Last week was my final session as a volunteer at Winter's as the first round of funding comes to an end. I've met so many interesting people involved in the project, all with a passion and an enthusiasm for this important process...and that was before I'd even started working on the glass negatives. Something about this project seems to have fired the imagination of so many. Perhaps it is the uncovering of a whole store of Derby's history or the little frisson of excitement one feels when the next glass negative is cleaned, wondering what will be seen for the first time in 70, 80, 90, or 100 years.
Every photograph raises questions of one kind or another
I have been lucky enough to have worked on three sizes of glass negatives. The large ones were very formal photos and made me wonder; who was the Grand Master in his full regalia, or the gentleman photographed at his desk in his own study? Someone who wanted a portrait surrounded by his own books rather than go to the studio–possibly a man of standing? And who was the lady in a graduation robe? Now the date of that image would be very interesting.
Some of the middle size plates I dealt with showed shots of the shop floor at Leys and Ewarts, an engineering firm in Derby. Maybe it was for advertising or perhaps for the company magazine. The dress code was collars and ties, even for the man working the massive capstan lathe!
The smaller negatives became more personal; babies, toddlers, wedding photos, passport photographs. Why were the older couple with the unusual name - possibly Polish - having a passport photograph taken? They look a little wary and uncomfortable in the photo; a button unfastened in the middle of his waistcoat, her coat looking a little too big. Where had they come from and where were they going?
Will mysteries be unraveled
This project is uncovering so many untold stories, some of which may be told, others partly solved and many will lie dormant for many more years until maybe a chance remark will set the story in motion and a family mystery may be unraveled.