As digital archives developer I’ve helped the Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation to take their Archive from an idea to a world class go-to catalogue on the Days’ design careers. Although currently a private resource, accessible by selected researchers, there are future plans to create a public website to show you the wealth and breadth of the material around Robin and Lucienne Day’s product and textile designs. (Read my post on setting up the Archive.)
I’m in a great hurry to achieve this ambition, of course, but it’s actually been good to have time to look at and learn from other British digital archives. I’ve noticed that, perhaps because they were ahead of their time, some existing archives had problems with presenting academic data online in an interesting way. Some of the digital archives look like printed library catalogues.
I am a bit of a database geek, so I’m quite happy to put up with this old-fashioned presentation, but improving the interface will make collections more accessible and diverting, so helping to spread the message or historical information to a much wider audience.
An archive entails huge effort to classify and catalogue, to make research, search, and exploration possible. It also often contains fantastic imagery that will attract attention, if only it can be made accessible to non-specialists. The possibilities for web-based information have leapt forward in the last few years, so now many digital archives are planning to improve their websites with mobile-responsive design, and better navigation and search access.
The digital archives I want to show you are undergoing modernisation along these lines.
The Beaford Archive
The Beaford Arts Trust is developing its digital archives of wonderful images of North Devon countryside and town life by creating a new responsive website design and requesting visitor involvement. The new archive will expand with information and images from members of the public, photographers and historians.
The current collection contains around 1700 images by the photographer James Ravilious. He started work on the project intending it as a short residency, but then became so involved with the visual possibilities and the people of North Devon that he spent the rest of his life documenting them. His photographs of bucolic scenes and gritty interiors starkly illustrate the changes in English life since the arrival of super-capitalism, and highlight North Devon’s island-like remoteness. The archive also contains photographs by anonymous pioneer photographers, and a set of photographs by the cinematographer Roger Deakins, taken in his early career in the 1970’s.
Just one example of the gems contained in the archive is James Ravilious’s photograph, “Going Home After Cricket”.
This image is a picture of boys on bikes in a field of cows. But the description defies the experience of looking at the picture. As well as the humour engendered by the presence of the cows, and the directional dynamism of the composition, you are transported into the field and you can feel the low sun on your face, the smell of the grass, and your small position in a world of enormity.
There is something for everyone in this collection. You can be into fine art painting, nostalgic trips down memory lane, social and political history, or looking out for members of your own family.
The National Disability Arts Collection and Archive
Shape Arts has invested many resources into developing its Collection & Archive, allowing access to previously unseen (and unheard) Disability Arts Movement history, artworks and artefacts. With the continued digitisation and cataloguing, barriers to engagement with this wealth of material are being broken down, and they are now embarking on a new public website to open up the material to everyone.
In their own words the website “will tell the story of the ‘Golden Age of Disability Arts’; when a group of disabled people and their allies broke barriers, made great art along that journey, ultimately contributing to the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 being passed by Parliament.” Such a powerful goal cannot fail to inspire us, especially those who have experienced segregation or disempowerment, through disability or other social and political imbalance.
The (necessarily ongoing) project by Caroline Cardus, “The Way Ahead”, will be wonderfully served by a new digital interface, because it consists of many colourful, material objects. https://www.shapearts.org.uk/news/collection-the-way-ahead.
I am particularly attracted to this work containing numerous standard street signs (based on Margaret Calvert & Jock Kinneir’s famous road signs). They are wonderful pieces of industrial design and visual composition, but Caroline Cardus surprises us by making the content vitriolically funny and desperately frustrating. Referring perhaps to American feminist 20th century artists, her street signs look benign in the making, but hit home as you start to realise their significance and your complicity in the inequality. My favourite piece, currently shown on Shape Arts website, is “All Through Routes”, showing a traffic roundabout sign with all the exits barred by no entry.
Jock Kinneir Library
And on the subject of signposts, British graphic designer Jock Kinneir’s descendants have launched a website to hold the Jock Kinneir Library, but as yet with little material. They are appealing to the public to help amass information, inform, tell stories, and supply imagery.
For ten years from 1964, Jock Kinneir taught on the Royal College of Art’s Graphic Design course. That part of his working life would have touched many design-students’ careers, and could lead to information and typographical treasures. Please take the opportunity to get in touch with the instigators of the Library, Simon Kinneir and Anna Kinneir, if there is any intelligence on the subject you could supply.
Some images of Jock Kinneir designs are held by the Design Council slide library and accessible via Visual Arts Database, like this road direction sign. But one of the most rewarding ways of seeing examples of his work is to leave your laptop, walk down the street, and, well, there you are!
And this directs us happily back to James Ravilious at the Beaford Arts Trust. Have a look at this image of “Men Erecting Sign Outside Village”, a winning collision of photography and typographic design.
More about the Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation, and their Lucienne Day centenary celebrations, can be found at: http://robinandluciennedayfoundation.org/LD100/.