I’m Lilly, a Chinese student from Kingston University majoring in Museum & Gallery Studies, and I am fortunate to spend some time in The Headstone Manor & Museum in my placement year. I’ve been working in the museum for 2 months now, and during this time I’ve tackled an exciting project – organising the photo collection of Hamilton & Co. Brush LTD.
As a museum student, it has been very rewarding for me to be able to work with collections first-hand. I had the opportunity to be able to apply what I was learning to specific work practices. As a freelance photographer, photographs are the type of collection I am most interested in exploring, making this a very memorable project for me. During this project, I processed coloured/black and white photographs as well as a huge number of negatives with other members of the collections department, entering over 400 items from the collection that had never been made public before, and it was very exciting to explore these hidden stories.
This series of photographs documents the lives of Hamilton’s employees, their work routines, Christmas parties, and retirement parties, as well as the various products of Hamilton & Co. and the design of their stands at exhibitions and so on. One of the interesting things is a series of photographs documenting the change in the number of factory employees in the same location, starting with just one metrosexual, then three, then a dozen or so joining in, and finally dozens of workers in total.
You can see this development through the photographs as if you were watching a stop-motion animation. There is also a series of photographs of Hamilton & Co.’s participation in the exhibition stands, you can see in black and white their very designer stand installation design, the huge glass bottles, the swaying boat, and its realistic model of a wild boar, and so on. When the photos are turned into colour, you can see the very striking contrast of red and blue, which is very eye-catching. I hadn’t known about this local company before, but these uniquely designed booths gave me a strong impression of the features of their products.
Apart from that, one interesting thing is that sorting through such a huge number of photo collections is like playing a detective game. Some photos have some information recorded on the back of them (such as the name of the person/date/name of the event), but the backs of some photos are empty. Whenever I came across these photos with no information, I would look for his story by comparing them with the previous photos. Whenever I looked for some clues and found the name of an unfamiliar face, it gave me the feeling of a detective solving a mystery. In the process of collating, I got to ‘know’ many of Hamilton’s employees, products, and decorative styles, as if I had stepped into that period of history myself, which I think is the infinite charm of the storytelling nature of a photo collection.
Being involved in this project has been very rewarding and I will continue to work with the collections department and volunteers to continue to work on the collections and continue to explore the stories. The Hamilton & Co’s photographs have now been uploaded to the museum’s online collections system, and I look forward to the interesting history you can find there as well.