British photographic history

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Exhibition and Publication: Frank Browne SJ

This month has seen the fruition of a twenty-five year project for my son Edwin and myself. Having made 64,000 duplicate negatives and more recently digitised nearly 42,000 we now have made made a selection of 200 which form an exhibition currently on show at the Farmleigh Gallery in the Phoenix park, Dublin. Launched by the Irish Deputy Prime Minister it is drawing large numbers. Concurrently a new Book "Frank Browne, a Life Through the Lens" has been published by Yale University Press.

Browne was a photographer of world status whose work in Ireland is exceptional not to mention his English, Australian and other locations between. Photo-historians amongst others will find these images to be of great interest and anyone visiting Dublin before 23rd. December might find  trip to Farmleigh House and Gallery a half day well spent.

If this exhibition sparks enthusiasm a Further visit to the State Apartments in Dublin Castle will also tempt with an exhibition on William Despard Hemphill's pictures from the mid nineteenth century. He was a most successful participant in the Amateur Photographic Society competitions. I made quite a number of albumen prints for this show.

Learn more about the exhibition here: http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/famleigh/Events/FullDescription,32...

Details of the book can be found here: http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300208153

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Comment by Kelvin Jouhar on November 29, 2014 at 10:24
Thank you very much for your comprehensive reply David
Comment by David H Davison on November 28, 2014 at 22:45

In answer to Kelvin Jouhar I could probably write another book on the archiving of the Fr.Frank Browne SJ collection but will try to summarise in this short note.

The collection of almost 42,000 negatives is all on film with roughly half of them on nitrate base of which some of the earliest were already decomposing in 1988. The first move was to make copies of all the negatives using 35mm Kodak direct reversal film, this is almost grainless, and then repeat the process for the nitrate half. This resulted in there being two sets of film negatives on polyester base so that they could be archived in two separate locations. Two sets of contact sheets were then made for reference purposes. Edwin and his wife then set about creating a digital database on a program long disappeared although this has been regularly updated into the most sophisticated programs, in this are the original captions, dates, updated captions and keywords. Two years ago we created an Access file of all these details as a precursor to making them  accessible on line. The amount of work is gargantuan and not subsidised in any way other by ourselves. We have also now digitised the entire collection, in this case by photographing the originals as scanning would take longer than I am likely to live. The key here of course is to expose accurately and process the raw files to a fully toned positive image quality. Both images and index are now ready to go online, for which purpose we are hoping to obtain a grant.

Although the task was enormous and extremely time consuming reproducing the negatives digitally has been much more straightforward than making the duplicate negatives. The film used for this was so slow that Edwin designed and built a light source one stop brighter that sunlight and even at that exposures averaged at four seconds at f5.6 . The film was mostly processed in a microfilm processor although some was also more conventionally treated. These negatives have an extremely long archival life expectancy and offer a reliable back up should the digital form suffer a disaster. Hopefully this latter is unlikely as it is backed up on multiple raid systems which are also in two different locations. Our computers are custom designed for our needs and constantly monitored.

Most of the pictures are retouched in the sense of basic clean up and many are finished to a fine level, any image printed or supplied for publication is fully retouched before dispatch. It is perhaps worth mentioning that this is by no means the only collection we have archived but it is by far the largest and in itself the most comprehensive. When the images are web searchable I will post the fact on this site as I am sure the will be enjoyed as much by those interested in photo-history at least as much as the general public.

Incidentally British readers may prefer to look up yaleuniversitypress.co.uk rather than the American site. 

Comment by Kelvin Jouhar on November 24, 2014 at 20:11
What a fantastic project and well done for getting to this stage - the exhibition sounds very exciting. Can you tell us some more about the process of archiving the huge collection of material. For example, the equipment that you used, the database where you are storing the digital images and related information etc. etc. Thanks very much.

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