With society firmly immersed in a wireless period of music streaming and playlist hype, it was fascinating to travel back to the 1880’s - a time when Edison’s mechanical phonograph cylinder permitted reliable audio recordings, and communities across the U.K. had formed a passion for experiencing live music - to photograph newly restored treasures from the Incorporated Society of Musicians’s archive.
Spanning 136 years, the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) has been a constant presence representing the needs of professional musicians. From its inception, ISM has endeavoured to keep physical records and noteworthy artefacts that reflect their growth in membership and change in fashion and members’ needs, however misfortune struck with some of the earliest parts of the archive being damaged in flood water in one of their storage facilities. The damage effected books, annual reports, financial ledgers and some of the original membership enrolment records, and due to their importance, the decision was made to restore as best as possible.
The books were sent first to Graham Bignell’s studio in London, where the paper surfaces and photographs were expertly cleaned and revived. Next, they were consigned to Elizabeth Neville’s PZ Conservation studio in Cornwall, where the individual folios were painstakingly rebound to a new spine and the photographs were interleaved with specialist paper to protect them. The studio commissioned hand-dyed covers from leather technicians in Scotland to replace the warped originals. I was then asked to photograph them to ensure high quality digital records were available for printed reproduction and prosperity.
To ensure best reproduction in terms of faithful colour reproduction and changes in texture, I set up a mini ‘floor’ studio on black paper with 3 lights - 2 soft boxes for super even shadow fill and a gridded reflector to offer a light contrast and ‘bite’ to the very flat paper and original photographs. Although it was sad that the books had been water damaged, their mis-colour, fading and uneven texture provided a wonderful photographic opportunity to make an ultra detailed series of photographs.
The following images highlight some of pages from the Monthly Journal of the ISM from 1897; the Register of Members from 1898; the Account books beginning in 1914 of the Manchester and Ulster sections; and the Official Seal Book, which includes the signature of the ISM’s first General Secretary, Edward Chadfield. To learn more about the restoration project, please read this article featured in ISM’s Music Journal on ISSUU.