitising slides from the uncatalogued Li Yuan-chia Collection and will cover aspects of work carried out by the Curatorial, Imaging and Metadata teams. The placements take a blended approach, with on site and remote working over a course of 20 days, which started in November 2021 and will run until May 2022. 

Li Yuan-chia outside the LYC Museum & Art Gallery.
Image courtesy of the Li Yuan-chia Foundation.

Li Yuan-chia (LYC) (1929-1994) was one of the most important Chinese artists of the 20th century. With a group of fellow artists, he formed the Ton Fan Group in 1956, producing the first abstract works in modern China and gaining international attention. In the 1960s Li moved to Britain, exhibiting alongside dom sylvester houédard and David Medulla. While in London he taught himself photography and this medium became integral to his artistic practice. 

In 1972 Li converted a rundown farmhouse at Banks on Hadrian’s Wall into his own gallery, the LYC Museum, a place of tranquillity where art could flourish. Over three hundred artists exhibited there, while Li himself constantly explored the cosmos and the commonplace in painting, sculpture, installation, photography and poetry. The Rylands’ superbly rich archive constitutes the ‘life tissue’ of a remarkable poet-artist and person.  

The MA students enter the placements with a wide variety of skills, knowledge and interest and they will be trained in cultural heritage digitisation by the Imaging team, which will cover collection handling and preservation, digitisation techniques, practices and project management. The Imaging team believe that the placements will provide a valuable learning experience and the opportunity to contribute towards professional development in the cultural heritage sector. The work undertaken by the students will also provide a valuable resource to the Rylands.  

Yunshuang is an international student from China and is interested in studying Arts and Culture. She has already participated in an internship at a local museum, gaining knowledge in marketing and communication in arts organisations. She commented that she thinks the Rylands will impress her(!) and hopes that in return she can contribute to the project as she learns about working with special collections and digitisation techniques.

Kai studied his BA degree in Manchester and has chosen to stay in the city to peruse a career in the cultural sector, beginning with an MA in Art Gallery and Museum studies. From the placement he hopes to gain insight into work that is done in the Rylands and the sector more widely, to make art and history accessible to all.  

Kai commented, “I am excited to take part in a project that will make Li Yuan-chia’s photographs accessible to a wider audience that would not necessarily find themselves in contact with such art. So many people today have access to technology and the potential for our cultural institutions to expand their reach as a result of this is unprecedented. It is digitisation projects such as this one by the John Rylands Library that are leading the way in digital preservation.” 

The students are currently working together to carry out digitisation of batches of 35mm slides and exhibition pamphlets from the LYC Collection to make them available for online research. Photography sessions have taken place on site supervised by a senior photographer. So far, the students have had the opportunity to carry out the preparation work for digitisation, handling of the collection and photography of the items. They will then work remotely to edit and process the images to create files for digital preservation and display and carry out ingest to our image management system, Luna, ensuring files are preserved in line with our digital preservation processes.  

Finally, students will be taught a basic understanding about the creation of metadata, copyright and associated IPR issues, and will complete all documentation required for the digitisation project.  

Watch this space as we report on the progress of the digitisation project and share the students’ journey, work and reflections on their experience and learning.  

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