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Unlocking the Boxes: in conversation with David Govier

Unlocking the Boxes
A dérive through ‘Photographs from Another Place’ 
and the role of research in contemporary artistic practice
David Govier in conversation with Alan Ward

Published in Photographs from Another Place. The text had a series of cross-references and footnotes that have not been reproduced here.

…the darkness does not lift but becomes yet heavier as I think how little we can hold in mind, how everything is constantly lapsing into oblivion with every extinguished life, how the world is, as it were, draining itself, in that the history of countless places and objects which themselves have no power or memory is never heard, never described or passed on.W. G. Sebald, Austerlitz

David Govier  |  I want to start by asking you how you came across the Gearing negatives and why you wanted to keep them together?

Alan J Ward  |  In 2014 I was completing a commission titled Citizen Manchester, at Manchester’s Central Library, while it was closed for major refurbishment. I’d spent a lot of time in their archives looking at photographs and negatives, some of which had never really seen the light of day and I became fascinated with the physicality of the negatives as objects. This led to an impulsive purchase of three boxes of glass plates from a seller on eBay. When they arrived, I realised they were part of a family collection and the seller was auctioning off the remaining batches. I felt a real compunction to keep the collection together, so I persuaded him to sell me the remaining negatives. Without knowing what I was buying I became their custodian. They came in their original boxes, some of which were titled Wellington & Ward, the simple coincidence in surname gave them a personal value. Of course the connection is spurious at best, as it is just a coincidence, but it was the first of many that occurred. Their fragile materiality gave them a presence, one that bore the marks of their histories as objects.

I immediately made a connection to some of the locations featured as there appeared to be photographs of the River Mersey, even though I bought them from a man in Brighton, so suddenly there was a regional interest. In a way it was like I was acquiring a surrogate archive to reflect on. It was only when I began to properly research the photographs that I discovered there were some very particular synergies with my own familial history, and narratives began to form.

Tell me a little bit about the research that you were doing at Central Library and how that related to this project?

I was working with another artist, and we were looking at what a civic building meant to a city and its people. The library is in the heart of Manchester and it’s a place where anyone could go, it was a very democratic building in that way, but while closed for this extended period, we were fortunate to witness it as a building stripped to its core, revealing its very soul.

I’m interested in how we occupy or inhabit those spaces, I searched for hints of human interaction with the building – marks on walls, signs, chewing gum, instructions and labels: evidence – these were the visual markers that tell its story through time, questioning that democracy. The library has a very good online photographic record from its inception through to the present day, but I had the opportunity to delve through archive boxes of photographs that hadn’t been scanned, uncovering odd, random and forgotten imperfect images. I felt these asked alternative questions of its place within the city. One of the wonderful things about that project was having selected some of those to be part of the exhibition and publication, they were then digitised and added to the online collection without further explanation. This marked a transformative stage in the ‘life history’ of the photographs, changing their form and allowing their scope and access to be completely reconfigured.

So just as at the library, these pieces of material culture were hinting at fleeting lost moments, and I wanted to understand what could be salvaged from a largely domestic, but at times, peculiar set of images, by reconstructing narratives if possible. At that point I didn’t have any clear idea where the project would go. There are among the collection, what could be described as ‘connoisseurial’ images and these were particularly striking; others appeared far more oblique. Regardless of the fact I was viewing an amateur photographer’s work, the value and the power of the photographs are rooted in the phenomenological interaction between viewer and the collection. In particular their social and emotional context give them an evocative power. There is also a notion that these negatives have a variety of biographies, informed and constructed through social and cultural processes – they are the ‘totality of another life lived’. But now that they are entrusted to me they also acquire a multiplicity of meanings and visual narratives through ownership and interpretation.

I remember when you were starting to work on this project and we talked about W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz. What was it that was useful about this quote?

You sent me that quote and I had to admit that I hadn’t read any of his work. I have to say I’ll be forever grateful, it became a bit of a mantra for the project. Travelling through his landscapes, both real and fictional, felt very similar to placing myself in Gearing’s locations. I then read Rings of Saturn which describes his journey along the East Anglian coast, also particularly poignant with the collection’s overlapping Norfolk links and my childhood holidays to my grandparents’ farm near Great Yarmouth. Those visits included the very first photographs I took with my father’s Kodak, and the ones taken of me and my brother.

Photographs from Another Place, why did you choose that title?

Oddly enough, since choosing the title, I’ve always had trouble typing it, transposing the ‘r‘ and ‘o’ in from. However ‘form’ also describes the process and experience aptly. They can’t be reflected on directly by their author or the people in them, they are just out of reach, somewhere else. Times and places they commemorate can’t be retrieved, and many have been reconfigured. It became a quiet, often sad consideration of our place in that very landscape, an increasingly fragile world. It seemed there was little chance of finding any kin alive, yet they had become very real as the biographies built. It felt like Sydney was consciously engaging me on one level with his life, but through the passage of time and my reading of the images’ contexts, he had produced subconsciously, a more complex exploration of his surroundings. The writer Sean O’Hagan describes the documenting of his father’s shed being ‘a portrait of the inside of his head and and all the stuff he had collected there’. This is very much how I feel about Sydney’s collection.

You are not doing this objectively, capturing the stuff and enclosing the collection of glass negatives with this contextual material, you are also interpreting the places and connections and adding to it as well. How did this make you feel?

What starts out as being objective, inevitably becomes subjective as ideas become interwoven with the research. For me it is not a linear process, it is full of tangents, intuitive reactions and personal engagements, there is a multi-dimensionality to it. The building of a collective memory of a place, through experience, location and artefact, informed both my images and the curating of the archive.

There was a lot of time initially spent building a family tree and much of this was done before I began to visit locations. With my daughter assisting in research, we worked closely to identify Sydney, Simeon his father, his mother Alice and Hilda, Sydney’s sister, and then the wider families. In building that family tree we discovered the Norfolk connection. My father is a Norfolk boy from close to where Alice grew up. The very fact that Sydney was born in London and moved to the North-West as did I, all seemed too familiar. Hilda, Sydney’s sister is the first to die within the timespan of the archive. She dies of cancer; I lost my brother to leukemia. These parallels began to create some rules of engagement.

How did you start your research and what were your ground rules for investigation into the archive?

Bethan, my daughter, was completing an anthropology degree and showed a real interest in understanding what we had. So she brought a disciplined attitude to the process of genealogical census research. This enabled me to develop my slightly more esoteric approach that was more in keeping with previous projects. It is easy to get entirely lost in the imagined landscape of the archive, the threads of interest ever expanding as you discover more factual detail.

Initially for Alice Gower, we managed to build an entirely wrong family tree and back story. What are the chances of there being three Norfolk Alice Gowers, all born within six months of each other, locally and unrelated? Once Alice was formally identified, certain pictures then began to reveal their context.

How did you discover you’d made a mistake?

By chance we found someone else online who had built a Gower family tree which was itself incomplete, but linked up with Simeon and Alice.6 This put our research to that point in doubt. This person was the great-grandson of Alice’s brother Alfred. I managed to contact him through the site and we shared information. He had several particularly good stories to relay of that Alfred [Gower].

I imagine you have had to go offline for some things as well, all your research wasn’t done on the internet was it?

I think it’s fair to say if it wasn’t for access to these digital platforms it would have been very difficult to make the initial progress we achieved. One of the starting points was a series of photographs of the Wallasey Rifle Club, as some were dateable, but I couldn’t find anything at all online about the club, so I contacted the Wirral Archives. I was really surprised when they claimed they had no knowledge of it, partly because they have no digital cataloguing of it either. I then contacted Bisley, the home of shooting in this country, and I spoke to their archivist, and having emailed some low resolution scans they were able to respond by supplying me with photocopied pages of a periodical publication called ‘The Rifleman’ containing minutes for the Liverpool Miniature Rifle Association (L.M.R.A.) that referenced the Wallasey Rifle Club. Some of these showed Sydney’s results in various competitions for the club. But most interestingly they had sent me the minutes to a particular L.M.R.A AGM (May 1929) where they discuss the creation of a new competition and trophy, called the Ambidextrous Challenge. It talks about the president Captain R. Gladstone, donating the trophy and his hope that it will be ‘a lively and popular competition’. That’s the trophy that Sydney’s photographed with in the back yard of Rosebery Avenue, he won it in its inaugural year. Of course Bisley didn’t realise they were supplying that information, I hadn’t talked about that specifically, it was just on the same page.

The archivist was able to give you the information you’d highlighted but there’s other detail the articles and publications are capturing that doesn’t necessarily mean anything to the archivist – but in your context it can inform your research.

The coincidental unearthing of information has occurred repeatedly. I subsequently visited Wirral Archives to look at specific bound weekly newspapers from the late ’20s as these are not digitised. I was looking for possible articles about a couple of particular events, but then I realised that all the local sporting activities were recorded, so I started to look through the results for cricket and shooting as well. I found Sydney mentioned for both, and in fact there was even a picture of him in the Liscard St. Mary’s cricket team. I was able to build a sense of his batting averages and promotion to the ‘firsts’ from the ‘second eleven’.

But one of the gifts of that research trip was discovering a correspondence he had submitted to the letters page extolling the virtues of the Rifle Club. In the previous week’s paper there had been a syndicated article about the sport of shooting. Sydney had obviously read it, and responded by promoting the Wallasey club.

If the newspapers had been digitised and available online, you may have been able to pick Gearing’s letter out from his name, you may have been able to find results from the sports pages but I find sometimes the serendipity of  the rhythms of searching through micro film or original content, lead your attention. You get to know the make-up, the diplomatics of that newspaper, there’s something special about offline research that is lost when you just get results; you can’t really interrogate that newspaper in the same way and if any of those Gearings are mis-indexed then you will miss it.

When you go through the newspapers you do get into a rhythm, we all read them  in a particular way and order. They were the key organ of news and social life, describing Birkenhead at the height of its powers. A landscape that Sydney, as a structural engineer, was physically influencing as part of his job for the Mersey Docks and Harbours Board, the area now known as Liverpool and Wirral Waters.

There is a particular series of photographs of the SS Kobenhavn, a Danish cadet training ship. It was unusual as it was a five mast sailing ship, the largest sailing ship in the World and the biggest ever to built in a British shipyard. Sydney’s father Simeon was also the manager of the Rea tug-boat company, that was towing it across the Mersey that day, it is possible that it’s Simeon on the tugboat looking back at Sydney as it enters Alfred Lock.

You can date precisely that moment from the ship’s records, its transfer from one dock to another across the river on Tuesday 19th July 1927, but then you can also find in the newspaper an article about it locating to the West Float for dry dock maintenance and how people were able to visit it and go on board. It talks about it being with two other ships in the West Float, which immediately identifies the name of the other ship featured in a different picture. Then from a subsequent online search on a website called, I discovered a plane was completing an aerial survey of the petroleum refinery a bit further up the Float at the same time and there in the bottom right-hand corner of that photograph is the Kobenhavn in dry dock, and the Fortuna on the other side of the water.

We were talking earlier about the same event being photographed or reported on from different angles – a plane above, photographer on the ground, printed media – and the unlikeliness of this one event or place and time being being captured multiple times then. Surely this is another example of that. I suppose what I was getting at before is in the same way the digital research can hide things you might come across in different avenues through manual research.

The capturing of these moments is especially fascinating, as the Fortuna, a whaling ship that plied its trade between Liverpool and South Georgia, sank in the Irish Sea on its very next voyage, and the Kobenhavn disappeared the following year, while sailing between Buenos Aires and Adelaide. It remains to this day one of the great seafaring mysteries. The photograph of it mid-stream on the Mersey as it departs, is all the more potent, both as a moment and as an object – a fragility of existence. When I started this project in 2014, there were various debates still going on as to its fate. Recently there has been much discussion as to whether a wreck off Tristan da Cunha is the Kobenhavn; although it’s been dived, it has not been formally identified yet.

You’ve talked about your connection with these people that you have researched, but specifically why go to these places and how did people react at these locations?

Local engagement has been crucial to developing the project, and encountering people at the various locations has offered up much insight.

Discovering Sydney was a freemason, provided the opportunity to explore the ritual of his masonic past. Grosvenor Lodge 4312 were as interested in rediscovering one of their former Grand Masters as I was. I was granted access to photograph and they assisted by dressing the hall in his Lodge’s regalia and helping with further background research. That engagement continued when I worked with a current mason to make a film, recreating a speech of Sydney’s titled ‘Some thoughts on Masonry and its Degrees’. Which by chance, I purchased from a second-hand shop near where Alice lived in Norfolk, another coincidence.

There’s often a symmetry involved at these locations, a series of repeating motifs. I identified where a series of family portraits were taken quite early on – a backyard in Rosebery Avenue, but it wasn’t accessible visually and you couldn’t confirm it by Google either. I’d called at the house numerous times and hadn’t got an answer. Months later I went back again and the owner Marie invited me in; she was fascinated in hearing about the house’s past. I was immediately able to show her where particular photographs were taken even though I’d never been there before.

Sydney photographed his father with their regal looking Dalmation, Prince. I knew the current owners had a dog as there was a sign at the front gate, but little did I know that her dog was called Princess.

I talked to members of the Parkfield Liscard Cricket Club, where Sydney’s cricket poses as bowler and batsman were taken. Sydney’s team folded due to a scandal over the sale of Irish Sweepstake tickets in 1934. Parkfield formed out of the ashes of that club. I discovered that there were team pictures hanging in the pavilion from the late ’30s. There staring out at me from the walls were G. T. Smith, Ken Corfield and C. Lane, players that featured in Sydney’s pictures – now team-mates had names. Much like the information Bisley supplied me highlighted names, that meant some of the group shots must contain these people.

These ghosts are slowly giving up their identities to you. It strikes me that this project has needed the length of time invested in order to unpick these aspects.

There’s a photograph of a girl in a park that had haunted both myself and my daughter, as we struggled to identify who she was. The negative is in poor condition and she seemed trapped behind a shroud of scratches and detritus. I’d always felt she must be Sydney’s daughter but without any photographs of Hannah, Sydney’s wife, there wasn’t any strong connection. Online registers suggested that Sydney and Hannah had possibly had twins or a daughter called Pauline, but the paperwork trail just didn’t make any sense.

I gave a presentation on the project at the National Photography Symposium in 2016, and she became the signature image for the whole event, a family photograph re-appropriated to represent the precariousness nature of archives – especially as I didn’t know who she was. That added to the image’s biography, as she inadvertently took on a significant digital presence through the symposium’s social media.

Several months later, the Wirral Archive helped us to identify her through a 1939 register, a national survey we didn’t know about. That told us they had a child called Ruth. Once we established her identity, we were then able to do further research. She had a daughter called Susan, about my age, and we managed to trace her through Facebook, and eventually made contact. I had a long telephone conversation about her family as I discussed in detail her relatives, and explained I had photographs of her mother. At the end of this conversation Susan revealed that her mother was alive and living with her.

Establishing contact with living relatives had the potential to change the whole dynamic. It was something that had weighed heavy as a potential issue. How would someone react to a complete stranger creating this detailed document, that sat somewhere between fact and interpretation.

They live in Devon, so I arranged to visit them with work prints I’d made from the negatives, to explain in person the project. They were a little cautious initially which of course is not unreasonable, especially when the detail of my three-year research was laid out. There was an extraordinary moment when they produced a photo album of prints that matched many of the negatives I have.

You talk about how potentially the family engagement could change the dynamic, did the project alter in any particular way?

The ‘faction’ I’d created of emotional connections and dynamics was suddenly challenged by a reality. But actually the relationship with Ruth and Susan added greater depth, because it revealed additional material that reinforced many of my strands through artefact and narrative. It also revealed how familial stories can get distorted through time, as I was able to correct aspects of their understanding through details that I’d uncovered.

There’s a photograph of a model ship that I’d always imagined that Simeon had made: I knew he’d been a mariner in his early adult life, but what I didn’t know was that he’d sailed around the world to China. This then immediately hints at why there are samurai swords on a shield photographed in the collection. I found the model ship photograph particularly interesting – the domestic setting of a kitchen table with a white background, and with a ceiling light just in shot top right. The mistletoe hanging from the lamp shade placed it at a particular moment, the negative holds these aspects that a final print would surely crop to white.

They said ‘I think we might still have that model ship in storage’. In one of the original photographs of the ship, you can make out it’s called ‘Hero’. But when I saw it on another visit, I discovered it had a little plaque on it that wasn’t in the photographs that names it ‘The General Picton’.

Sydney photographed an oil painting of a ship propped up on a box, which I then realised was ‘The General Picton’, and if you zoom into the photograph you can get the mearest hint of its name on the bow. Also produced at that second meeting were several other objects they weren’t sure about, including a black box, which once I’d popped it open, turned out to be the original plate camera that had taken the pictures. To be sitting with them handling the instrument that had recorded these moments was remarkable.

Can we reflect on your photographs for a moment. Once you’d identified locations, how did you approach responding to them?

In most cases I developed a strong idea of what I wanted to photograph before I arrived at each location, which is of course informed by the research or biographical connection. These are not instant reactions once in situ, but ones measured by the weight of the archive. That experience means nothing is truly a result of chance.

Often Sydney’s focus is a bit out, probably to do with the difficulty of using the camera (as I’ve discovered for myself), this forces you to look at the surrounding elements more closely I think than you would normally, it feeds an anticipation for each location, and the miniscule details I found so compelling.

At Rosebery Avenue, I wanted to make a picture that referenced the brick wall or the windows. If you look at the underside of the remaining windowsill you can see the curve still evident in the original.

I’d spent a lot of time on Streetview trying to find the childhood home of Alice in Norfolk, there’s a picture of her with Simeon and Hilda stood at a gate. Census results only gave the road as an address, so I went up and down streeview in an attempt to match the location. When I visited, I had a very specific photograph in mind as the space they’d stood in had become filled in with hedge. On Streetview the subtle dip in the top of the hedge was the evidence of that lost space. However the day I visited, the hedge was quite overgrown and the light was disappointing, so I knocked on the door of the house to explain why I was stood outside. The old lady who lived there remembered the gateway being filled in some 40 years ago but also said that I’d be better off waiting till the next day to photograph it as it was due to be cut that very afternoon.

So it’s not necessarily the central focus of the photograph that enables us to connect the photographs afterwards. Do you think Sydney was aware of these details when he was composing his pictures originally?

Probably not, but it is the Barthes’ ‘punctum’ or ‘hook’, that is uniquely evoked by photography. Alongside the Wallasey Rifle Club images, there is a series of photographs documenting a collection of rifles and pistols strung up against a white sheet pinned to a wall, often with a hint of wallpaper behind. I spent a day at Whitworth Art Gallery, trying to match that particular wallpaper from their extensive collection. I wanted to see what it would be like in colour. I’d become aware of the all too monchrome natural motifs in the wallpaper, floral embroidered curtains and plate patterns, in these domestic settings.

Some of the coincidences or some of the threads that you find are quite stark, like the rifle in the domestic mill setting, others like Marie and Princess, one could almost say, you are going to find meaning in a situation somewhere.

This project is quite bonkers for that, there does appear to be an extraordinarily high occurrence of personal coincidence within this project. It seems to me now, there was an inevitability to me aquiring the collection.

Ruth still had some artefacts of Sydney’s including a series of masonic printed cards he had designed and produced for lodge ceremonial events, some his and others for fellow masons. On some of these, Malcolm Lowry’s brothers are noted. I’d designed a book a few years previously all about Malcolm and his life. In that book there is an unattributed image of one of Simeon’s tugs towing the SS Pyrrus into Alfred Lock. Sydney photographed its sister ship SS Phemius.

You are presented with a lot of different things to take in through the senses, As human beings, we ascribe meaning to things, I suppose my question is, you could have done this in a different order and in a different year and you would have picked other threads, you might not have photographed this woman with a dog, for example. It seems to me sometimes you are fighting the loss of meaning, the meaning that Sebald describes; those objects in time that find their way through, that appear to exist without any meaning attached to them.

Not everything required meaning, and some of the curated images are selected for reasons that are left untold. But you are probably right. Often there are connections that if I were to sit down with Sydney and talk about them might not make sense to him immediately. But through a commonality of experience, they invite a continuing narrative.

There is a church in Norfolk I visited where Sydney and family are photographed on top of the tower. Also within the church, there were two very significant moments of ‘clarity’. It became very apparent that I was taking a photograph at almost exactly the same time of day as the original. There’s also a 16th century linen chest that has a beautiful and curious Venetian nautical mural painted on it. It wasn’t there when Sydney visited, it was gifted from a large local estate some years later, but I felt certain Sydney would have photographed it had he encountered it.

Why not explain all those connections for the viewer with the pictures?

Photography has within its medium the ability to make visible the forgotten and unknown aspects of our surroundings, a photograph can record the easily missed and overlooked. That is present in both the archive curation and my work, they are an accumulation of ideas, it’s up to the viewer to find their own place in these histories of the past, now and the future.

In Great Yarmouth, where a ship called the Lingard was photographed by Sydney, the South Quay was a location I passed regularly in my childhood, in my grandad’s van as we drove home from the twice weekly farmer’s market. Visiting the location again led to a chance encounter with a pilot boat captain and his model ship. To me this had a direct relevance to Simeon’s model ship and my visits to the local boating lake during my holidays, it made perfect sense to my biography. At that point I had no idea of Hannah’s father’s story.

So you only found out later that another pilot boat captain was central to the family story? You mentioned earlier that there is absence of presence to Hannah, Sydney’s wife?

I think this goes back to her childhood. On 28th Dec 1917, when Hannah was 12, she went to meet her father John Lewis, the Master of the pilot boat Alfred H. Read at the pierhead at the end of his shift. Except he never returned.

It was a calm night out on the Mersey Sound during the First World War, Pilot Boat 1 hit a submerged German mine and sank immediately with the loss of all life bar two crew members. It’s the single largest loss of life the Docks and Harbour Board experienced, and is commemorated by a plaque in the foyer of Building One of the Three Graces. This experience affected her greatly, she suffered from mental health issues much of her life and spent a fair amount of time away from the family home. This is possibly one of the reasons she doesn’t feature in any of the negatives I have. Her story is a sad one.

With all the research and note making, Photographs from Another Place feels like more than just a photographic project, why choose photography as your medium?

My projects are intrinsically mapping processes – a representation of both real and imaginary places. Photography is central to completing that survey, my mapping may not necessarily be the territory mapped by others though. Part of this survey included tracking down Sydney’s ‘lost’ objects and documenting them. This became a way of expressing the importance of ‘artefact’ in defining a personal and locational DNA. These are the things we all surround ourselves with in the everyday, the momento mori of our experiences and pursuits.

Coming back to the archive, how have you gone about reproducing the images?

Using a high-end flat-bed scanner I made bespoke carriers for the glass negatives and painstakingly scanned them all, creating a parallel digital archive of the physical. This allowed me to cross-reference and interrogate them in forensic detail. It also enabled me to clean them up and digitally adjust them in a way that might have been almost impossible by analogue methods. Of course some negatives ‘bear the marks of its own history as an object’ and I’ve reflected that.

What I find with this book is that I spend a lot more time looking at the images, than maybe I would have if they were explained with captions, it’s almost as if spending time with the image is part of your intention, an enforced contemplation. Would you say that is the case?

Once you start to spend time with these images, within the apparent ordinary and everyday, there is the extraordinary. It’s the tiny details hidden amongst the banal that I find most interesting.

I’m interested in the structure of the book. As an artist and book designer, you’ve made a choice to present the Gearing Archive and your responses in two different parts, why separate them with the text?

When I began the project I always imagined it as a bookwork. Sydney’s and my series connected by a direct dialogue and a continuity of sequence. But as I curated the collection and then made new work I became reluctant to position them next to each other, partly to avoid then-and-now comparisons, but also because both sequences are themselves thematic. So they travel from each end, or the beginning of the book if you will, to the centre. That middle core section of texts and notes, including the transcription of this interview, creates a way of outlining as much of the research as possible, although it is not exhaustive.

Text has increasingly become an important part of my research. In Citizen Manchester it was the voices of the building’s inhabitants or the workers on the site that countered the visual. Before that I explored ideas of abandonment, loss and passing, in a small publishing collaboration with Helen Tookey, by pairing a series of French images with her poems.

The creation of multiple lists, for example, all the little things you discover on the journey, and park for reflection until connections are made and attributions applied, became an important central aspect of this project.

Through a friend, Martin Figura, who I exhibited with in ’93, I was introduced to George Szirtes and we developed a correspondence through a common interest in photography, Sebald and ‘the transience of all human things’. He took my research and images and explored beyond the edges of the glass plates. Through the ensuing process of our collaboration he then invited me to revisit his text, cross referencing it with both bodies of work. There are some lovely thoughts and connections drawn out and I think as you return to both, the more rewarding the book is.

I applied for a funding grant from the Elephant Trust to explore a specific aspect of the archive, and I’ve been working with a photographic heritage specialist to make new pictures using Sydney’s camera, reconstructing the processes by which the originals were made, so in some ways I have come full circle.. I’ve been able to take the camera back to places it witnessesed previously and engage with people touched by the stories discovered – I am Sydney J Gearing.

What happens now with Gearing’s collection, your work books, research notes and photography after this is all completed?

I’d like to think that the Williamson Art Gallery or Wirral Archives could be the future custodian of the project. Returning Sydney home really, but also providing the opportunity for others to access it and add further research; there is always more mapping to be done.

I still watch out on eBay for the two lost boxes I missed in the initial auction. No amount of eBay stalking was able to salvage them, one box ended up in Switzerland and the other was sold, where the trail went dry. You never know, there might be some lost negatives of Sydney’s still to be reunited.


David Govier is an archivist with an interest in oral history and how life stories are told. He worked at Manchester Central Library during its renovation and is now project manager for the North West Region of the ‘Unlocking Our Sound Heritage’ project.




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