Tag Archives: photography

Introducing the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive

I am buried in marking, so have to resort to stored content for this week, in the hope of more progress later in the week. This is a post that I’ve had stubbed for so long to complete, indeed, that I have just repeatedly forgotten that it should come next on quite numerous occasions. Now, however, its turn in the sun finally comes! For lo, it was in the year 2015, in the January of that year, while I was still residing in the settlement of Beormingaham, that word reached me of a new digital venture by two of my by-then-bosom colleagues, Dr Rebecca Darley (now of Birkbeck, University of London) and Dr Daniel Reynolds (still, but now establishedly, at Birmingham), called the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive.

Screen capture of the home page of the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive

Screen capture of the home page of the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive

If I have my memories right, and I seem to, this came about because while those two had been in charge of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts coin collection (in which of course they preceded me), they had found in the coin room several cardboard boxes of photographs and ephemera, which on inspection turned out to be nothing less than the photographic archive of the Byzantine excavations of Professor David Talbot Rice, eminent art historian and archaeologist at Edinburgh. Apparently his widow thought the Byzantine materials would be best homed with Birmingham’s famous Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies of which I once had the honour to be part. It was quite the little hoard, anyway, as most of his photographs had been taken before the Second World War, so he had, for example, pictures of Istanbul (where he’d dug the Great Palace of Constantinople) which showed it completely different to its current state, with things that are now long gone, built over, or otherwise inaccessible visible and inspected with an academic’s precision. And this being our modern digital age, the immediate thought of our bold curators was to get this stuff online.

Pages from David Talbot Rice's notebook from the excavations of the Myrelaeon in Istanbul in the 1920s, image Myrelaion 006 from the David Talbot Rice Archive, digitised by the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive, licensed under Creative Commons 3.0

Pages from David Talbot Rice’s notebook from the excavations of the Myrelaion in Istanbul in the 1920s, image 386 from the David Talbot Rice Archive, digitised by the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive

Now, those who know these two will also realise that no plan of theirs ever stays small. After all, though this was a special one, there are a lot of academics with photo archives, and what happens to them usually? If we’re fortunate, they go to a museum collection which may or may not have time to catalogue and/or display them; if we’re not, they either wind up in someone’s attic (or a coin room) or they go to landfill or recycling. What if someone set up a digital archive that could guarantee upload and preservation of such things? And thus was the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive born.

Rihab, St George, Jordan: stone-lined tomb with accompanying grave cover (left and middle). Image 15704362483, Rihab, by Daniel Reynolds, digitised by the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive, Creative Commons 3.0

Rihab, St George, Jordan: stone-lined tomb with accompanying grave cover (left and middle). Image 15704362483, Rihab, by Daniel Reynolds, digitised by the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive, Creative Commons 3.0.

Buy-in was pretty rapid. Dan contributed his own photos straight away, and their (indeed, my) then-colleague Matthew Harpster gave a load of his, but these were born-digital and in some ways easy pickings. Rather more of a coup was to obtain the promise, then the delivery, of the photos of Birmingham’s founder Byzantinist and then-living legend, Anthony Bryer, who had also trodden or ridden many a road no longer recognisable. Work to upload those is ongoing, and other scholars’ archives have been promised. But this is work that can use your help! To be maximally useful, these images need tagging. That’s a fair labour in itself, and both Rebecca and Dan now have full-time high-demand jobs that don’t leave much spare effort for tinkering with photographs, but there’s also the basic problem that some of them are unrecognisable, or at least unfamiliar to anyone but the seriously expert. By way of an example: can you identify this church? Because as far as I know, we/they can’t, as yet…

A church somewhere in Trebizond, c.1920, image 002 from the David Talbot Rice Archive, digitised by the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive, licensed under Creative Commons 3.0

A church somewhere in Trebizond, c.1920, image 002 from the David Talbot Rice Archive, digitised by the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive, licensed under Creative Commons 3.0

So I, and Rebecca and Dan, invite you to have a look at the archive as it now stands and see what you can find. Please note their terms and conditions, and their careful statement of limitations, but also please note the possibilities, and if you think you can help, I’m sure that they’d love to hear from you!

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Cambridge to Siena and back part three: really gratuitous photo post

View down a street in Siena

We left this story at the point when, by the kindness of Eileen Joy, I was able to put my bags down and walk around the town for the first time since my arrival. My camera was depressingly low on battery, and I was depressingly low on time, but a number of things got photographed anyway. How many, well, too many to have all of them on the front page, so let the above and below whet your appetites or not and the rest are below the cut.

View over the city of Siena towards the Piazza del Campo, from the Duomo
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‘Ex Libris’ at Cambridge University Library by night

Completely off-topic! One day a little while back when I was feeling unsually despondent, I also happened across what appears to be a completely false report that Cambridge University Library is seeking commercial sponsorship, now removed from the Guardian‘s website. This reminded me of something I’d been meaning to do for ages, ever since the UL’s car-park re-emerged from the mysterious building works that had shrouded it for several months. When it had re-emerged, it had done so with a new cycle lane across the front of the building, and a pillar system keeping the cars back from it. The pillars are really cool.

Ex Libris, by Harry Gray

It wasn’t until I read a story in the local newspaper that I realised this was not just a bright idea from inside the UL, but a ‘new public artwork’. There are fourteen of the pillars and the central four, which bear the title (“Ex Libris”), rotate, so that you can line them all up and read it.

One of the central pillars of Harry Gray's Ex Libris

One of the central pillars of Harry Gray's Ex Libris

Well, possibly a bit pretentious but still rather handsome, I thought, and resolved to photograph it for the library fans reading. Unfortunately, I then let the summer slip away—I just don’t normally take a camera to the library, what can I say—meaning that by the time I got round to this as described above, I was no longer in a position to get to the library in daylight. Well, I don’t think this has necessarily spoiled anything… Continue reading