Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Fairfax Photographic Archive

  • 4 Dec 2012
  • The Sydney Morning Herald

History etched in glass: priceless images go to National Library

IN AN AGE when photographs are shot, finessed and circulated to millions of people within seconds, Australia’s rarest collection of photojournalism is an evocative insight into another time.
Photos: Wolter Peeters; Marco Del Grande; Fairfax ArchivesAnother age . . . librarian Ellen Fitzgerald packs glass plate negatives at the Fairfax archives in Alexandria, top left; Martin Place, 1911, above; billy cart races and street children, below.
Not just into the events of that time – Depression-era dole queues, the first Anzac Day march, bustling life on Sydney’s streets – but also into the intricate art of glass plate photography that was common a century ago.

More than 13,000 glass negatives forming the Fairfax Archives Glass Plate Collection were donated to the National Library of Australia on Monday.

The photographs, taken by Fairfax photographers between 1908 and the mid-1930s, will be restored and put into digital form in a partnership between Fairfax Media, the National Library and the government’s National Cultural Heritage Foundation, which contributed $425,000.

The library’s director-general, Anne-Marie Schwirtlich, said the collection was particularly significant for Australians’ understanding of the early 20th century.

‘‘These images are special because they provide a complete archive of photojournalism during the era . . . There are no comparable newspaper photo archives,’’ Ms Schwirtlich said.

The director of information services at Fairfax Media, Chris Berry, who has led the project over the past three years, said the goal was to preserve the images for all Australians.

‘‘A lot of the stories are familiar ones, but the vivid nature of the glass plates brings them to life,’’ Mr Berry said. ‘‘In the chase for tomorrow’s news, sometimes the history and cultural value of things is not always apparent.’’

Mr Berry said the cataloguing process would provide an opportunity to properly appreciate the collection. The collection is expected to be available online from mid next year.

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