As we mentioned in a previous post, we love LiveFriday at the Ashmolean and were delighted to be invited to do a special display of our lantern slides for the latest event, which just happened to co-incide with the Being Human Festival week.
We were asked to produce ‘Christmassy’ images, so we chose ‘Snow and Camels’ as our theme. ‘Snow’ gave us an opportunity to show off some of the beautiful images from the Plant Science Library held at the Radcliffe Science Library. The PSL lantern slide collection is fascinating from an anthropological and archaeological perspective – the teaching collection of images of agriculture and forestry from the late 19th century illustrate the social, political and physical realities of european and colonial life, as well as capturing landscapes and environments at a point of change.
These images also show that what we see when we look at a picture is affected by our cultural, educational and contextual gaze – two viewers will look at the same photograph and take different information from it. In the context of the Ashmolean exhibition, this image is cheerful, snowy and Christmassy…
The photograph was taken by E. A. Smythies, and its caption shows that he saw something very different:
“Ash bent by snow, Sihlwald, Switzerland. Note effect spruce behind. Late snowfall May 24, 1908″.
Smythies, who became a pioneer in forestry studies (and a groundbreaking philatelist), took this image as part of his research into forestry management for his Oxford University diploma.
By contrast, here is one of our ‘camel’ images from Harris Manchester College’s lantern slide collection:
This is from a Victorian travel lecture called ‘Holy Land’. This image is number 30 in the series and is entitled ‘Camels on the March’. The idea of a Victorian travel lecture brings us on to our next Being Human Festival event – more on that in the next post…