When I first found myself standing in this cupboard I was so excited to be undertaking this internship and was as eager to learn. It felt like I was stepping into an adult role and into the direction of my future career. But after standing in this cupboard for a while I was overwhelmed by the beige, the cardboard and by the task ahead. The cupboard became synonymous with any doubts I had about my own capabilities; an insurmountable task too large to take in with a single glance. Four months later, I now feel that I have conquered the cupboard mountain.
Since my Archiving and Digital Marketing Internship with An Lanntair and Adopt and Intern began in November, I have scanned over 1300 transparent slides, catalogued 13 boxes of archive material and An Lanntair’s visual art collection from the archive store. Although, at times, this felt like an endurance test inflicted upon me by Alex Boyd (a curator at An Lanntair and a qualified archivist), it gave me a grounding in An Lanntair’s 33 year history and I learned so much about the previous exhibitions and events held there.
During this time, I came across work from some of the UK’s leading photographers such as Fay Godwin and Gus Wylie and the Guardian photographer Murdo Macleod. I became particularly fond of the collection of Wylie’s photographs of ‘The Hebrideans’ which capture the Hebrides of the 1970s and 80s in black and white. After looking through hundreds of pictures of any particular exhibition or body of work I realised that the collections which don’t drive you to distraction and continue to capture your imagination even upon the hundredth or thousandth look, must be good. Other artists such as Steve Dilworth and George Wyllie also proved to be active players in the An Lanntair story. I found several handwritten letters and notes from these artists and others of comparable renown. I discovered that we have retained a large collection of the art commissioned by An Lanntair for Mactotem. This 1998 project provided an opportunity for 30 artists to place their own creative interpretations upon the statue of the Duke of Sutherland amidst the contemporary debate over its’ continued existence. In this instance, I took part in a historical review of a historical review.
The digital marketing aspect of this role was very enjoyable and proved that the material in An Lanntair’s archive garnered a positive response from the local audience. Perhaps the most popular images were of the day to day running of the old An Lanntair premises in the town hall which triggered a universal fondness for a moment of nostalgia. Launching the visual archive on Flickr is sure to be a great resource for not only the local people but also for researchers. An Lanntair has already been approached by two researchers regarding our George Wylie and Fay Godwin materials. These signs suggest that further outreach by the An Lanntair archive will continue to be a successful enterprise.
Some archive material also touched me on a personal level. I came across friends and family and the Lewis of my childhood in pictures and letters.
This photograph of a 1980s Bosta beach fun day is by Sam Maynard from the exhibition Lewis Past and Present. It features many of my friends and family from Bernera.
I was grateful for the experience of helping the visual arts department to curate the most recent gallery exhibition, 10 from the North. While hanging photographs of Scottish female farmers by a female photographer, I thought this was a great way to have spent International Women’s day. As a feminist, I was also especially pleased to be able to curate a social media post celebrating the women who have contributed to An Lanntair’s archive; from Fay Godwin to Christine Campbell.
Art is elusive, subjective and I have come to realise that there is no right way to do it. But there is a right way to archive it. I’d like to thank Alex for giving me the practical training required to do this to the best of my abilities.
Here are some of the things I have learned:
- How to unsuccessfully avoid a noisy ladder in close quarters
- (This may not be news to everyone) In the 1980s people sent actual letters for the most mundane reasons, e.g. sorry I missed your call last week.
- The value (and the beauty) of (accurate) labelling
- Hipsters are not a recent phenomenon
- Evil exists in the form of plastic pockets
- There are elastic bands that have aged worse than Keith Richards has.
In all seriousness, this internship has been a stimulating and educational experience. I have gained many new practical skills including photography, scanning, photo-editing and archive practice. I have expanded my knowledge of local and internationally recognised artists and become more acquainted with the place where I grew up. I so appreciate the opportunity to add to An Lanntair’s 33 year history, even in this small way just by capturing and archiving it.
Ella Macaulay, 2018
Photos by Ella Macaulay and Alex Boyd