When the Observer changed to a tabloid format, a half-page feature was introduced showcasing an archive image from our picture library, accompanied by a few words from the original article. It was not a feature that could be hastily thrown together and so started meticulous research into the archive, as described in part one of the Lost and Found feature.
Online, we were able to reproduce the entire original article, and had space to introduce other photographs from the original shoot. This meant delving deeper into the picture library, looking at prints, negatives and contact sheets and scanning images that had probably only ever been seen by the photographer and their picture editor at the time. I even had to by a loupe on eBay for the purpose.
So many of the tools of the newspaper picture editor’s trade have gone: tracing paper, rulers, chinographs, set-squares, lupes, lightboxes, slide projectors, motorcycle couriers, Red Star Parcels, the dark room, Tri-X, C41, E6, wire machines, dial-up modems. But thankfully the picture libraries of both the Observer and the Guardian haven’t disappeared with them. They are maintained and cared for by The Guardian Foundation.
The closure of so many photo agencies over the years – Colorific, Corbis, IPG, Format, Insight, Katz, Network and Frank Spooners – has made it abundantly clear that we are fortunate that our archives are so well looked after. Photographer Brian Harris, on his excellent blog, rang the death knell of independent photo agency Impact Photos in which he describes how he, other former members and volunteers tried to save the work of some 400 contributing photographers from being dumped into landfill. Over 500,000 transparencies were awaiting urgent collection.
The orderly state of the Observer’s picture library has enabled us to unearth some great work, by some great photographers. Much of the work is of trivial subjects, but some is of moments of huge political and cultural importance, and have inspired us to publish new articles about significant historical events.
In the course of the research, I came across the front page of the Observer from 7 March 1971. It carried photographs by both Jane Bown and Tony McGrath of the first national Women’s Liberation Movement march in London. I called the negatives up from the archive and we ran a feature about the event in the paper including interviews with participants and an online gallery.
The discovery of Colin Jones’s work from the early days of the civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama, lead to a spread of photographs in the Observer and an interview with Colin about his experience, together with a hugely successful online gallery.
With the invaluable help of GNM’s head of archive, Philippa Mole, and archivist Emma Golding, we’ll continue to try and unearth not only photographic treats, but entertaining pieces too (a paean to the pubs of Fleet Street and a piece entitled My Clothes and I by Simone de Beauvoir are two personal favourites), so please enjoy the series.