In the last few months we have added a vast photographic collection to the archives. There are tens of thousands of images, covering many aspects of Manchester across all areas and spanning the entire 20th Century. The photographs were taken and stored by the City Council’s staff photographers who documented various aspects of Manchester life as well as significant changes to the Manchester landscape. The collection includes many different formats from glass negatives, to slides, prints, CDs and even a couple of cine films. What is especially exciting is that the majority of these images have never before been available in a digital format and therefore have only ever been seen by a handful of people.

Town Hall Photography Workroom
The photographers’ workroom where the photographs were discovered.
Cataloguing on CALM
Archivist, Liane MacIver, cataloguing the collection on CALM

My role has been to select individual images for digitisation and ultimately to connect them to the public through a range of platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, blogs, our interactive exhibition at Central Library and, in the future, our local images online database. Digitisation of photographs is not a quick process.

As well as scanning images and preparing them in Photoshop they need to be tagged with keywords (for search purposes) and sometimes further research is required to identify locations and buildings. Due to time limitations it will not be possible for me to scan all of the photographs so part of the process has been to select those images which I think will have the most appeal and interest.

I came across some great images of the Northern Quarter area before its recent transformation so they became the first set of photographs to be digitised and shared in a new flickr album alongside a few older images that we already had. The response on Twitter and Facebook was phenomenal. Over 7,000 people have looked at the album and there has been much sharing and commenting across all the social media platforms.

Tib Street 1984
Tib Street (now part of the Northern Quarter) 1984

What I love about this collection is how the images can affect different people in different ways. Although they are not our personal or family photographs if you live, work or grew up in Manchester there will be something here that you will feel connected to. This happened to me when I came across a photograph taken in Ancoats in 1965 (below). To most people the image is probably quite mundane but to me it was particularly exciting because I recognised the building on the right, it looked just like the converted cotton mill where I live, however the view itself was completely unfamiliar. Once I had digitised the photograph I was able to zoom in on the detail and read the road sign in the middle of the frame which confirmed it as my street. It is now fifty years since this photograph was taken and the only thing that exists of this view now is the image itself. Of all the buildings only the mill is still standing but from this vantage point it is now entirely obstructed by new multi-story buildings.

Great Ancoats Street and Redhill Street, 1965
Great Ancoats Street and Redhill Street, 1965

As this collection is gradually digitised and made widely available to view I’m really looking forward to following the reactions and stories that come out of them. If you are interested to follow this project then keep an eye on our Facebook page and Twitter for future posts and in the meantime you might like to take a look at some of the newly digitised images in the Ancoats flickr album.