Cataloguing the Max Dupain Exhibition Negative Archive

Example of reference sources used for title, date and content data

Example of reference sources used for title, date and content data

Cataloguing this important photographic archive is a complex task that takes a team of volunteers and qualified librarians.

Over a 42 week period volunteers completed the rehousing of the almost 29,000 negatives. While the volunteers rehoused, two librarians began the cataloguing task using national and international archival and/or library standards.

The cataloguing of this archive involves creating a record for each envelope, containing one or multiple negatives.  Using the information written on the envelope by Max Dupain, the cataloguer will devise a title and date. Often Dupain will have clearly written a title and date but not in every instance. The cataloguer quickly becomes adept at deciphering handwriting and learning the quirks of Dupain. For example, he would abbreviate April to APL rather than the more common APR. If title information is missing the cataloguer will devise a title based on the content of the image/s. When a date is missing then research is required to approximate the date. This is done by comparing the negative to published images, images in institutional collections, similar dated negatives in the Library’s collection or analysing the image using fashion, cars, specific shops or buildings that were built or demolished at certain times. Sometimes the cataloguer may magnify the image to read the date of a magazine or newspaper a person might be reading in the photograph!

Processing of negatives and prints

Processing of negatives and prints

A short description is entered to give the reader an idea of the content with the addition of subject/topic headings which assist in searching the online catalogue. It is crucial for the cataloguer to check that the contents of the image/s match the title given by Max when writing the description as occasionally this is not the case. One example is a single negative with the title ‘Margo Lewers scup, Pitt St, 1960s’ written on the glassine bag in which it was housed. The image was of an abstract, spiky, column-shaped sculpture outside the Western Assurance building on Pitt St in Sydney (the name of the building was partially visible in the image). Margo Lewers was a well-respected Modernist painter who did also create sculptures. However just to make sure and to add additional information to the record, the cataloguer researched the artist’s sculptures on the internet but could not find this particular one. By broadening the search, it was revealed that the sculpture was in fact ‘Growth Forms’ by Margel Hinder, an artist who was part of Margo Lewers’ and Dupain’s circles. While we do not change the titles Dupain assigned, this additional information was included in the content description.

Cataloguing negatives and prints into Adlib

Cataloguing negatives and prints into Adlib

To help the reader understand how they can access the collection or reproduce images,  conditions and rights are entered into the record. As this collection is comprised of negatives an appointment is necessary for viewing. As the negatives are stored in cold storage, an extra period of time is required for retrieval and acclimatisation in preparation for viewing.

Any additional information relating to the contents of the record are added as notes. These can range from extra information written on the original boxes and envelopes such as categories Dupain might have assigned, different types of film used, inscriptions on the negatives, or if a negative is accompanied by a print. Technical information relating to the developing and printing of the negative is also included if these details have been provided.

Finally, each negative in the record is given an individual call number which is then transferred to the archival sleeve/s.

Once the record is complete the negatives contained in that record are placed in an archival envelope with the call number/s, title and date inscribed on the envelope. Envelopes are then placed sequentially in an archival box suitable for cold storage. When cataloguing is completed for the entire exhibition archive it will be prepared for digitisation.

Cathy Williams, Librarian, Project Leader, Max Dupain Exhibition Archive

Belinda Hungerford, Librarian/Cataloguer, Max Dupain Exhibition Archive

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