Alice Duncan-Gardiner

E H McCormick Research Library 2017 Summer Art Archives Internship

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This summer I was extremely lucky to be chosen as the E H McCormick Research Library summer Archive intern.

 I am currently studying Fine Arts at the University of Auckland. In my work I have been searching for a way to push forward the archive of myself that I am subconsciously creating and question why we feel the need to constantly look back, why we feel the need to create an archive of moments, ideas and images from the past. A lot of my work has been about using the archive once it has already been created. I have really valued the information I have learned during this internship, regarding how to accession, care for and present the original archive, as well as the privacy and ethics surrounding different archives.

Like the previous intern, I continued to work with the large archive the gallery had been gifted in 2016 by the photographer John B. Turner. Turner is a critic, photographer, researcher and collector of New Zealand Photography. In 1971 Turner started lecturing at Elam School of Fine Arts and along with others he launched PhotoForum in 1973. 

To begin with, Caroline McBride, Tom Irwin and I went to an offsite storage location to collect boxes of material to work through, 23 in total. Much of Turner’s archive was initially stored in makeshift folders within boxes, including a Cadbury Continental Chocolate Box. These boxes contained both Turner’s personal files, which includes a large range of material, everything from   photographic slides, transparencies, photographic posters and prints, newspaper clippings, photostats and personal correspondence.

Turner also has an extensive archive on New Zealand photographer Eric Lee-Johnson, a New Zealand painter and photographer. These folders all contained the research for his book, Eric Lee-Johnson: Artist With a Camera.  I accessioned six boxes on Eric Lee-Johnson alone during the first 1½ weeks of my internship, but there is still more to be done.

We defined categories for each of the types of items found in the archive. After our initial assessment to see what we had to work with – both Eric Lee-Johnson research, and a range of different media relating to various other subjects – we decided to sort through the latter first as this seemed to follow on from the previous files archived, and then move onto Turner’s Eric Lee-Johnson archive. This would also give us time to order boxes if we needed them for certain objects, such as an album from the early 1890s. I proceeded to work through the boxes identifying what they contained. It was important to decide if the boxes or files within them were organised in any particular way, because if there is an order it shows the researcher how the archive’s creator used the files they are now looking at.  This allows the researcher to get an idea of the person, without the archivist 'interrupting' with their interpretation of how the archive could have been used and organised.  Turner’s archive was organised in certain parts by date so we stuck with this where we could.

We stored newspaper articles and photocopies in paper folders and acid free envelopes were used for photo prints and other fragile items. These new folders were then placed into archival quality storage boxes, and will be stored in a controlled area so as to prevent further degradation.

During my internship I was also given the opportunity to select an archive to accession, I chose one that consisted of 315 letters between New Zealand artists and Alexa Johnston the Gallery’s curator from 1978–1997. I thought this would be incredibly helpful in terms of learning about copyright and ethics within an archive, particularly who owns the copyright with items such as letters and it was interesting to see how this was approached from an archival perspective rather than an artistic one.  This Archive also presented its own challenges in that we decided to organise the material by date order within the alphabetical order they came to us in. Not all of the letters were dated so I had to look for clues within the letters to see if they referred to certain exhibitions or previous letters in order to try and give them an estimated date.  This was sometime a struggle due to all of the different handwriting!

This internship has been invaluable, and I am incredibly grateful for everything I have learned and been able to do.  The whole team at the E H McCormick library have been great teachers and I will miss working with them.