In a world where most people have a smart phone with a high quality camera that can capture and permanently store an image in seconds, taking film to be developed at the chemist’s already seems like a distant memory.
So imagine the task given to Doncaster students, of printing from 100 year-old negatives made of glass - the stunning results of which can be seen here and at Doncaster Minster.
The negatives used were created by prolific Doncaster photographer Luke Bagshaw. Covering a wide range of subjects, it is thought these images may never have been seen before.
So far the students have revealed images of the town centre, family portraits and the construction of the canal as well as St George’s Bridge. The exact dates are a bit sketchy but are believed to originate from a time when Edward VII was on the throne and the Titanic was going to show the world the future. The only photograph with a date is of the local law clerks in 1913.
However, the material used offers some tantalising hints of when they were taken. The delicate glass plates were slid into cameras to produce negatives until the 1920s when it was replaced by film.
“It’s quite scary dealing with glass negatives that have a lot of history behind them, because we’re aware that they are breakable and irreplaceable, “ says photography student Roberta Brackenbury.”
Fellow student Lauren Taylor adds: “It’s exciting to see the pictures appear for the first time in the developer.”
The exhibition is the culmination of a project between Doncaster Council Library Service and Doncaster College following a conversation between photography teacher Evan Wood and principal archivist Dr Charles Kelham, on how the wealth of resources held by the archives could be brought to the public’s attention. Mr Wood suggested his class could help put the images on display and learn about the importance of ‘contextualisation’ – how pictures link to their time and place. The Imperial Glass plates range in size from around 5x7 inches to 10x12 inches. These prints are converted into photographs of the same size – the college would need new machinery to be able to reproduce them at a larger scale. The project has been so successful that it is going to continue, with Mr Wood saying there’s around another decade’s worth of negatives to display. The aim is to digitise the work of Bagshaw and make it available to the public.
“The project is aimed to go towards a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund in the long run to build a display.
“These photos are the foundation. The students have their work cut out. They are also tasked with identifying the places, objects and people in the images. Even small changes can make a significant difference to the look of a place,” says Mr Wood.
For example, well-known buildings and gardens can cause confusion because in the photographs they still have their iron railings before they were removed and melted down as part of the war effort.The images were also taken when Doncaster’s coal mining industry was on the up.
As Mr Wood explained: “Young people now wouldn’t have any idea how it looked before the decline”.
A strand the project is to document the South Yorkshire area as it is today, as while digital technology means more photos are being taken than ever before, they are not necessarily being entered into any official archive for future generations. Local studies officer at Doncaster Archives Helen Wallder described the collection of glass negatives as a ‘Pandora’s Box’.
“We have no idea what is going to be on them until we print them. It’s really intriguing. It’s about getting the history of Doncaster out there for people. It’s all of our history, so we should all be a part of preserving it.”
New photographs have been displayed at the exhibition - which runs at the minster until Saturday - as they have been printed, but public assistance is needed to help contextualise the images.
This help will still be required after the exhibition has finished. Anyone who may be able to help with this project should contact Evan or Helen by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com