Creating the ‘Portrait of a City’

Derry woman Magdalen Nelis has submitted numerous old photos to the Portrait of a City project showing the city in its yesteryear. This one shows a group of friends congregating outside a house in the city. Do you know anyone in the photo? Let us know...   (160413JC7 Photo: Magdalen Nelis)

Derry woman Magdalen Nelis has submitted numerous old photos to the Portrait of a City project showing the city in its yesteryear. This one shows a group of friends congregating outside a house in the city. Do you know anyone in the photo? Let us know... (160413JC7 Photo: Magdalen Nelis)

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Derry’s ambitious ‘Portrait of a City’ project will be officially launched tomorrow, April 17, at the Glassworks on Great James’ Street. Ahead of the launch, we caught up with the woman at its helm, Kirsty Osborn.

A dedicated few make up the ‘Portrait of the City’ team, now based in sunny premises at Rath Mor Centre in Creggan. Their office has been deliberately set up in the heart of the community so as to encourage local people to venture in and see what the project is all about.

As Programme Manager with ‘Portrait of a City’, Kirsty Osborn has been immersed in Derry’s lost archives for months already. With her seven-strong team, they has uncovered some stunning knowledge about the city and its inhabitants.

“Some of the stuff we have uncovered has been amazing,” Kirsty says. “The whole purpose of Portrait of a City project is to build a community digital archive of the city itself, so basically we want photographs covering all walks of life in Derry. We want to reflect the city and how it has grown and developed but also how it is today - so we also want contemporary photos too.”

The POAC team have been working alongside community groups locally to help generate as much archive material as possible.

“So far it has been all photographs, film and audio, but now we’re opening it up and it’s a call to action for the entire city really,” Kirsty reveals.

“So we’re saying to everyone, go and dig through the attics, search underneath the stairs and see what’s in there - we scan everything for you here. It’s free and no problem, just drop them in here and we’ll look after them and get them back to you safely.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a historic event, we also have films submitted of family holidays, weddings or just stock footage of the city showing it as a certain point in time. Family videos are much more than just that - we can see an element of the city in them, or the housing at the time, or how fashions changed, so much more than just family material. We will then digitise everything that is then selected to go into the archive.

The accessibility of the Portrait of a City office and the friendliness of its team can only help. “We’re based here in Creggan in the heart of the city and we encourage people to just call in and talk to us. Bring in your stuff and we’ll see if we can use it in the project,” Kirsty urges.

“We’ve also set up drop-off points at dedicated times for various libraries in the city too, and we will, of course, get them back to you safely.”

Tomorrow’s launch at the historic Glassworks will see the website go live with its first archival material available to view.

“The actual archive is being launched on Wednesday [tomorrow] but we’ll still be a long way from having everything online yet,” Kirsty says. “The launch is a snapshot of some of the collections, but with the promise of more to come. It does take a bit of time for the material to filter through and make it online, but we do warn people about the wait.”

And the far-reaching project doesn’t just end with Derry’s year in the Culture limelight either, it will continue to thrive long after the New Year fireworks have faded. “This is all secured for the next year or two, at the very least,” she explains.

“As part of the legacy of City of Culture, we’ll also be training up little community groups who will then be able to scan and digitise the material and feed it into the archive themselves.

After Culture Company leave, Guildhall Press will then take over the management of the archive. The online archive is going to be here for a long, long time.”

See: www.btportraitofacity.com for more.