Monthly Archives: May 2014

Colophon and Logotype

Having a background in Fine Art through study at Glasgow School of Art I am very aware of the striking visual content that passes through the Digital Imaging Unit on a daily basis. Of particular interest to me over the years of working with rare books is Colophon and Logotype. “This originated in Renaissance printing shops, where a title page would feature the printer’s mark (colophon) near the bottom of the page, usually above the printer’s name and city.” This early form of branding is fascinating in its use of imagery and the expert hand skills used to convey a meaningful message. The tree of knowledge is a popular symbol often appearing with broken branches. The level of thought over the imagery and the care taken over the execution is a remarkable investment in brand and product. The Colophon was eventually replaced by printers statements in a more legal and business like text form. Colophon have begun to re-appear for websites and online content publishing, this is a nice nod of the head over centuries of time to the continuation of a craft persons expertise and skill set.

Malcolm Brown, Deputy Photographer.

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It’s Not All Books…

As photographers for the Special Collections in the University of Edinburgh Main Library, we’ve seen a fair amount of beautiful books and manuscripts, but the diversity of the collections, both here at the Library and from other locations around the University always surprises me. Many of these have been bought to us for photography over the years, and on occasion, we have had to decamp from the studio and go out to the collection. In 2012 we were asked to go to St Cecilia’s Hall to take photographs for a Calendar to promote the redevelopment project, then in its infancy. We had a fantastic week photographing harpsichords, guitars and lutes in the 18th Century Hall to place them within their context. The instruments provided us with many challenges: harpsichords are not the easiest to light to bring out the gold details and elaborate painting – particularly not in a room with mixed light sources and green walls. In one shot taken by my colleague, Malcolm Brown, we were asked to show the whole object as if looking from above. Thankfully, the curator allowed us to turn the instrument on its side, although we sometimes tell people who ask us how it was done that we had Malcolm suspended from the ceiling Mission Impossible style to take the photo. Further information about St Cecilia’s can be found at http://www.stcecilias.ed.ac.uk/about.html

 

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Another highlight for us was the visit to the Anatomy museum to photograph the murderer William Burke’s Skeleton (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burke_and_Hare_murders). On arrival at the museum we discovered that there was major building work going on outside and the drilling was causing vibrations through the floor. At the time we were working with a Hasselblad multishot which took 16 shots to build up a very high resolution image so the slightest movement would ruin the shot. We had to try to shoot in the lulls between drilling- the challenges of location photography!

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We were also lucky enough to photograph the magnificent Renaissance Giambologna bronze Ecorche horse. Having decided that we wanted the photographs to be low key, dark images to bring out every muscle ripple and vein, we had to carefully light the cast so that it was distinct from the background. This required reflectors to be suspended from the ceiling to run a highlight up the neck and others to be held in place during the shots, a real team effort.

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3 dimensional objects always require more thought to the lighting to bring out subtle textures and details as you can see in this image of a Gandharan Sculpture, whereas the challenge of metallic surfaces is to hide unwanted reflections.

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It is always exciting to photograph these wonderful objects that have made their way into the University collections, and recently we have even seen some ‘Book Sculptures’ too.

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Susan Pettigrew, Photographer

The Universal Herbal

Fascinating book of the month requested for digitisation in the DIU goes to Thomas Greens “The Universal Herbal; or, botanical, medical, and agricultural dictionary. Containing an account of all the known plants in the world, arranged according to the Linnean system. With the best methods of propagation, and the most recent agricultural improvements.”  The book is lyrically illustrated with basic but pragmatic hand colouring befitting it’s dictionary status. However it is a visually delicious looking two volume set with some unusual and intriguing entries as can be seen below. Broad-leaved Bastard Parsley is certainly a new one to me.

Malcolm Brown, Deputy Photographer

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Penguins and Social Life

Last year the Salvesen Collection, which has been in the possession of the University since 1969, was given permission to make the images publically available online for the first time. The collection description tells us that ‘the history of the firm of Christian Salvesen goes back to 1851 when Christian Salvesen arrived in Leith and set up in business as a ship owner and broker. Two years later he joined the Edinburgh merchant George Vair Turnbull, continuing in partnership with him until he went solo in 1872. Three of his sons, Thomas, Frederick and Theodor (http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/s/we94g6) 0007295djoined him in the business; the fourth, Edward, preferred a legal career which began with a law degree from the University of Edinburgh, and which culminated in his elevation to the College of Justice and the Bench as The Hon. Lord Salvesen (1857-1942)’.

Our collection of photographs and papers is largely about the company’s whaling concerns in South Georgia. So far only a small proportion of the photographs have been digitised- around 192, however they cover a wide range from landscapes and wildlife to the people and life at the Leith Harbour base in South Georgia .

Many of the images were digitised as an order for climatologists interested in comparing glaciers at the beginning of the 20th Century with their current state, http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/s/1co9ui. 0007714dAlthough some are faded and damaged, they still convey the awe inspiring nature of the Islands http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/s/d9e4lj

Box 4. No. 3.Cumberland Bay Glacier, South Georgia, 8th June 1917.

Perhaps the most touching images are of the hardy people who worked in this cold and remote outpost http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/s/0q75b4.

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South Georgia? 10/12/18 Envelope entittled 'Penguins and Social Life', South Georgia -football game.

From the light hearted shots of sledging http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/s/c6e03o and football http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/s/bs1r73  (I love that this photo came from an envelope entitled ‘Penguins and Social Life’), to coping with the extreme weather encountered only a little to the north of Antarctica. While some of the snow fall photos have an element of humour to them, like “The Old Powerhouse surrounded in 6″ of snow, had to be removed to fire the chimney, Dec 10/12/18” – remember that December is summer for South Georgia http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/s/56h599 .

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Others are far more shocking. The season of 1929-30 appears to have been one of the worst- an old news clipping shows the damage to one of the giant vats in the harbour, a note with the photo reads “Power of the Wind. Oil tank in Leith Harbour pressed together by the wind. I saw it happen” http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/s/rm184k . 0024988dIn the same season an avalanche hit the base with devastating consequences. This blurred and grainy photograph shows the wreckage of the Foundry http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/s/zysa4o and the next reveals the human cost http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/s/f8akdg0024989d 0024990d

For more than 50 years the Leith Station battled both the elements and tough working conditions (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Georgia_and_the_South_Sandwich_Islands ) surviving avalanches and fires http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/s/9e14c2 . 'Horatio, 12/03/16 '. On fire with whale oil loaded on board. South Georgia

Throughout it all they documented their lives, challenges and environment. Although whaling has thankfully had its day, I’m glad they have left this wonderful resource for us all http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/s/5dhlh7'Sea Elephant, 20/6/15'. South Georgia

Susan Pettigrew, Photographer