The Sanger Shepherd Process

We’re making a start on cleaning, digitizing and recording a beautiful cabinet of lantern slides which used to form part of the Ashmolean Lantern Slide Lending Library. It’s a big job, and one we couldn’t do without the help of our new student volunteers – Bridget, Amy, Alice and Ed.

Almost as soon as he had started cleaning a set of slides, Ed came across this and drew it to our attention:

box 249 sanger shepherd005

It’s a colour image of a fresco from the famous Bronze Age site at Knossos in Crete, excavated by Sir Arthur Evans from 1900 onwards. Colour images are a rarity in our lantern slide collection, not least because it was difficult and expensive to achieve a colour image before the introduction of Kodachrome in 1935. It is probable that the wealthy Evans was responsible for commissioning this expensive image. The colour slide was created using the Sanger Shepherd method. Red, yellow and blue filters were used and the results amalgamated to create the final colour. Sanger Shepherd and Company Ltd were active from 1900 to 1927, so Evans was using cutting-edge technology.

The next slide in the slide box shows some of the processes for creating the right mix of colours, with an outline drawing of the same fresco indicating how the colour filters should be set – an interesting find for historians of photography:

box 249 sanger shepherd003

The image itself, known as ‘The Captain of the Blacks’, is highly contentious. When Sir Arthur Evans began excavations at Knossos he was heavily influenced by his reading of Classical authors in his interpretation of the site and its frescoes. When he came across this fresco, it was damaged. The lead runner has survived, but only the legs of two following runners and a tiny part of the back of the head of the second runner were visible. This was enough for Evans to construct a narrative of African enlistment in Minoan armies, as he argued in his publication of the site (Evans 1926, p756).

We’ve found a dozen more Sanger Shepherd colour images in this box. Who knows what we will find as we keep going through the collection?


Evans, A. 1926. The palace of Minos : a comparative account of the successive stages of the early Cretan civilization as illustrated by the discoveries at Knossos vol II (London, Macmillan)

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35mm slide project


Like many teaching institutions, we have a huge 35mm teaching slide collection. It was once in constant use, but now 35mm slides are a redundant technology, and questions have to be asked about whether the collection is worth the space it occupies.

We are not alone in asking this question: there is a lively debate about the issue across museums, libraries, art galleries and universities.

Most of the guidelines on slide libraries seem to start with the assumption the problem is one of how to identify which slides to dispose of. The Guidelines for the Evaluation, Retention, and Deaccessioning of 35mm Slide Collections in Educational and Cultural Institutions, prepared by the Visual Resources Association’s Slide and Transitional Media Task Force, September 2014 begins with: ‘Our purpose here is to raise awareness of the issues associated with reducing the size of a 35mm teaching collection, and to provide general guidelines for evaluating and weeding.’

Reading through the VRA guidelines and its appendix of institutional guidelines, there is a consensus that ‘weeds’ are duplicates, images taken from books, and slides that are damaged, mouldy, out-of-focus, fading or otherwise imperfect, unless they are originals. However, the work of identifying ‘originals’ in a massive slide collection is no simple task, especially where there is no source data – a common issue with teaching slide collections, and certainly one we face. Weeding is an interesting word. Weeds are unwelcome intrusive plants in a garden that take up space and choke desirable plants. Does taking out unwanted slides make a collection more accessible and more likely to be used?

The answer depends on what teaching slide collections are, and why they are worth retaining. We are developing new research directions through an archaeological approach which identifies the Institute’s teaching slide collection as an assemblage: “a group of artifacts recurring together at a particular time and place, and representing the sum of human activities” (Renfrew and Bahn, 2008, 578).


Thinking about the collection as an assemblage has raised new questions about purpose, function, research value and relevance, while setting the idea of ‘weeding’ to one side. Assemblages have interest because of their component parts – to take some of these parts out, or to assign different values based on current cultural perceptions is to distort the assemblage and compromise its archaeological integrity.

While we’re writing about these issues and setting up a 35mm slide digitisation project, we’re looking at what has happened to comparable 35mm collections. This one from the Visual Resources Centre at Manchester Art School particularly caught our eye. Worried that their collection was at threat of disposal, ‘Pick-a-slide’ began as a student-led collaboration. People are invited to browse the images, pick one, and write a short response about it. It is a fascinating project, and the good news is that the entire archive has been transferred to the University Special Collections.


Renfrew, C. and Bahn, P. (2008) Archaeology: Theories,  Methods, and Practice London: Thames and Hudson






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Photography vs Art

Historic Environment Image Resource (HEIR)

I came across this in the Bodleian Library today:


It is ‘Welch’s Album of Portsmouth and Southsea Views’, printed in Germany, and sold by R. and W. Welch, booksellers, of the Arcade, Landport.

Inside, there is a concertina of images, including this one of Southsea castle

P1040538 copy

And this view of The Govenor’s House – the building was a casualty of bombing during WWII:

P1040528 copy

What’s odd about these images is that they are not photographs, but drawings OF photographs, and at quite a late date, too – the images post-date the building of the Town Hall (1890), but pre-date the breaking up of HMS Euphrates in 1895:

P1040532 copy

Why create a drawing instead of reproducing the photograph? One answer may be that the images were being modified, perhaps to make them more ‘artistic’. Compare, for example, the drawing on the left of the Floating Bridge with the original on the right:

P1040531 copychain-ferry-plus-hms-victory-in-harbour


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The Story Behind the Picture: Karakoram 1936

Source: The Story Behind the Picture: Karakoram 1936

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Dating our Stonehenge Images

Source: Dating our Stonehenge Images

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Looking Deeply to Date the Past

Geography: England: Oxfordshire: Oxford: "Floods Nov. 1894"

Geography: England: Oxfordshire: Oxford: “Floods Nov. 1894”. HEIR resource 51932, GEOGbx82im003.tif.

Although the HEIR Project archive now has more than 15,000 images, only a tiny fraction of this number arrived with specific dates in their caption. When we come across a picture with a caption such as this one of Oxford, we thank our lucky stars, as we know the where and the when, providing the beginning of many a great story.

Harris Manchester College: England: Oxford: "Oxford, Univ Coll" "S. Mary the Virgin-bit of Queens College" "WHP"

Harris Manchester College: England: Oxford: “Oxford, Univ Coll” “S. Mary the Virgin-bit of Queens College” “WHP”. HEIR resource 41553, HMCbx1im012.tif.

Most often, image dating comes from research, either our own or work done by the many people who have been assisting us via the HEIRtagger website ( For example, while preparing for a lecture, we were reviewing images of Oxford and took a good look at this view of University College on the High Street. Although the front of the University College still looks much the same today, the cobblestone street paving, horse droppings and the clothing on the girl standing in the street suggest that this is a 19th century image. The dating breakthrough, however, came when we noticed that in the centre background of the image the Brasenose College Tower was surrounded with scaffolding. As this structure dates to the 1887-1889 period when the High Street frontage of this college was rebuilt, we can now estimate that this picture was taken in either 1888 or 1889, as the tower was nearly complete.

Many of our images hold clues, such as merchant signs, clothing styles, streetlights or even automobiles that can provide all the information needed to date the picture. Your support of HEIRtagger can make all of the difference when you take the time to look at all of the information in our images.

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From photograph to history: super sleuthing

Historic Environment Image Resource (HEIR)

One of our HEIRtaggers came across this image in our ‘mystery location’ collection and decided to find out more.

Wylie: street scene in British town Wylie: street scene in British town

She sent us this report:

‘Having spent a happy couple of hours yesterday evening doing some more ferreting, I can confirm that Resource ID ; 35259
Original Filename : Wyliebx3im002.tif
Caption : Wylie: street scene in British town
has now been identified as

Pickering, North Riding of Yorkshire – the Market Place

The exact date is more difficult to determine.
Herbert Hunt was not running either hotel in either 1893 nor 1913

Last name        First name       Born     Died     Event    Record set         
HUNT            HERBERT           1850       1906     1906     England & Wales deaths(1837-2007)
Location        Pickering, Yorkshire,

In the 1901 census
Herbert  Hunt   51  (born Yorks Wakefield)  was living in  Yorkshire Menston and working as a ” Drug Traveller”  !!

So that would place this photograph between 1901 & 1906′


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