Every picture tells a story – Bill Hall’s Family Album

Many of us have photo albums at home; possibly passed on from other members of the family all packed with photographs of loved ones at various stages in their lives.

While researching the Union Canal for an Our Town Story, we contacted Bill Hall who had a fantastic photograph of a relative that we wanted to use. During our conversation, he happened to mentioned that he had many others spreading right across his family, also a photo album packed full of photographs, would we be interested in seeing them?

The images in the album, date from the early 1900s through to the 1970s covering various events along the way.

There are studio portraits, very popular in the days before most families had their own cameras, everyone posing in their ‘Sunday best’.  Informal photographs of days at the seaside and outings on steamboats down the Clyde.

Margaret and Willie McCubben

Margaret and Willie McCubben, relatives on Bill’s mother’s side

Several of the photos show one member of the family, Archie Tait, a former ploughman at Wilkie’s Basin near Ratho. Archie had joined Edinburgh City Police in 1914 before enlisting with the army in 1915. He and his two cousins became Lovat Scouts which in 1916 became the British Army’s first sniper unit, then known as sharpshooters.  All three survived the war and Archie returned to the police force as a mounted policeman.

Archie Tait with Peter and Andrew Clark his cousins

Archie Tait (Bill’s great-great-uncle) with his cousins, Peter and Andrew Clark

An historical moment was captured and put in the album – the Airship R101’s endurance trial voyage which flew over Edinburgh on 17th November 1929.  The R101 was one of a pair of British Airships that were built as part of a British government programme to develop civil airships capable of service on long-distance routes within the British Empire. The trial flight flew over the North of England to Edinburgh and Glasgow and then over the Irish Sea to Dublin.

R 101 Airship over Edinburgh rooftops

R 101 Airship over Edinburgh rooftops

Like many family albums, there are photographs of people that no one recognises. Most get thrown away for that reason, but more often than not, they are kept in the hope that someone will eventually say…”oh, that’s Aunty so and so”. Bill can’t help us with this one below, but it is a great example of the type of prop that many studio photographers used for family portraits in Edwardian times. Backdrops and objects were used to create illusions, days at the sea side, or in this case a family on a drive in the countryside.

Unidentified family

Unidentified family

In Bill’s album a few pages have the photos removed, maybe lost over the years or perhaps given to other members of the family; all that’s left are the photo corners showing where they once were.

Browse all the wonderful pictures from Bill Hall’s family album on Capital Collections.

Wester Hailes Library’s community archive

When the West Edinburgh Times folded in 2008 due to loss of funding, its holdings of press cuttings and photographs were divided between Prospect Community Housing and Wester Hailes Library.

Children playing in front of housing, Wester Hailes

We’ve digitised some highlights from the Library’s fantastic picture archive and made them available via Capital Collections. The images show the neighbourhood during the eighties and nineties and depict all sides of life in the housing estate from dilapidated living conditions, sports teams and new infrastructure and technology to joyous Fun Runners and Gala Day goers in fancy dress. The production and distribution of The Sentinel (the West Edinburgh Times’ predecessor) is also documented.

Young boy crossing finish line, Wester Hailes fun run

Wester Hailes Library plans to hold an event where they’ll be inviting the community to come in and see if they can help put names to faces. In the meantime, if you spot someone you know in the photos online, let us know! Contact Wester Hailes Library if you’d like to find out more about the community archive or access the collection.

You can see more pictures from the Wester Hailes community newspaper archives shared by Prospect Community Housing on Edinburgh Collected. Browse these fantastic photos and memories of living, working and playing in Wester Hailes, or add your own!

How we’re rescuing our photograph collection with a hairdryer

IMG_4429Edinburgh Libraries is home to a collection of around 100 000 photographs.

We want these pictures to be seen by as many people as possible, so back in 2007 we started digitising photos and uploading them to the Capital Collections website.

But would you believe the everyday hairdryer has become an integral part of the process? Here’s how.

We discovered that many of the images had been mounted using sticky tape and in some cases the glue was starting to mark the image.

Around 80% of the collection was affected, many more than we could ever afford to have conserved by a professional.  Fortunately the glue had not yet seeped through to the image on most of the items but we needed to take action quickly.

Working with EDFAS (Edinburgh Decorative Fine Art Society) we recruited a dedicated team of volunteers who have been using a relatively low-tech tool to help remove the glue and help save the images. That tool being a hairdryer.

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Edinburgh Libraries’ Janette Gollan explains the process: “We are working on prints that belong to the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection within Central LIbrary. The prints haven’t been mounted very well  in the past so we take off the tape and remove the glue. The  hairdryers are used to soften the glue first then we can rub off the residue.   

The vastness of the collection means it’s a task we’d never be able to complete ourselves so the volunteers have been very valuable to us. It’s allowing us to preserve these prints for posterity and digitise them for public access.”

Volunteer Trina adds: “Some photos had quite a bit of residue on them so it could take a while. It’s a fairly intricate process as well and some days you could spend all morning on one photograph.”

So far they’ve got through about 4000 prints, helping save our collection for future generations and in the process of doing that they get a sneak peek at some wonderful shots of Edinburgh’s past.

“Some that stuck in my mind were the ones of Leith during blitz” Trina says. “None of us had realised just how badly Leith had been bombed. It’s photos like this that remind you of the importance in preserving  these moments of history for future generations”

Bomb damage on Portland Place

Bomb damage on Portland Place

Hilary agrees that the history they uncover to be very engaging: “ We’ve had great fun looking on websites locating photographs and finding out about places we didn’t know about.”

“One of the things I’ve just discovered is Sciennes Hill House where the historical meeting between Robert Burns and Walter Scott took place.  It was a house in the country with a long drive and now you can’t see the front of it unless you peer over a wall as it’s been built around so much. It’s lovely discovering things like that.”

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At the moment the hairdryers have been put to one side and the group are working on mounting photographs and adding relevant information to them.

When asked about the size of the collection, Irene laughs, joking that maybe Janette’s been keeping that from them.  “I’ve a feeling there’s some way to go yet” she says.

Once the photographs have been cleaned up and remounted they make their way to our photographer for digitisation. Images can then be viewed at capitalcollections.org.uk

Opening the Cage in the Art Library

Feb 14 Fine Art A3A collection of photographs by Hamish King is on display in the Art Library until March 31.  The exhibition, which is titled Opening The Cage, takes its name from a poem by Scottish writer Edwin Morgan. Opening The Cage: 14 variations on 14 words, which is itself based on a quotation from the American composer John Cage: “I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry.”

Of the theme of the exhibition, Hamish King remarked: “Most photographers, most of the time, work on projects. They pick a subject or theme, and then set about the photography to produce a portfolio of pictures that illustrate or comment on the chosen topic. This exhibition is an attempt to make interesting photography without a subject, or to put it another way, to make visual poetry while having nothing to say. The photographs have no intended subject, theme, message, or narrative; there is no political, social or documentary purpose. The intention has simply been to create a set of pictures that are interesting purely because they show something amusing, unusual, striking or mysterious; or for their abstract, graphic qualities of colour, shape, tone and line; or for whatever metaphor they might contain.”

The exhibition will run in the Art Library, from Mar 4 -31.

Edinburgh’s Pioneer Photographers

Edinburgh Libraries is home to a wonderful collection of early photography featuring work by pioneers of the form such as Hill and Adamson and Thomas Keith.  Over the summer we put together a series of films highlighting some of the hidden gems in this collection.

The first film features a volume of work by the Edinburgh Calotype Club from 1842, a club who listed  William Fox Talbot, the pioneer of the Calotype process, as one of its members.  The Edinburgh Calotype Club is the oldest photographic club in the world and we have one of only two photograph albums known to have been produced by the group.   The film goes on to explore some of the photos taken David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson including a fantastic picture of the half-completed Scott Monument taken around 1845.

The second film takes a look at the work of Thomas Keith and Archibald Burns.  In this film we’ll see how Edinburgh’s early photographers took inspiration from their city. It also shows how photography was being used as a tool to record social change and was becoming a way to earn a living by fulfilling the tourist demand for souvenir pictures.

Through the work of David Doull and George Morham,  film 3 explores the Victorian fascination with studio photography and the camera’s role in family memento.

David Doull was born in Edinburgh in 1831 and was one of the founder members of the Edinburgh Photographic Society in 1861.  Doull specialised in studio portraiture and the portraits in this film were taken at his studio in Lauriston Place between 1865 and 1867.

George Morham was an amateur photographer and Central Library is home to one of his family albums which dates from the 1880s.  The photos were all taken by Morham, father and head of the household.  Through his pictures we have a unique and unusually informal insight to Victorian family life.

Of the films Clare Padgett of Edinburgh Libraries commented: “We wanted to let more people see these amazing early photographs from our collections. And we realised that by making a narrative of the pictures through film, they could tell the story of the birth of photography, its use in social history and the camera’s role in recording everyday life. They offer a unique view of Victorian Edinburgh and the architectural and social change taking place at the time. But more than anything, they’re just wonderful pictures that are now available to everyone online.”

Explore this topic further by visiting Capital Collections and Our Town Stories.

David Peat – A Life Through a Lens


We have a great event at Oxgangs Library this Sunday for anyone with an interest in film or photography.  Film Historian and former director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival David Bruce will present a talk on the late filmmaker David Peat.

Best known for his work as a filmmaker and cinematographer, David Peat will likely be remembered for his documentaries such as This Mine Is Ours, Gutted and Life’s Too Short. However, he had also been something of a prolific photographer and the launch of the book An Eye on the Street through David Bruce’s Renaissance Press earlier this year illustrated how talented he was in this field.

Bruce recalls the time Peat came to him regarding his photography: “He approached me very tentatively asking if they were any good and of course not only were they good, they were fantastic and he was obviously a very significant photographer.”

Peat’s parallel career as a photographer had begun in 1968.  With the aim of creating a portfolio to help him gain access to the television industry, he took to the streets of Glasgow with a Pentax camera he’d received for his 21st birthday and began to document  street scenes in Glasgow and a city in transition.

It is these early photographs that make up An Eye on the Street. It’s a collection firmly steeped in the Street Photography tradition capturing moments in time and providing an empathetic narrative on life in the tenements of Glasgow.

“There’s a lovely complicity to these photos”, says Bruce, “you feel he’s joining in, his style is one if humanity, engagement and a sense of community. That’s what sets him apart from most photographers.”

The event is free and begins at 2.30pm. Call Oxgangs Library 0131 529 5549 to reserve a ticket or email oxgangs.library@edinburgh.gov.uk

Go with the Flow at Morningside Library

Morningside Library are currently displaying the work of local photographer David Pike.

Flow is a collection of photographs representing David’s experiments with still life, harnessing wild inaccessible landscapes of Scotland and America.  David seeks to capture landscapes as they slowly unfold using tradidtional methods rather than digital processes.  Shooting on film,  David then hand prints each negative onto traditional fibre based papers using wet dark room techniques. What you see is what was created through the camera and not digitally altered in anyway.

Of his process David said: “”I choose to work with film because it helps me to slow down, to think how I visualise the final print before I even get the camera our of it’s bag. Sometimes I just sit for a while or walk about in the scene I want to photograph, thinking about what is it that makes this place special to me and how I might represent it. I lose all sense of time when I am in ‘flow  I once waited nearly 4 hours in Yosemite National Park high on a mountain in exactly the same spot, waiting for the clouds to highlight the power of the Half Dome  mountain”

You can see the exhibition in the community room upstairs in Morningside Library until May 31.

Check out David’s work at www.photographydavidpike.com