This post will detail the research and exploration I have undertaken surrounding the digital artefact of my choosing for my final project, film slides. Once I had settled on the film slides as my artefact of choice, I wanted to complete further research to ensure my project we well informed before it began.
I decided to look back at some of the work by Dana R. Keller that originally inspired this project. Keller believes that we can feel separated from images due to a lack of colour. Similarly, I feel disconnected from the film slides due to the fact that I am not viewing them as intended through a projector. He uses Photoshop when colorising these photographs, coming from a background of photography, he has knowledge about lighting, textures and mediums that allow him to accurately recolour these images. More importantly however, he insists on doing extensive research of the photographs so that his retouching is informed. He intends for all his work to be respective of history and as accurate as possible. Researching the historical context surrounding the images such as uniforms, advertising and colours of clothing during the respective era allows for this. Keller believes we need to bridge the gap between the art world and the archival world. Factual knowledge and authentic storytelling allows viewers of the images to feel more connected to his colourised versions. In his opinion, the images should speak for themselves and if the colorisation is too noticeable this will not be possible.
I aim to take many of Keller’s ideals into my own project. When holding my slides up to the light, it is clear that there will be a need for some colour correcting and I intend to do this in photoshop. I also whole-heartedly agree with his method of extensive research before he recolours these images. I want my potential audience to connect with the slides on a personal level and having as much of a backstory as possible to each photo will encourage this. I am excited by the prospect of embracing my inner Sherlock Holmes and taking up detective work; searching for even the tiniest clues that might shed some light on the origins or journey of these slides.
These film slides were intended to be viewed on slide projectors such as the one above. I had considered purchasing a slide projector in order to view the slides as they had been intended. This projector has an internal light and focusing lens that allows the photo to be projected onto a larger screen and viewed by an audience. I went against the decision to buy a projector as this would not allow to digitise or distribute the slides to a wider audience. I then began to look into other ways to view or scan the photos.
Epson Perfection 1660 Photo
Andrew suggested I use the Epson Perfection 1660 Photo, which was available to me on campus. I could use this scanner to obtain high quality scans of the film slides. As they are so small, any regular scanner on a printer would not deliver the same result. This again brings me back to Keller and his attention to detail. Scanning these photos in will allow me to see so much more of the slides and their intricacies – this is incredibly important when it comes to the detective work of finding their source or more about their story. Scanning these film slides will also mean that I have digital versions of them. It is possible that I may be the first person to digitise these photographs, depending on the date they were lost or reclaimed. This brings with it some implications. Firstly, I will have the ability to manipulate the images in Photoshop. Through this, I may be able to restore the images should they need any colour correction, exposure adjustment or general retouching. Secondly, it makes me consider the analogue form of photography in comparison to the digital. The entire process surrounding the photos, from the taking, to developing, to viewing is almost completely different to that of digital photography. And finally, the implications of them becoming digital. Once digital they are much easier to share, but this raises questions of data privacy and permissions.
Rephotography can be described as the practice of taking new photographs and using landscapes or cityscapes as a reference to compare it to old photographs. Although this is not the exact nature of my project, there are some significant similarities in terms of using clues in old photographs to identify the locations and dates of photographs.
Mary Agnes Krell is the Director in the School of Media, Film & Music at the University of Sussex. She has worked extensively in the field of rephotography and has written a chapter in the book Hands On Media History; her chapter: (UN)CERTAIN GHOSTS – Rephotography and historical images. She justifies rephotography as “a practice that offers novel opportunities for engagement with archival materials for both the creator and the viewer”. Although the concept of comparing old photos to new photos is not what I will be doing with my project, the idea of offering novel experiences to both the creators and viewers is. By scanning in and posting these photos, they will be experienced and received in an entirely different way to how they would have been viewed at the time of their creation. However, if I am able to determine the exact location of some of photos, I will be able to create my own piece of rephotography. I found Krell’s work particularly interesting and relevant to my project. In relation to rephotography and the title of her chapter she states the following: “The ghosts in the title refer simultaneously to the original photographers and to the people and places who have disappeared from the spaces and places we inhabit.” This statement exactly and delicately puts into words my own feelings towards the film slides. They have an aura of a “past life” or as Krell refers to it, ghosts.
She continues on to detail some of the methods used before undertaking a rephotography project. It requires “careful planning and close study of original materials”. This is something I plan to do in my project. When thinking about this in a rephotography context however, I will not need focus on some of the things necessary to Krell’s project such as determining the exact angles a photo may be taken from. There are other methodologies though such as searching for visual clues from the architecture of buildings or environmental elements, that will assist me in piecing together the stories behind each film slide.
Walter Benjamin was published a range of works on culture and society, but was best known for his ideas on art and authenticity; and his opinions on original artwork and photographic reproduction. Through his research, Benjamin defined the term “aura” as the following:
A strange weave of space and time: the unique appearance or semblance of distance, no matter how close it may be. While at rest on a summer’s noon, to trace a range of mountain on the horizon, or a branch that throws its shadow on the observer, until the moment or the hour become part of their appearance – this is what it means to breathe the aura of those mountains, that branch. Now, to bring things closer to us or rather to the masses, is just as passionate an inclination in our day as the overcoming of whatever is unique in every situation by means of its reproduction. Every day the need to possess the object in close-up in the form of a picture, or rather a copy, becomes more imperative. The difference between the copy, which illustrated papers and newsreels keep in readiness, and the original picture is unmistakable. Uniqueness and duration are intimately intertwined in the latter as are transience and reproducibility in the former.”Walter Benjamin
His opinions and concept of “aura” are incredibly relevant to my project. The slides in their current form, viewed through a projector, are the original artwork. My scanning and posting of them is my own reproduction. I am able to use Benjamin’s further opinions on original vs. reproduced artwork to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of both. He believed that reproduced artwork could be of higher “social” value, due to the fact it can be enjoyed by a larger audience at their own discretion. This had a profound effect on postmodern thought and influenced art movements, including Pop art, Feminist art, Conceptual art and Appropriation Art. When considering the social value of my reproductions, I believe my actions allow for the slides to become useful. By useful, I mean that they can be viewed shared digitally and through this, my audience and myself will be able to examine the images for clue about their origins, in the hopes we may gain a deeper understanding of them or even achieve the incredible feat of reuniting them with their original owners.
I looked into copyright laws in the UK as none of the film slides were taken by myself. There are complicated intricacies of these laws but it is important to consider these before I am able to distribute the photographs. The Gov.uk website has guidance on copyright laws. It states that a new copyright may arise by creating digitised copies of older images, if specialist skills have been used to optimise detail, and/or the original image has been touched up to remove blemishes, stains or creases. However, they state that “according to the Court of Justice of the European Union which has effect in UK law, copyright can only subsist in subject matter that is original in the sense that it is the author’s own ‘intellectual creation’. Given this criteria, it seems unlikely that what is merely a retouched, digitised image of an older work can be considered as ‘original’.”
Due to this, I have decided to add a copyright disclaimer to the photographs. As a student, however, under UK law I may be exempt from any copyright laws as the following is stated: “The purpose of this exception is to allow students and researchers to make limited copies of all types of copyright works for non-commercial research or private study. In assessing whether your use of the work is permitted or not you must assess if there is any financial impact on the copyright owner because of your use. Where the impact is not significant, the use may be acceptable.” The lost and rediscovered nature of the slides themselves indicate there is no financial impact on the copyright owner, however, the copyright disclaimer will ensure I do not pass these photographs off as my own.
Sourcing film slides
When I had finally settled on this concept for my final project, it was announced that the UK would be entering a lockdown so I had to find an alternate source for the film slides. I searched through eBay and found a listing for film slides dated from the 1960s – 90s. I decided to purchase 100 of these slides and requested that the majority contain people, although the description of the listing states that they will be a random selection.
After the slides arrived, I used the scanner available to me on campus to scan them in. I was shocked at how much more detail there was to the photos after scanning them in. The scanner allowed me to import the photos directly into Photoshop where I could begin retouching. I will go into further detail about this process in a later post.
After the UK lockdown was lifted, I decided to purchase some more film slides from Snooper’s Paradise in Brighton. Snooper’s Paradise is “Brighton’s biggest antiques and vintage emporium”. Their stock is sourced from individual sellers.
I went on to scan in these slides as well, before beginning my retouching and investigation of the photographs. The slides sourced from Snooper’s Paradise had more limited information available than those from eBay. Most of the slides did not have a date written on them, nor any other information on the slide holders. I chose a few slides from each source to investigate in more depth where enough information was available.
Film slide investigation
Channelling my inner Sherlock Holmes was perhaps the part of this project I was most excited for. Since the dawn of social media, we have been bombarded with a massive amount of media. These media also tend to come with all kinds of data attached. Locations, timestamps, people tagged in photos and people interacting with these photos through likes and comments. I have countless memories with friends as a teenagers “stalking” our crushes’ profiles. “When was that taken?”, “Is that his sister or his girlfriend?”, “Did he like her photo?”, “How tall is he compared to that doorframe?”. There have been internet memes stating girls “find out everything” and calling them “FBI Agents”. Although amusing, it does not give credit to just how easy it can be to find things out simply from a photograph. Curiosity killed the cat, but social media killed privacy. When it comes to these film slides, I had to approach them differently. The amount of information provided is vastly less than that of a social media post. However, the following photo sets are those that I was able to gain the most information from.
This film slide came labeled “LOOE – Old shops at harbour – 1975”. The process of narrowing down the story behind this photo therefore became quite easy. After searching Looe on Google Maps, I was able to locate the town and harbour referenced on the film slide, a small coastal town, fishing port and civil parish in south-east Cornwall, England. I used Google Street View to attempt to find the exact street the photo was taken on, however, I was unsuccessful in this. I found a website for Looe Harbour and emailed someone from the “contact us” page, sending the photo and asking if they knew where it may have been taken. As of now I have yet to hear back.
Film Slide Source: eBay seller ogol2068
I found myself feeling quite personally attached to this photo. Perhaps it is knowing the name of the woman in the photo, or the curiosity of having an address provided. Again I turned to Google Maps to investigate further as there was no postcode written. There are only 3 addresses in the UK starting with “140 Bispham Road”. This obviously narrowed down the search massively and I used the satellite images of each address to narrow it down further. The above address in Blackpool is the only home with a garden large enough to be the one in the photo and the large trees at the back of the garden confirms this. The photograph is dated April 1974 and due to the age of the woman pictured I can assume she has likely passed away by now. I attempted to research the address to see if I could find the names of previous owners or if the house had been sold since this photo was taken and found that it had been sold in both December 1999 and April 2008. As I knew her name and address, I wanted to reach out to the current residents of the address to see if they may have any knowledge of Amy. I did so by sending a copy of the photo in a letter to the address and I have yet to hear back.
Film Slide Source: eBay seller ogol2068
I again turned to Google Maps to investigate this photo. Blanchland is a village in Northumberland, England. When I went into Google Street View, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had been placed in close proximity to where the original photo had been taken! The buildings in view are Blanchland Abbey. I was then able to angle myself as closely as possible to to the original view of the camera and create my own example of rephotography. The side by side below allows us to see the Blanchland Village Square in September 1967 vs. in March 2009.
Film Slide Source: eBay seller ogol2068
I was particularly excited by these photos for a number of reasons. The previous film slides had been sourced from an eBay seller and I was lucky that most had been labeled with at minimum a date. When it came to these slides and most of the others purchased at Snooper’s Paradise, however, most were entirely undated. The first photo shows a clearly full stadium and tennis tournament. I assumed it must be Wimbledon due to most of the slides being from the UK, further research was able to confirm this. What is very interesting about these photos is the kind of inception of the mediums. It is a photograph of a television screen showing a broadcast of a tennis match. The first broadcast in colour was 1967 so that was my first point of reference. Although I could see the score of the matches, not much more information was readily available. This is when I turned to the finer details of the photo. I looked at the uniform of the ball boys, the rackets and funnily enough, it was actually the socks of the tennis player that allowed me to identify the year of the photo. I then used the score of the match to figure out exactly who was playing in this match. This match was the semi-finals of Wimbledon in 1979. Pat Dupré and Roscoe Tanner went head to head with the final score being 3-6-3 and 6-7-6 respectively. My focus then turned to the woman in the second photograph. After searching who presented the trophies at Wimbledon for that year, I found that it was Katharine, Duchess of Kent. She went on to present trophies at Wimbledon for years following. Tanner went on to face Björn Borg who eventually won the 1979 tournament.
Although I was unable to find footage of the DuPré vs. Tanner match, I was able to find footage of the final between Tanner and Borg. I also managed to find the following clip of an advertisement for Wimbledon 1979 (Watch 3:01 – 4:00 for the clip).
Film Slide Source: Snooper’s Paradise
The entire above set of photos was all collected from Snooper’s Paradise. It is definitely the set I spent the longest investigating. There were no clues as to the date they were taken. I began looking at the Boy Scouts and their history. My most obvious clues were the uniforms so that is where I began. I did further investigating into the history of Scout uniforms and found that the boys photographed were likely Cubs. In 1967 a new uniform was implemented. The cap worn by the scouts indicates it was taken after this time. This date provided the earliest possible time these photos could have been taken.
The below image showed exactly which parts of the uniforms would be significant in identifying the county and the cubs were from. If you look closely, the small region badge labelled in the photo above is the same as the one worn by the scouts. I was unable to find out exactly what badge it was from either source so I began researching badges.
Cub Uniform Badge Placement
I looked at some of the badges the cubs were wearing. The shape of the red badges seen on the arms of the scouts match those below, updating my timeline to somewhere between 1972 – 1981
A badge of significance was the World Membership Badge, implemented in 1972 further bringing forward the possible date of these photographs.
I then shifted my focus to the district badge in the film slides. I can just about make out a blue badge with yellow stitching. After hours of trolling through vintage cub scout badges, I found the Greater London district badge. It was updated in 1965, further supporting my timeline. The Greater London district badge was divided into seven new Scout counties (Greater London Central, North, North East, North West, South, South East and South West), I was unable to identify exactly which county the cubs were wearing so I reached a dead end with this line of questioning.
During the previous research process, I came across a blog by Nigel, http://www.nigelworld.org.uk/ . He details his experience scouting as a child. While scrolling through his posts, I found some photos of canoes. When looking at my original slides I found that the canoes seemed to be the same exact ones even down to their colours!
Although very exciting, I also reached a dead end with this line of questioning. I have reached out to Nigel to find out more about his scouting experience. My final estimate for these photos is that they were taken between 1972 – 1981 and were of Greater London Cub Scouts.
Film Slide Source: Snooper’s Paradise
When it comes to investigating the story behind all of the film slides, I tended to focus on the names, dates or locations contained within them. It is important to consider, however, that there can be more to a story than simply factual information. The photo above was something entirely unique to the rest of the film slides. The double image was fascinating and at the time it was taken was likely considered to be a “mistake”. Older film cameras were entirely manual, meaning you had to wind the film in order to take the next photo. In this case, the photographer likely forgot to do so and as such ended up taking two photos on one piece of film. In double exposure photos, “anything that is white/bright will destroy information and anything black/dark will maintain information for the next exposure“. Looking at the photo, we can determine which photo was taken first. For the sake of ease, I will refer to the two photos as either the “tall” or “short” version based off of the scale of the man photographed. I believe the “tall” image came first, as the bright sky aligns with the “short” image and the bright light has taken over the shadows in the “tall” image.
This image also reminded me of our session on glitch hop. This photo is an example of glitch without the use of digital technology.
Film Slide Source: Snooper’s Paradise
What makes an Instagram page successful/reach more audiences?
After my decision to publish the images on Instagram, I decided to investigate what exactly makes a successful Instagram page. I began this project with the hopes that I may be able to reunite the film slides with their original owners. Although this may be far-fetched, the bigger the platform, the more people I will reach and the more chance there is that someone may recognise people in the slides. The following is a list of considerations to make when creating and posting on a new profile:
Dana R. Keller – Recolorising