When looking through the photo collections held by the archives I am amazed by the range of topics and images.

Manchester Fire Brigade Crew In Anti-Gas Clothing, 1941

Manchester Fire Brigade Crew in anti-gas clothing, 1941

Sometimes I want to ask the Who, What, Where and When questions and often I can find the answers. At other times it’s Why that is uppermost in my mind.
If you consider that in the past taking and developing a photograph could be a complicated and expensive process, requiring specialist equipment and expertise, then some of these photographs are all the more remarkable.
Many of the photographs of places came to the collection via street surveys by amateur photographic societies, or the City Engineers’ and Surveyors’ Departments.

The majority of the photographs of people have come into the archive through the Documentary Photographic Archive collection, an initiative in the late 1970s and early 1980s to copy and record family photo collections.

Looking at some of the photographs we have of men at work,  some must have been a formal record of a particular task or workforce.

Others have a snapshot look to them.

Lollipop-Man in Wythenshawe, 1971

Lollipop man in Sharston, Wythenshawe, 1971

Sometimes the photographer must have needed a good head for heights, sharing the risks with the men involved.

Construction of CIS building, c.1963

Construction of the CIS building, 1963

The Ship Canal photographs document tasks and the workmen involved .
Construction of the Manchester Ship Canal, Gang of platelayers at Salt Eye, c.1890s. (GB124.B10/10/1/18/26).

Platelayers on the Manchester Ship Canal, 1890s

Construction worker, c.1890s. (GB124.B10/10/1/18/11).

Construction worker, 1890s

Relaxed and informal photographs like this one may not tell the whole story of the demands of a day at work.

Polish workman, Fairfield Street Bridge, 1959

Polish workman, Fairfield St Bridge, 1959

Wythenshawe, Surveyors near Elm Tree Farm,circa 1940

However I do know why this last photograph was taken. Mr Whittingham is the surveyor wearing a bowler hat, Clerk of Works on the development of the Wythenshawe Estate. The photograph was taken in the early 1940s. He is surveying the route of a road through land on Elm Tree Farm. The photographer was the daughter of the family who lived there. Born in 1918, she had been given a box camera for her 21st birthday. She used it to record life on the family farm and the changes she saw going on all around her.I had the pleasure of interviewing her about her personal photo collection in 1982, for the Manchester Studies research project at Manchester Polytechnic. These photos are now part of the Documentary Photographic Archive.

It’s so easy to take photographs on our digital cameras, phones and tablets nowadays. I am forever grateful to those people who thought it was worth keeping a record of what they saw, back in the days when it wasn’t so easy. It gives us such a fantastic insight into what changes and what remains the same.

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