Robert Parkinson, is a former postgraduate photography student at the Manchester School of Art and co-founder of Preston is my Paris, a photography based project that encompasses publications, installations, live events, writing and education. In his post, Robert describes how his experience of working with scrap albums from the Sir Harry Page Collection has led to an ongoing engagement with our archives and collections.
In 2012, during my studies, I was advised to visit MMU Special Collections by my tutor. I was researching methodologies and approaches that artists developed when producing publications. Here I was greeted with a vast range of iconic and lesser known books which developed into the foundations of my main studies. During my many visits, I discovered parts of the collections not available on the shelves. One such finding, while discussing ideas with the librarians, was of the collection of scrap albums and commonplace books dating back to the 19th century. I became interested in how these personal diaries took many different forms and what sociological elements they held.
The DaDa-esque collage found throughout this anonymous album, produced between 1820-1830, was of aesthetical interest to me. When browsing the albums they all felt extremely private, only for the eyes of the producers, to document and reflect the individual’s thoughts and interests. This particular example had the same feeling, with a much more sporadic and chaotic approach. Writings from text highlighted in various colours. Collaged imagery accurately extracted from newspapers. Articles patchworked together forming eccentric phrases. All this thrown together page by page, but why was the author producing this? Was it an imaginative way of writing a diary and documenting the time? Or was it purely an artistic and creative output? I am unsure but this frenzied order, which pre-dates the DaDa movement, stood out from most of the other albums in the collection.
These discoveries prompted me to investigate my grandma Edith’s scrapbook which she produced in the late 1970s to 1980s. The content predominantly revolved around CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) protests and feminist articles.Edith was the founding member of Padiham Women’s Group (PWG) which was based in her house. PWG wasn’t the largest feminist group in the country, in fact it only consisted of Edith, my mum and my auntie. Edith wrote many letters to the government attempting to remove the tax on female sanitary products.
What I found interesting was how this revealed poignant and personal topics from the time of production, much like the albums from Special Collections. Edith’s newspaper clippings were of specific political events which were of importance to her. The earliest album in Special Collections was created anonymously in 1782. It primarily contains columns of newspaper advertisements for tobacco products. This is a stark contrast from the political articles found in Edith’s collection and ultimately highlights the vast diversity of this medium.
After discussions with staff at Special Collections, I proposed to create an exhibition of some of their scrap albums and political posters (from the Philip Granville Collection) displayed alongside items from Edith’s archive. The show was intending to playfully highlight the links between these individual collections, both contextually and visually. I purposefully placed objects together ambiguously, allowing the audience to build and develop links I may have missed myself. This was an important aspect of the exhibition I was attempting to communicate with my methods of display.
The process of researching, discussing and exhibiting the project at Special Collections generated the idea of producing Edith’s archive as a two tone risograph publication, a copy of which is now held in the Artists’ Books Collection at MMU Special Collections:
The visits and feedback from Special Collections during my studies developed my ideas while expanding the possibility of the output. The experience has led to me using this public resource as the base research for the majority of my projects.