Research Note 9: Edinburgh Central Library and Highland Folk Museum

The latest research visits (April & May 2022) have been on the trail of a particular series of photographs by Dr Isabel Frances Grant (1887-1983) that are part of the IF Grant Photographic Collection. I moved from one digital archive, am baile to two physical archives- Edinburgh Central Library which holds the photographic collection itself and Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore, which is the embodiment and repository for IF Grant’s wider work as the founder of Am Fasgadh.

IF Grant described Am Fasgadh as ‘a pioneering attempt to create a Highland variant of the well-known folk museums of Scandinavia’. [1] She originally organised an exhibition in Inverness in 1930, in the hope that someone upon seeing the history and the material culture of different areas of the Highlands and islands, would create such a museum. Whilst the exhibition, lasting 7 weeks and receiving ‘close on 20,000 visitors’ [2] proved popular, no one came forward. IF Grant then went on to tour over Scotland to collect and buy artefacts, which she subsequently housed in three iterations of Am Fasgadh (‘The Shelter’). Grant saw Am Fasgadh as ‘providing a shelter for homely Highland things’ [3] in Iona (established 1935), Laggan and Kingussie. Following gifting her collection and museum to the four Scottish Universities [4] in 1954, Am Fasgadh was taken over by Highland Region in 1975.

The IF Grant Collection online at am baile and held at Edinburgh Central Library brings together IF Grant’s own photographs with the work of other photographers that she purchased, including Margaret Fay Shaw and Violet Banks. All the photographs depict different aspects of Highland life. Shaw’s photographs augment a gap in the collection on South Uist; whilst Banks’ works are of the ‘Last remaining inhabited thatched cottage’ in Eigg and a white thatched cottage in Sconser, Skye.

Grant’s own photographs, (attributed to her in the IF Grant Collection), depict a keen interest in different building styles and variations of thatched cottages across Scotland. Whilst there are examples from the larger islands of Lewis, Mull, Skye, and Arran, Grant also photographed buildings in Colonsay, Ulva and Lismore. She took examples across the north of Scotland in Thurso and Durness, around to north west, in Mallaig and Morar. Intriguingly, there is also a sub section of Grant’s photographs which are of ruinous cottages, which on one emotive level illustrate that this way of life was fast disappearing. Grant notes the cause in the early 1930s as ‘the Scottish Board of Agriculture was carrying a housing drive. Every steamer I travelled in appeared to be loaded with piles of window frames, sanitary equipment, etc… one began to wonder if any cottage of the traditional style would be left’. [5]

My research day at Highland Folk Museum, concentrating on IF Grant’s own photography, has proved to be three-fold – seeing the volume of photography that Grant commissioned from other photographers, mostly relating to Am Fasgadh; the subsequent usage of that photography to disseminate the existence of the museum further afield; and, some context relating to her own photography series of the cottages. Firstly, Grant worked with different photographers as well as postcard publishers Valentines and JB White, to document artefacts, interiors and exteriors of the three iterations of Am Fasgadh. She then utilised this documentation for spreading the word of the museum, in particular as saleable composite image postcards for museum visitors. A number of the photographs also illustrate articles on the museum in Scots Magazine and The Listener. Names that crop up repeatedly in her photograph album captions are Glasgow photographer John Mackay, who took photographs of the objects such as stools, chairs and farming implements, on mostly stark white backgrounds; and Donald B MacCulloch, whose address stamped on the back of one loose photograph in an album places him in Aviemore. In amongst another archival box, several visitors mailed IF Grant photographs of their day at the museum, which illustrates cameras were very much everyday objects used by the general population.

Cover of photograph album, with IF Grant’s handwritten index Photo: Jenny Brownrigg (2022)

In the photograph albums held in Am Fasgadh, Grant’s own captions provide a good level of detail relating to the authorship of photographs of the museum interiors and exteriors. An example is ‘Large photograph by D.B. MacCulloch’. However, on the pages there are also smaller, unattributed photographs of the museum. One option would be to surmise she did not note when a photograph is one of hers, but it is difficult to be sure of her authorship when she worked with numerous photographers. In Box 6, there are two foolscap sheets of paper, which are the only visual reference to the series of thatched cottages held at Edinburgh Central Library. There are 6 photographs affixed across the two sheets, with captions relating to object and place, in IF Grant’s handwriting. ‘1. A ruined cottage in Inverness-shire’ shows the pared back gable, stripped of thatch. It sits on the page next to ‘2. A very primitive cottage in Barra with hearth in the middle of the room’. The photograph captions do not state the author, however the image of the Barra interior, is definitely one of Margaret Fay Shaw’s. The Edinburgh Central Library holds larger reprints of this image, correctly attributed to Shaw. On the second foolscap page, the photograph with caption ‘5. Lewis houses’, reverts back to likely being taken by Grant. In this example, is the blurring of authorship down to IF Grant’s larger role of collector? Did she see her own photography as part of a larger collection, alongside other photographers’ work?

In Box 5, commissioned Aviemore photographer Donald B MacCulloch appears again, this time writing an article ‘Am Fasgadh: The Iona Museum’, for Scots Magazine and Scottish Country Life. MacCulloch states, ’She [IF Grant] has also formed a remarkable collection of old thatch cottages, and of various domestic activities carried on throughout the North Country and islands’ (P.48). This is the first external appraisal of the series as part of a collection.

Furthermore, the inclusion of these photographs in the exhibition catalogue for the ‘Highland Exhibition Inverness’ 1930, pre-dates this series to Grant’s subsequent establishing of Am Fasgadh’s first iteration in 1935. The introduction essay on P30 notes:

There will be a collection of portfolios [in the exhibition] for those who care to spend more time … there will be a large collection of photographs of old Highland cottages and of familiar work scenes.

The last entry in the catalogue reads: ‘Portfolio of Photography of life in the Highlands, lent by Miss IF Grant, Balnespick.’ Grant saw this particular portfolio’s purpose as one which augmented the exhibition, for those interested in the subject.

It is not unusual to traverse ground between archives to understand better the motivations and aims that each of the women photographers and filmmakers from early 20th Century in Scotland had for their work. The path between Edinburgh Central Library and Highland Folk Museum is no different. In a photocopied bibliography of Dr IF Grant’s written work, held at Am Fasgadh, it is noted ‘”Random recollections of the distribution of Local Types of Cottages”, typescript, 17pp, deposited with Edinburgh City Libraries, a companion piece to IF Grant Collection of photographs (1965)’. I shall look forward to returning to Edinburgh Central Library to learn more about this portfolio of images, and, hopefully, to shed more light on the photography she authored.

With thanks to Helen Pickles, Highland Folk Museum and Iain Duffus, Edinburgh Central Library

Am Fasgadh entrance Photo: Jenny Brownrigg (2022)

Footnotes

[1] P.11, ‘The Making of Am Fasgadh: An account of the Origins of the Highland Folk Museum by its Founder’, Isabel Frances Grant, (2007, National Museums Scotland).

[2] From Report of the Joint Honorary Secretaries to The Executive Committee of the Highland Exhibition 1930, typescript, (Accessions no: 2:1985), Am Fasgadh

[3] P.191, ‘The Making of Am Fasgadh: An account of the Origins of the Highland Folk Museum by its Founder’, Isabel Frances Grant, (2007, National Museums Scotland).

[4] P.10, Hugh Cheape, introduction, ‘The Making of Am Fasgadh: An account of the Origins of the Highland Folk Museum by its Founder’, Isabel Frances Grant, (2007, National Museums Scotland).

[5] P.30, Ibid.

Hive Mind: Researchers of Early Twentieth Century Women Photographers and Filmmakers in Scotland

In 2019, I was invited by National Trust for Scotland archivist Fiona J Mackenzie to be involved in the #CannaTweet Conference ‘The Female (or Those Identifying as Female) Photographer in Scotland & Her Archives- Contribution and Connection’ [1], which gave me the opportunity to consider the field of researchers currently working on early twentieth century filmmakers and photographers in Scotland.

Shona Main is exploring the work of Shetland film-maker Jenny Gilbertson  (1902-1990), whose archive is held by Shetland Museum and Archive. Shona is a Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities (SGSAH) supported practice-led candidate at University of Stirling and the Glasgow School of Art.

Maya Darrell Hewins is a PhD student at Shetland College UHI, investigating community-led archiving initiatives, with Shetland Film Archive as her primary case study. This volunteer-run community led group collect, manage and make accessible moving image material about Shetland, including amateur film footage.

Caroline Douglas is a PhD candidate at Royal College of Art. Her project ‘Women in Early Scottish Photography’ has researched the women involved in the wider process of making early photography, focusing on those who were assistants and subjects as well as makers.

Isabel Segui (University of St Andrews) has researched filmmaker sisters Ruby Grierson (1904-1940) and Marion Grierson (1907-1998), examining how they are documented in the Grierson Collection University of Stirling Archives. This was funded by SGSAH. Her new website is https://thegriersonwomen.wordpress.com/

Rachel Pronger and Camilla Baier are ‘archive activists’. Their ‘Invisible Women’ project seeks to re-insert forgotten women filmmakers of the 1930s and 1940s back into the story of film. This includes Kay Mander (1915-2013) and Evelyn Spice Cherry (1904-1990).

Sarah Neely (University of Glasgow), as well as her scholarship on Orcadian filmmaker Margaret Tait (1918-1999), has also written on Isobel Wylie Hutchison (1889-1982) who travelled to Greenland and the Arctic to make botanical films. Royal Scottish Geographic Society holds Hutchison’s archive.

Fiona J Mackenzie is Canna House National Trust for Scotland archivist. She has been re-interpreting Margaret Fay Shaw’s (1903-2004) images, films and words, telling the story of Shaw’s life and work. She builds on the lifework of retired Canna House archivist Magda Sagarzazu.

I spoke about Edinburgh photographer Violet Banks (1886-1985) and M.E.M. Donaldson (1876-1958). Banks travelled across the Hebrides in the 1920s. Her archive is at Historic Environment Scotland. M.E.M. Donaldson made many walks across the Highlands and Islands, using her photographs for her travel guides. The landscapes part of her archive is held by Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. Read more about these two photographers here. [2]

Rachel Boyd, currently studying MLitt History of Photography at University St Andrews, was the second speaker at #CannaTweet Conference, exploring how Margaret Fay Shaw’s 1930s’ photographs of South Uist linked both to the land and the community, arguing that ‘Shaw’s portraits were faithfully attributed with Gaelic patronymics, situating them in their ancestral heritage, attributed not just by the character of the local landscape enveloping them or their farming implements – but in relation to each other.’

Follow on Twitter: @GaelicSinger, @shonamain @SarahRNeely @RachelPronger @camillabaier @rachelwboyd @isabelgui @caddydouglas @Maya_D_H @BrownriggJenny

Footnotes

[1] #CannaTweet Conference took place 14.5.19. A Tweet conference is a method to present a paper entirely on Twitter, across an agreed number of tweets per speaker.

[2]  Hugh Cheape has written on M.E.M. Donaldson in the excellent article ‘Herself and Green Maria: the photography of M.E.M. Donaldson’, Cheape, H, ‘Studies in Photography’ (2006). Jennifer Morag Henderson is currently writing Donaldson’s biography.

 

Observing Women at Work: Franki Raffles

‘Kvaerner, Govan’, (1988) Franki Raffles, from the exhibition ‘Observing Women at Work: Franki Raffles’, (2017), Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art. Photo: Alan Dimmick

In 2017, I had the privilege to curate an exhibition of Franki Raffles’ (1955-94) work. This project is in partnership with Dr Alistair Scott (Franki Raffles Archive Project, Edinburgh Napier University) and is supported by St Andrews Special Collections.

Franki Raffles was a feminist social documentary photographer. A new publication accompanies the exhibition ‘Observing Women at Work’ in the Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (4 March – 27 April 2017). The exhibition presents a selection of black and white photographs and material by Franki Raffles namely ‘Women Workers in the USSR’ (1989)’, ‘To Let You Understand…’ (1988) and material from the first ‘Zero Tolerance’ campaign (1992), entitled  ‘Prevalence’Zero Tolerance was developed as a ground-breaking campaign to raise awareness of the issue of men’s violence against women and children. See documentation of the exhibition here.

Installation shot, ‘Observing Women At Work: Franki Raffles‘, Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (2017). Photo: Alan Dimmick

Installation shot, ‘Observing Women at Work: Franki Raffles’, Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (2017). Photo: Alan Dimmick.

My essay is on P33-40 of the new publication ‘OBSERVING WOMEN AT WORK: Franki Raffles’. The book is published by The Glasgow School of Art with support from Franki Raffles Archive Project, Edinburgh Napier University and contains an introduction by Sarah Munro (Director, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art) essays by Jenny Brownrigg (GSA Exhibitions Director, curator of this exhibition) and Dr Alistair Scott (Edinburgh Napier University, The Franki Raffles Archive). The photographs are held by University of St Andrews Library Special Collections Division.

From l to r: ‘Burntons Biscuits, Edinburgh’ / Cleaner EDC, Edinburgh/ ‘Cleaner EDC, Edinburgh’, from ‘To Let You Understand…’, Franki Raffles (1988), ‘Observing Women at Work: Franki Raffles’, Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (2017) Photo: Alan Dimmick

[ESSAY EXTRACT: ‘A local authority canteen worker is quoted in Raffles’ 1988 publication, To Let You Understand…, as follows: “Well privatisation won’t affect me. I’m due to retire soon, but it’s the younger ones I feel sorry for.”

Looking back over the quotations gathered for this City of Edinburgh District Council Women’s Committee commission, they concentrate on high unemployment statistics for school leavers; impending privatisation (at the time the publication was written, this related to British Steel, water and electricity following the sell-off of utilities such as British Telecom and British Gas); low pay; childcare issues, particularly free nursery places; income support; inadequate NHS funding; equal opportunities; and employee protection rights. Fast-forward 29 years to 2017, following Thatcher, New Labour and into the economic uncertainty of BREXIT, Raffles’ work continues to be relevant to present-day working conditions and debates. The destination of many school leavers and graduates continues to be the Job Centre; sections of the NHS are being quietly privatised; the high cost of childcare still impacts greatly on income; and zero hour contracts create often precarious working conditions. Viewing Raffles’ work in black-and-white from our current decade is not in any way a nostalgic activity.

On entering the gallery to see Observing Women at Work, visitors encounter a similar view as the narrators do in Charlotte Gilman’s novel Herland (1915) – a society entirely comprising women. Through the repetition of gender, each of Raffles’ photographs reinforces her feminist agenda. The women are centre-stage. It is only on closer inspection that one can see men in the further recesses of the photographs – having a cigarette out of a lorry window or lingering at the end of a corridor with a co-worker. Even in a sole photograph of doctor and patient (Inside Back Cover, Women Workers, Russia), where the male has equal presence to the female, it is the woman who is wearing the white coat of the doctor, and the man who is the patient. Intriguingly, Raffles resists the device of the close-up, preferring the mid- or long-shot. She predominantly uses the establishing shot, which clearly shows the environment within which the worker operates, whether it is the regulated space of the open plan office, the natural dirt of the state farm or the systematic space of manufacture… EXTRACT ENDS]

Read full essay here.

The book can be purchased from GSA Shop for £7.

ISBN: 9780956764669 Dimensions: 21 x 14.8 cm Materials: paperback Designed by Maeve Redmond, 52 pages, edition 300.

Installation shot, ‘Observing Women at Work: Franki Raffles’, Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (2017). Photo: Alan Dimmick

Franki Raffles, ‘Plasterers, Women Workers, Russia’ (1989), from the exhibition ‘Observing Women At Work: Franki Raffles’, Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (2017). Photo: Alan Dimmick