Volunteering in the Photographic Archive
There are currently four volunteers working in this department at RAFM London. The activities described below are being undertaken by Jim Long and Cliff Colmer, attending one day per week, although Cliff often shares his day with time as a tour guide. Jim joined the archive in 2002, Cliff in 2011. The work is mainly concerned with cataloguing photographic collections donated to the Museum by families of service personnel and aviation enthusiasts. The material acquired may be in album form, loose prints in every format, colour slides, and negatives which may, or may not align with the prints. The subject matter is, as expected, mostly aircraft both military and civil, although material from service personnel often reflects their location abroad with snaps of camels (fourlegged ones, not the aircraft), smiling local children and endless shots of the Sphinx.
In order to ensure that collections are secure, indexed and retrievable, each item must be identified by manufacturer and type as a minimum. With British military the serial number, if legible, the Mark and if volumes permit, items can be indexed by squadrons. This information is then written in pencil, on the item, where it can be seen but not indent the picture area. Negatives present a particular problem where the border area is small and a special fibre-tipped pen must be used.
To assist us we have access to a substantial reference library, although occasionally strange, exotic machines appear that require “googling” or a reference to our Curator. When the collection is donated by an aviation enthusiast, certain details are already provided on the item, which is often indicative of trading between like-minded collectors.
Our present workload, the Terry Brown Collection, was started in November 2016. Our first job was to process 3,500 colour slides, using a light box and magnifying glass to identify the subject and annotate the slide mount. We are currently working through over 25,000 colour and black and white prints, mostly postcard size, of British and foreign military aircraft plus a small number of civvies. All being well we hope to complete the Collection this year and learn what awaits us in 2019!