Working with the RAS Photographic Collections
Billet de Ruby Rees-Sheridan , étudiante de Master sur son stage de quatre semaines à la Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland.
Placement at the RAS
As part of my MA in Art History and Museum Curating at the University of Sussex, students are required to undertake a four-week work placement. This is intended to put the practical and conceptual skills learnt on the course into practice. Since I am specialising in photography, working with the Royal Asiatic Society’s photographic collection has been an ideal opportunity. Having just completed the second week of my placement under the supervision of archivist Nancy and librarian Ed, I have already learnt so much and gained valuable insight into the daily workings of an archive.
Project So Far
The primary task of my placement has been to undertake an initial audit of the photographic collection. The dual aims of this task were firstly, to check the RAS’s holdings against the printed and online catalogue to determine their accuracy and completeness, and secondly, to assess the condition of the photographs and their current packaging and housing. I gathered key information including each collection title, catalogue entry, number of prints and condition into a spreadsheet. This document was intended to serve as a point of reference for carrying out future tasks, such as creating a full online catalogue and ensuring that all photographs were appropriately housed.
The RAS collection contains around 5000 photographs dating from the 1860s to 1970s, so there was a lot to keep me occupied. Delving into this wonderfully diverse collection was like opening presents on Christmas morning. Each box brought up from the archive offered new surprises, from anthropological and archaeological studies to carte-de-visites, mounted prints by professional photographers to albums of personal snapshots, official surveys, stereograms and postcards. In one day I could travel from Iran to India via Java and Hong Kong (and between the archive in the basement and reading room on the first floor enough times to constitute a work out)