Restful days onboard the 'Parma'Elisabeth Jacobsen on board the 'Parma'The 'Great Eastern' under construction at MillwallLondon LightermanThe 'Baron Aberdare' accidentFigurehead of HMS 'Duke of Wellington' at Baltic Wharf
Striking Seamen, loyal to the National Seaman's Reform Movement, barricaded into the National Union of Seamen Office in East India Dock Road, PoplarRounding Cape Horn on the 'Parma'

Here are the final 8 images that were chosen to be displayed in the Compass Lounge by the Curate the Collection group.


Hello guys, sorry for the delay in blog updates. A series of new posts including new photos amd importantly our final selection of images will follow.

News in brief.

Flickr have recently blogged about the Curate the Collection co-curation project we have actively been involved with.

You can read more here:

The emphasis of the Flickr blog post draws on the importance of our indivdual responses and sebsequently how having access to these on-line resoucres via Flickr commons invites communities  and history lovers engage with the past.  In my opnion, two very important topics of debate.

NMM Curate the Collection first meeting by aka Razz

It was a wet and windy re-union for the Curate the Collection gang as we met on a blustery Thursday evening at the Dial Arch pub in Woolwich. Once assembled and after a few swift pints the group were ready to explore the Brass Foundry photographic archives. It was apparent that each member of the group had different expectations from the visit with many, including myself hoping for unlimited time and access to pilfer the riches of the collection.

The Brass Foundry building is itself steeped in maritime history and was built in 1716 as a response to low stocks of artillery in the surrounding area. Throughout the years the Foundry has undergone numerous changes, incorporating the latest technology of the day they produced and supplied the majority of weaponry and artillery to the British Armed Forces.

Upon entering the Foundry we met Jeremy Michell, the manager of the National Maritime’s Historic photographs and ship plans. We were given an extensive guided tour of the Foundry and I was amazed to discover the sheer quantity of the collection – some 300,000 historic negatives, 1500 albums and one million ship plans are housed here.

Jeremy explained the complex processes involved with the upkeep and maintenance of the fragile collection, such as maintaining the correct room temperature and using protective casing for the negatives. The oldest negative in the collection is a waxed paper negative of Brunel’s Great Britain taken in 1844. We were able to view some of the oldest items in the collection including a badly damaged glass plate image depicting Scarborough beach. We heard a series of anecdotes describing finding negatives in skips, derelict buildings and receiving anonymous donations – often these donated and acquired pieces have no annotation and are badly damaged, making cataloguing practically impossible.

Unfortunately only a minute proportion of the physical collection has been digitalised and is currently accessible to the public. This is available on-line via Flickr Commons or through the Historic photographs. Unfortunately the digitalisation process within Museum environment takes a significant amount of time and generally this selection process is dictated by a photograph’s relevance to an upcoming exhibition. In this regard we viewed a series of recently digitalised maritime images that had been exhibited from photographers: Tarry Adams, Bedford Lemere and Alan Villiers. Individual access to the collection is available to general public or for researching students but only by appointment.

It is frightening to imagine what treasures will never see the light of day from the collection at the Brass Foundry. I got the sense that the Curators and the National Maritime Museum in general see these images as closely guarded historical documents and as such offer insight location, historical events and people in the image. There seems to be a lack of artistic appreciation for the variety of unusual and standalone images in the collection, raising an important question concerning the value attributed to each photograph when interpreted by an audience with different aesthetic interests. Our project demonstrates just one way that this ‘nautical’ collection can be used to explore themes such as the ‘weather’, ‘journeys’ or the  ‘the unusual’.

The creative process that we have implemented when short-listing  images for  display in the Compass Lounge helps question the limits of classifying this collection as simply a photographic record.

In my opinion it is the ‘unknown’ quality of photography that initially inspires engagement and subsequently this process encourages an exploration of our own identity and how we as individuals create meaning. This is just one interpretation of the photographs, but this highlights how wide-reaching potentially this collection could have on research or as an artistic tool.

Promoting the collection more widely and using it for unexpected purposes such as the Flickr Commons is one way of broadening its appeal and giving the collection greater exposure.


One of the things that struck me about the group’s first session was the wide range of ideas that were floated. As I worked my way through many hundreds of images I found myself thinking: “This would work quite well for the cold winters theme. Or that’s a different photo of an animal at sea.” But as my long list grew ever lengthier I gave up trying to bookmark everything and decided to focus on two areas: shipbuilding and local people.

I knew there had once been a dockyard at Deptford but I was surprised to discover just how much industry there was up and down the river. I suppose it’s obvious if you stop and think about it, but if it was a revelation to somebody who’s lived in the area for two decades then I suspect that quite a few more people might also be interested.

And I’ve always found elements of social history fascinating as well. The photo of one works manager and his wife suggested they weren’t living in a hovel. But what of the men under him? The annual trip to Brighton by charabanc was probably a treat that was anticipated weeks if not months in advance. And organised sports seemed popular too. It may not have been the utopias of Saltaire and Rowntree, but it might not have been all dark satanic mills either.

I liked the way they were separate strands, yet related. So far, so good you might think. And so did I initially. I had an idea that perhaps we’d settle on four or five topics from all of our ideas, with the best one or two images from each in the large frames. Then the smaller digital displays could be used to show further examples of those themes.

But then I tried to picture myself walking into the room, not knowing how the exhibition had been put together. Imagine a picture of heavy industry next to one of a cat, followed by one of a frosty foreshore continuing on to a coconut shell. Wouldn’t it all look rather random? Would I stop to try to see if there was a connection? Perhaps. Would I explore more if the links between the items seemed far-fetched or non-existent? Probably not.

And if people walk away thinking “I don’t get it” then I don’t think we’ve achieved much. So although several themes might be good, having one over-arching title to tie everything together might be even better. I’ve got a fear that in the rush to select photos first we might be doing the nautical equivalent of putting the cart before the horse.

I’m mindful of what Jane said about how you assemble and exhibition. I made the following notes at the time:
What’s the big idea? What are the key messages? How should it be organised?

This might be a slightly contrived, but it might also give us something to think about. When I was asking myself how I’d tie my choices together, and how images that I’d liked just failed to make the cut might be part of the smaller digital displays I came up with: “Home and away, at work and play”.

Home and away:
Not only did London receive ships from near and far (coals from Newcastle, tea and spice from the east) it also produced ships that went to all points. Some of which returned to be used as prison or smallpox hulks, or be broken up only a few miles from where they had been launched, having sailed countless miles in between.

Work and play:
Cricket, football and rowing were the obvious pastimes at home. But if you were away, then the ship’s pet or dressing up in drag in a concert party might be the only diversions you had for a year.

See where this might lead? My choice of a rowing picture and somebody else liking a cricket or cat image could be more related or connected than we first thought. As I said, my “working title” is slightly contrived in that it started out as a way of rationalising my choices. But take that idea, play with it and adapt it, and we could come up with the best of both worlds, one theme that encompasses several.

I think we need to look at the big picture first, then concentrate on the individual images after.


Some thoughts from Stuart on his approach when selecting photos from both the Flickr National Maritime Museum photostream and the digitalised Historic Photographs collection:

view photostream

stumayhew  Pro User  says:

Here is where I am approaching this project from.

My initial remit was to tag only images I feel would hang in a contemporary photographic gallery , but this has broadened somewhat to include images that are simply very strong photographically , either graphically or compositionally . The images I have tagged so far are all based on this principle.

My whole approach to this project is solely from within a photographic frame work , I know very little about shipping or naval history and frankly no huge interest in the subject . I absolutely believe that an exhibition based on photography should primarily be driven by just that.

As part of my involvement with Aperture Woolwich Photographic Society it is one of my tasks to review and ‘judge’ other members images that then go forward into larger camera club competitions. In my 5 years of doing this I have developed a good understanding of what ‘makes’ a strong composition , based on attending and listening to a multitude photographic judges and lecturers.

Such is the diversity of images within this collection I started to form other idea’s that could work as part of this project so its very hard to stay focused on a single theme !

Other idea’s that i have had are images that depict streets and buildings and views local to the museum , of which there are quite a few in the collection. It would be possible to ‘geo-tag’ these and visitors could then , via a smartphone ‘app’ perhaps with the images on their phone or accessing via flickr , go outside into the surrounding area and find the exact spot the original image was taken from and perhaps take their own of what is there now – this could be as geographically far reaching as central London perhaps and would keep visitors involved with the exhibition beyond their physical visit to the museum. Of wider value locally it keeps visitors with-in the area , using local shops and restaurants perhaps.

I also liked the idea of presenting a series of portraits, which in my mind i have split into 2 themes. One which would work well with unidentified people within the image , where the viewer of the image would be asked to imagine what kind of life the person within the image led , ‘an imagined life’ if you will. I dont know if it would be possible for peoples ideas and thoughts to appear on some of the smaller screens as text , or perhaps some of us could write what we imagine.

Secondly , with the high influx of international tourists that will be even more concentrated during the Olympics , portraits of as many different nationalities / cultures as possible – where visitors can make a connection not only with their past but also their home.

Rebecca had an interesting idea of the images of women in the collection , there are several really strong portraits of women in the collection , the portrait of Elisabeth Jacobsen in the Villiers Collection is really striking.


On 14 April 2012 the assorted members of the Curate the Collection group met for the first time at the National Maritime Museum. Jane Findlay, the National Maritime Museum’s digital participation officer has summarised the outcome of this introductory meeting in a recent email to whole group:

    ‘The session was an introduction to the project and a chance for people to get to know one another, the Museum and the space. The project will involve participants curating a display of historical photographs from the Museum’s collection in the Compass Lounge. This will involve accessing the Museum’s photographic collection both online and through a visit to the brass foundry, selecting images for display and interpreting them for visitors. The display space features 8 large photo frames for printed reproductions and 9 small digital photo frames for digital images. Through discussing each other’s interests and ideas for the project we have made a start in considering what we would like to display and to think of the reasons behind this. The workshops on 12 and 13 May will be structured around selecting final images and developing textual interpretation for the display’

For me personally, it was the first time I have visited Greenwich or the National Maritime Museum.  I had no real expectations for the meeting apart from a desire to see how exhibitions are constructed in a museum space using both interactive content and user opinion/feedback.

Armed with my historical hat on I approached the meeting with increasing excitement. I spent the morning  exploring Royal Greenwich and after being surrounded by Maritime  buildings, pubs and boats (Cutty Shark) I was ready to begin debating. I was very encouraged by the diversity of personalities, ages and opinions amongst the Flickr group. I was able to hear each individuals  motivations for joining the group and these varied explanations ranged from a passing interests in the local history of Greenwich to family ties with both the military and merchant Navies – all brought together by a mutual appreciation of Flickr and its communal spirit.

The breadth of individual interests certainly complicated our attempts to ascertain a common theme for our project. This was further complicated by the wealth of available archive material that we could have access to. Our resources include the  Flickr Commons,  The National Maritime Museum digitalised collection and a planned visit to the photographic archive at the Brass Founday.  

As a group we were also introduced to ‘The Compass Lounge’ exhibition space and caught a tangible glimpse of our future interactive exhibition space.  Marrying both digital and print photography in an interactive space may pose some interesting challenges for the group but I was again encouraged by the plethora of imaginative ideas.

We spent the rest of the session exploring the Flickr Commons and on-line NMM historical photographs collections.

I was also surprised to learn that only about 1% of the NMM’s photographic collection has been digitalised. If anything this project will hopefully be a reason to digitalise individual images that would not usually see the light of day outside of the NMM collection.

Next stop the Brass Foundry!

Summary of discussion Flickr Commons Project 14th April 2012

There was a lot of discussion about whether the selected photographs should reflect personal interests or whether there should be a target audience in mind given that the display would run throughout the summer, attracting diverse audiences for significant events such as the Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics.

Most members of the group agreed that they would like the theme to be something that was not obvious and perhaps use photographs that were less viewed by museum audiences. Another popular idea was that the display should reflect the local history of Greenwich and surrounding areas. We spent the rest of the afternoon browsing images that reflected some of the themes that were suggested and members of the group began to select favourites for consideration at the following workshops.

The following list outlines some of the key themes that emerged from suggestions made by group members and might be useful to keep in mind when browsing through the collections on Flickr Commons and on the museum website over the course of the next few weeks:

Themes Emerging

  • ‘Long Way From Home’ –the documentation of different locations, countries, nationalities etc. Another idea involved drawing upon the various road names and locations throughout London that reflected other countries, cultures and communities. For example, Canada Water, Jamaica Road, and road names that reflect coal-mining communities from the North East.
  • Greenwich and Maritime Life – documenting local maritime history
  • The River Thames – documenting how the river has changed over the last 100 years. Source photographs that are representative of the river for each decade?
  • Shipbuilding and Boatbuilding
  • Humour and fun – this suggestion from David was very popular and would be an opportunity to explore the collections from a different angle. This theme has the potential to relate to a diverse audience and could also overlap with some of the other suggested themes
  • Ordinary Lives, ordinary people