Genus has recently completed a project for the Scottish Fisheries Museum to digitise their photographic negative collection. In this blog we interview Linda Fitzpatrick, Curator at the Scottish Fisheries Museum to discuss the collection.
From the earliest recorded history of Anstruther, fishing was the mainstay of the town. At one time, more fish were caught, processed and traded here than at any other harbour in Scotland. The fishing industry also supported many associated trades and was responsible for a large percentage of trade in its own right. Cured fish were exported to other parts of Scotland, to England, and abroad to Europe.
However, by the latter 20th century, the fishing industry was changing and Anstruther was no longer as important as a fishing harbour. A group of people, concerned that a way of life would disappear without any trace or recognition, got together to form the Scottish Fisheries Museum Trust, with the aim of establishing a museum to mark the fishing heritage of Scotland. Anstruther, with its past importance to the industry, was the obvious location to choose.
A Committee was set up in 1965 to begin the project and the Scottish Fisheries Museum Trust established in 1967. The buildings, dating from the 16th – 19th centuries, were then acquired from the National Trust for Scotland. The Museum was formally opened on 4 July 1969 by the documentary film-maker Dr John Grierson. Despite the expansion of the site and major internal alterations to enable access for all, much of the original architectural character has been retained, and the Museum is still run as an independent charitable trust with the help of enthusiastic volunteers.
From the start, the ambition of the founders was not merely to tell a local story but to include the fishing heritage of the East Neuk within a national context. Resources have not always been available to match this ambition, but it has been proved justified: the Scottish Fisheries Museum is now acknowledged as one of Scotland’s national industrial museums and its collections formally Recognised as being of national significance.
The Museum displays cover virtually every aspect of the industry and community, both at sea and on shore. The variety and beauty of old fishing boats are shown in the models and original vessels, including the Reaper and White Wing that still go to sea. Social history is explored via personal possessions, textiles, domestic equipment and artworks. Reserve Collections are held in store where they are available for research and provide the focus for regular temporary exhibitions on a range of topics. The Museum is still actively collecting and new exhibits seek to reflect and inform contemporary issues affecting the industry as well as looking back into its history.
Where were the photographs taken and during what period?
The photographic collection of the Scottish Fisheries Museum is a resource of national significance, chronicling the technological, economic, social and political development of the Scottish fishing industry from the later 19th century through to the present day. The photographs exist in a variety of forms – prints, negatives including glass negatives, slides and digital files.
Who took the photographs? Were there any major contributors to the archive worthy of a mention?
The majority of the photographs in the collection were taken by amateur photographers who had an interest in the fishing industry, many through a family connection to it. Notable among these are Angus Grant, Dennis Chapman and Tom Tarvet, an ex-whaler. In addition, the museum was gifted archive images from the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency which are unique in showing boats operating at sea.
The museum also benefitted from the efforts of a number of volunteers who took photographs of fishing boats and fishermen around the coast, including Rosemary Galer, a violin teacher in her professional life but a keen observer of boats who has left us a fantastic collection, meticulously catalogued, which charts the changes and developments of the industry on the west coast. Mike Wilson documented the last boat built by the internationally-renowned Miller of St Monans and we also have images donated from the company archive.
Who has seen the photos? Have there been any exhibitions of the photographs in the past?
The photographs have been recognised as a key resources in the museum since it began and are a major feature of our displays as they form a striking, visual representation of the changing faces of the industry. Over the years, they have been a key element in a number of exhibitions, notably “In Focus” in 2017 which revealed the range, aesthetic appeal, historical significance, and the resonance with staff and volunteers of the collection.
Smaller scale social media initiatives such as our weekly “Photo Fridays” series have revealed sizeable expertise and interest in the wider community and have enabled us to obtain information on our images. Images have featured in publications, both museum-led and external.
Having said this, the images shown are often from a select core of the collection – those that are known to the curators and show particular aspects or operations. To date, the collection has been under-utilised and little-known, in part owing to a paper index system which makes it difficult for researchers, both within the museum and among the general public, to interrogate the collection properly. During the course of this digitisation project, I have already seen images that I had not come across before in over 20 years at the museum. It is really exciting to make these new discoveries within a collection I thought I knew well, and to see possibilities for telling new stories and exploring new issues.
What was the digitisation Process?
The collection comprises mainly 35mm film negatives captured over a timespan of many years in all weather conditions. There is very little continuity in terms of colour cast or exposure. Genus was selected for its expertise in capturing photographic archive material in terms of image quality and an understanding of handling heritage material. A dedicated Project Manager was assigned the project and they remained available to the client for the duration of the project. The collection was captured by our experienced digitisation team using professional level cameras complete with prime macro lenses. Capture is only part of the process though as photographic collections can consume a huge amount of post processing resource. Every image was manually corrected to create a colour accurate and correctly exposed image. Scottish Fisheries Museum had prepared a thorough specification document that clearly defined key parameters which made working with them a pleasure. Master and derivative files were called for which will enable the museum to retain full creative control over the further use of their images.
Now they are digitised what are the plans for them?
Thanks to a recent grant from NLHF, the museum’s entire collection of photographic negatives has now been digitised. This has given the museum a vast new resource of material for use in displays, exhibition and in our learning and engagement programmes. However, unlike those that were digitised internally over previous years, those completed recently have not yet been keyworded or captioned. Therefore, they are, in practice, no more accessible to the public who are still reliant on visiting the museum in person to consult our paper indexes or on submitting an enquiry to our curatorial team. Our next steps, therefore, will be to work to add that key information to enable everyone to connect to the images and the stories they hold.
Genus would like to thank Linda Fitzpatrick, Curator at the Scottish Fisheries Museum for her contribution to this article. if you would like to find out more about our digitisation services please visit our website