In addition to creating new images, research forms a huge part of what I do. This research takes many different forms from gathering documents and photographs from primary sources, to scouring period newspapers and records in the library or archive. As well as collecting physical ephemera, I also collect the oral testimonies of people connected to the subject I am working on.
I have always had a keen interest in social history and collecting so my work never feels like work. I regularly work with Berwick Record Office and their photographic collections, digitising all manner of formats of negatives and prints. This has led to an involvement in a number of projects. The most recent being the publication of 'Snapshots of the 60s', a book highlighting images from the collection taken during the 1960s. We are currently working on the next in the series focussing on the 1970s.
The Cowe project and the 'Cockle' maker -
In 2013 I began a research project supporting a body of photographic work I was creating. The work documented a group of historically significant Georgian buildings in Berwick upon Tweed which were about to undergo a major restoration, partially funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant. The buildings had been owned by one family (the Cowe for over 120 years and remained practically untouched.
The purpose of the residential, retail and storage spaces were easily interpreted, however a tiny room at the rear of one property above a yard posed a number of questions. The floor was boarded with very short boards, a bench surrounded a third of the room covered partially in slate, metal and wood, above which were two metal hooks. A cast iron open-topped boiler sat on a stone plinth in the centre of the room with a copper pan balanced on the edge.
I recorded this room as I had done with all of the others, but more needed to be done. I eventually met Terry Heapy, who, between 1969 and 2004 worked in this room making the peppermint sweet known as the 'Berwick Cockle'. Having worked in the room for over 30 years he gave me great insights into what went on there and how all of the features were used. I used modern photographs to jog his memory and in return he supplied me with a large amount of photographs and other material telling his story and that of the Berwick Cockle.
This is just one example of how we can use photography to gain knowledge about the uses of historic buildings. We can use the images, documents and oral testimonies we gather to create a lasting record for the future.
We have now gathered huge amounts of information about the 'Cowe' buildings and their human story. I have acted as archivist for the project, and have digitised all of this material. As well as compiling a report for the owners of the buildings as part of their planning consent, the work will be made available to the public through the local archive. An exhibition was held in April 2017 showcase this work and to allow the public to share their memories of the properties.
© Cameron Robertson 2019