archives and primary sources

looking into archives for this next task. many to choose from but have always been interested in having a look at the national photographic archives … below, notes on my research as i go.

1: The National Photographic Archives (NPA):

location: meeting house square, temple bar. dublin.

contents: holds the collection of photographs held by the National Library of Ireland.

access: by appointment only. tue – fri: 10-5, sat: 10-2, sun – mon: 10-6. turns out these are the exhibition space opening times and appointments are only available on tuesdays!

i emailed them to make an appointment. they replied that they have an extensive online digital catalogue. if not available to view online then make an appointment to come to the NPA in temple bar (the NLI subsequently told me that these archives are being moved to a refurbished section of the NLI) to make an appointment i will need a readers ticket from the National Library of Ireland. they sent a link to the photographic archives which is through the National Library website: – select advanced search and select format photo. 

Dear Elaine,

Thank you for your email to the National Photographic Archive.

Before booking you in we need to tell you that a large amount of pictures has been digitised and can be searched through our online catalogue and therefore you might find not necessary to come to the Archive.

Using the NLI online catalogue is straight forward. Please, click on the link below:

2: pros and cons of digital archives

initially i’m happy to hear that the archives had been digitalised as it will make them more accessible and my research easier and convenient. digitalisation is in effect a way of preserve the original primary source materials and extending their audience.

however, i also feel a sense of disappointment at not being able to access the primary source: see, smell, possibly touch the material. i will also miss that sense of occasion at directly accessing and experiencing something from the past.

the research task: the task now becomes one with a dual purpose: 1) investigate the digitalised archive of photographs 2) access of primary source material.

3: investigating the digitalised NPA 

content: in 2007 the National Library undertook a major project to digitise its’ collections of glass plate negatives. Over 33,000 glass plate negatives from 8 collections were scanned: Lawrence Royal and Cabinet collection, Poole Whole Plate Collection, Independent H. Collection, Clarke Collection, Eason Collection, Keogh Collection, Stereo Pairs Collection and Tempest Collection. more have been added in the subsequent years. the collections refer to photographers and collectors. the collections are from the 19th and 20th century. these collections were mainly by studio photographers.

where to start? when faced with thousands of photographs, i begin investigating areas of interest to me in my art work rather than by collection: domesticity, women, women and home, women and work, women and the landscape.

selection: impossible to include all the photographs of these category searches so i include photographs that have some point of interest, raises questions.

primary sources vs secondary sources: primary sources unedited, unselected, secondary sources have a filter of some kind, a selection process – perhaps an element of power or control with what is shown and what is not. selection for a purpose.

4: home

Screenshot (34)
Poole’s Nursery, The Poole Whole Plate Collection, Glass Plate Negative 17 x 22 cm (circa 1901- 1954)

points of interest: formal composition, items on display items, curious title. landscape paintings on the wall. blackened mirrors, burnt edges of the image. pattern, middle class

5: women and the landscape

Screenshot (15)
Two Unidentified Women, The Fergus O’Connor Collection, Glass Plate Negative (Edwardian: not dated).

points of interest: women in their finery outdoors, battling the weather, struggling to keep their hats on. again that jagged edge, almost violently torn.

further points of interest: Fergus O’Connor was a photographer and publisher who published Seán O’Casey’s early writings and nationalist postcards of Ireland and was imprisoned in England after the Easter Rising.

6: domesticity: indoor / outdoor 

Screenshot (36)
Miss Violet Poole and Boy, The Poole Whole Plate Collection, Glass Plate Negative, 17 x 22 cm (circa 1901 – 1954)

points of interest: the bazaar, the unexpected, the jug, play, outdoor / indoor, strange ghostly double exposure.

7: women and work

Screenshot (19)
Winstanley’s Bootmakers, Mason Photographic Collection, Glass Slide (circa 1890 – 1910).
Screenshot (16)
Paterson’s Matches, Vestas Women/Foreman, Mason Photographic Collection, Glass Slide (circa 1890 – 1910)

points of interest: lines of workers at sewing machines making boots, weaving, sewing, something about space and distance between the sexes or the foreman.

8: women and the home

Screenshot (32)
Spinning Wheel, The Lawrence Photographic Collection, Glass Plate Negative, 16.5 x 21.5 cm (circa 1880 – 1900)
Screenshot (42)
Woman Working with Spinning Wheel, The Lawrence Photographic Collection, Glass Plate Negative, 16.5 x 21.5 cm (circa 1890 – 1900)

points of interest: something struck me when i looked for women in the home – the women seemed to be photographed outside the home with their spinning wheels. posing. perhaps interiors were too dark for taking photographs.

further points of interest: consider the gaze who was taking the photographs and for who? : the male gaze, the female gaze, the middle class gaze, the national gaze and national identity. woman and the home an aspiration for national identity.

9: women and portraits

Screenshot (41)
Woman Wearing a Kerry Coat, The Lawrence Photographic Collection, Glass Plate Negative, 12.5 x 19 cm (circa 1880 – 1900)

points of interest: woman and national identity. kathleen ni houlihan a symbol of irish nationalism used in theater (yeats) song, imagery. ireland personified as a woman. to inspire patriotism and the fight for freedom. also morphed into a sean bhan bhocht (poor old woman) representing oppression and suffering.

Screenshot (40)
Full Length Portrait of a Woman Reading a Book, The Clonbrock Photographic Collection, Photo-negative, 15 x 10 cm (circa 1860 – 1930)
Screenshot (39)
Augusta Caroline Dillon Seated outside the Photographers House, The Clonbrock Photographic Collection, Photo-negative, 12 x 16.5 cm (circa 1865)

points of interest – return to primary sources: in my online research through the NPA digital archives, i came across the clonbrock collection which contained photographs of portraits of women. reminds me of the imagery that tracey moffatt uses in her print work laudanum – ‘elegance verging on madness’. i’d like to have a closer look. i emailed the NPA with a request to see these photographs………i am yet to hear back.

10: flickr 

National Library of Ireland also have a flicker link to thousand of photographs to view online. categorised into different subjects. no specific category on women but the categories include ‘family ties’, ‘working life’ and ‘individual portraits’. they asked the public for help in adding to the information on the subjects, names, locations etc.

Screenshot (23)
Unidentified Woman, National Library of Ireland Collection, 1937

points of interest:this portrait really stands out. hands, expression, somehow reminds me of dorothea langes portraits of the great depression of the same time. photographed by a doctor to see the effects of pellagra, a deficiency of niacin

further points of interest: big hands of work, gender stereotypes, the photographic image in the reinforcing or breaking of stereotypes.

exhibition: ‘The Photo Detectives’. exhibition of a selection of photographs from the NLI at NPA from their flickr website which the public were part of adding to the information about the photographs. again secondary sources.

11: addressing gender stereotypes

my online research through the NPA digital archives threw up a book of photographs which sought to redress the stereotypes of women

Hill, M., Pollock, V. (1993) Image and Experience: Photographs of Irish Women 1880-1910. Belfast: Blackstaff Press

Call Number View in Collection
ILB 94108 i 5 Main Reading Room Irish Large Books

visiting the National Library of Ireland (NLI):

background: location: 2-3 kildare street. dublin. beautiful old building. contents: to collect, preserve and promote all books and documents published in Ireland and/or related to ireland. up to 10 million items – books, manuscripts, maps, newspapers, prints, ephemera.

access: not a lending library but a reference library. main building: tue – fri: 10:30 – 12:30, 2 – 4, sat.: 9:30 – 12:45. reading room: tue – wed: 9.30 – 7.45, thur – fri: 9.30 – 4.45. sat: 9.30 – 12.45. need to get a readers ticket to see book etc (need photo ID). also need to book the material online or in person 15 mins prior to seeing the book in the reading room. you can take photos of pages or photocopy if books not too old / fragile.

applied and was granted a readers ticket for the NLI and NPA.

12: redressing gender stereotypes

visited the NLI and poured over the photographs in Image and Experience: Photographs of Irish Women 1880 – 1910. chapters included: home and family, politics and war, the world of paid work, religion – health – welfare, education. 

2017-11-16 16.30.31
Glenshesk, County Antrim, Welsh Collection, Ulster Museum (circa 1900)
2017-11-16 16.42.37
Lady Londonderry, Commandant of the Women’s Legion, Ulster Museum Collection (circa 1915)
2017-11-16 16.32.16
Rathlin Island, Welch Collection, Ulster Museum (circa 1885)

points of interest: working the land, physical toil, working class, physical class, female roles, positions of power. stereotypes linked to class?

further points of interest: is this a tertiary source? photographs of a secondary source.

13: the female gaze

2017-11-16 16.34.24
Galgrom, County Antrim, Young Collection, Public Records of Northern Ireland (circa 1900)

points of interest: the book also included female photographers Mary Alice Young, one of the few photographs of the time to show women working in the kitchen, the status of the work worthy of photographing, shop bought ingredients, reading the recipe.

14: family archives and primary sources

also looking at my own archives. my mum has a box of slides dating back from the mid 1960s  – mearly 1970s which she can’t access or view as she doesn’t have a slide projector. went about sourcing one for €39 on ebay. should arrive on monday. if works! it could be an interesting media to experiment with. titles of boxes include convent cross and gortussa, may 1968, Brian’s 1st holy communion, willie’s experiments, paper No. 1.1 to 1.5, summer 1970, emer’s holy communion, sept 1966, dublin and tipperary, farewell party, edinburgh june 1967, the meadows, june 1967 etc…


15: accessing primary sources


slide projector arrived and is working fine. happy to be looking at primary sources that have been inaccessible for so long.

points of interest: the light projections, scale, light, colour, noise, the click of the slides. memory, story, family, home, gender roles. generations, for the moment just enjoying the joy of being able to access them.

further points of interest: could examine them in terms of female gaze/view (mainly taken by my mother but engineering ‘experiments’ taken by my father. could look at the home, the gender roles, stereotypical and unstereotypical roles.

16: family archives and primary sources

i remembered i have a folder of newspapers that my grandfather kept for us in black sacks in his shed. in a one of my tidy outs a few years ago i whittled the bags of newspapers to fit in a folder. not sure what my criteria for selection was but i do remember being struck by all the references to religion that he seemed to think were worth keeping. most pages are about religion, the pope, northern irish affairs, the kennedys and tipperary people…. selective / subjective viewing of an archive.


points of interest: initially only saw a lot of reinforcements of gender stereotypes – women in the advertisement of household appliances, hair style instructions, facial hair removal instructions, knitting competition winners.

tell me something i don’t already know

further points of interest: also includes debates about who was the first woman cabinet minister (Irish Press, 1931), the call of industry for female workers (irish press, 1931), the appeal for the whereabouts of a female criminal wanted for theft (irish independent, 1963).


17 other/next possible archives to research

National Archives of Ireland: really want to go an see the National Archives of Ireland where all the documents from the state are housed: genealogy, past census, documents of the state. areas of particular interest are women’s rights regarding working and travel.

Irish Times Online: and what of the present archives and current affairs? i had been a subscriber to the irish times online and found it a great resource and archive of contemporary and past stories: personal, national and international.

looking at archives of the past to understand the present by looking at the past.

using primary sources because they are unframed. find the frame myself.

18: post script (21.11.17)

a reply email from NPA re request for viewing of Clonbrock Collection

Dear Elaine,

Apologies for the delay in getting back to you.

The NPA Reading Room is currently open on Tuesdays only and the opening hours are 10:00 – 13:00, 14:00 – 16:00.

As a preservation measure, we do not serve an original item when a digital image is available.

Sometimes, the original is simply too fragile to serve. For example, glass and film photographic negatives are particularly subject to damage. They are also easier to see online where they are presented as positive images.

There are only 13 Clonbrock images which are not digitised (please see link below)

Should you wish to view them, please let me know.

Yours sincerely……

…….. almost feel guilty now!

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