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rock garden 1998

Development of the ANBG Photograph Collection

During the 1960s

The earliest reference to the Canberra Botanic Gardens' photograph collection is in a document prepared by the then Botanist, Dr Betty Phillips summarising the Gardens' activities for the Director of Parks & Gardens in 1966:

Slide Collection

The numerical list and card index of the slide collection is in process of construction. So far, the slide collection is thoroughly botanical. Whatever system is finally adopted for the rest of Parks & Gardens, this collection should definitely remain in the Botanic Garden. It is envisaged that it will be used at a moment's notice - eg. to show Telopea truncata in flower to a botanical visitor who arrives at the end of January. This collection is used a good deal, mainly by the botanist in giving informal talks on botany and conservation. The arboriculturalist should use it this way too. One thing which has been found useful is for botanists to take boxes of slides away on field trips - there is often an opportunity to explain the work of the garden and the principles of conservation to people who have never thought about them.

During the 1970s

Most of the photos refered to in the above statement were removed without authorisation by Dr Phillips when she was compulsorily retired on medical grounds in 1973. They were recoverd via the Executor of her estate by Murray Fagg in 1978.

During the early 1970s John Wrigley had initiated another slide collection, housed in wooden cabinets with sliding drawers and built-in light-box, with the photos being primarily taken by the Rangers as part of their duties. The Rangers were provided with a Pentax SLR camera with a macro-lens and a few years later a SunPack ring-flash.

(Rangers: Andy McWhirter, Chris Green, later, Kurt Thaler, John Jervis)

From 1971 the then Education Officer, Murray Fagg, during the course of preparing displays and exhibitions for the public, also took photos and contributed to the collection. When Murray signed a commercial agreement, in partnership with John Wrigley, to illustrate Australian Native Plants with drawings and photos in 1977, it was thought that it could be seen as a conflict of interest to be also taking photos as part of his duties, and this aspect of his work activities stopped. From then on all Murray's photos were taken during his private time and made available to the Gardens while he still technically retained copyright and could use them for private publishing.

The photograph collection played an important role in the production of the Australian Government booklet series Growing Native Plants produced by the Gardens during the 1970s and early 1980s.

The recovered Betty Phillips slides were re-incorporated into the collection after 1978.

In 1979 Ron Hotchkiss joined Murray to assist with exhibitions and slowly started to take an interest in photography. In the early 1980s Ron undertook a photography course part-time over several years at Canberra Institute of Technology and became the general photographer for events and activities at the Gardens until he left in 1994.

During the 1980s

The wooden slide cabinets were located in the switchboard room which faced into the Display Room of the Ellis Rowan Building where exhibitions were open to the public. In July 1982 Jan Wilson started as a temporary switchboard operator. As a task to occupy her between phone calls, Jan was asked to put some order into the photograph collection and to keep the card indexes up-to-date.

The slides were actually arranged in the cabinets in the order that they were taken, so a card index was essential to locate a slide by a particular plant name. As the collection grew, the slides were re-housed in suspension hangers in fire-proof safes.

As Jan Wilson's temporary position morphed into a permanent position during the 1980s, so her task of managing the photograph collection morphed into the position of Photograph Curator.

In January 1984 Murray Fagg produced a document titled 'Proposal to Rationalise the 35mm Slide Collection of the National Botanic Gardens', setting out a policy for managing the collection, standardising the card catalogue entries etc and recommending the incorporation of the Photo Collection in the electronic databases (A.D.P.) being proposed for the Gardens by consultant Andy Glenn. This was basically accepted by the Director and set the framework for the future management of the collection.
[TRIM file: 87/4777 page 8+]

By the late 1980s the Gardens had implemented a system of charging individuals and publishers for the right to reproduce images from the collection, at first to limit excessive requests, later as 'cost-recovery', and later still as 'revenue raising'; although this was often waived in return for a free copy of the publication for the Library. In the early days original slides were actually loaned, later slides from the Collection were duplicated by Bica Photographics and the duplicate slide sent to the requesting publisher. At some point the Photograph Collection became a 'hub' for a Bica courier to collect and deliver slides for duplication from ANBG, CSIRO and ANU. Bica also produced the Kodak Photo-CDs when the Gardens adopted that digitizing technology in the 1990s.

While the Gardens was approved as a recipient for gifts under the 'Taxation Incentives for the Arts Scheme' in 1988, it was not until the 1990s that valuers were enlisted and donations of slides recieved.

References to the photograph collection in the 1980s

The earliest mention of the ‘photograph collection in the ANBG's Annual Reports is 1983-84 with a heading “Photographic collection”

“Photographic collection The Gardens has a collection of 14,400 35 mm colour slides, of which 6,400are habit or close-up photos of Australian native plants and 4,000 are records of major field trips recording many of these plants in the field. During the year 893 slides were added to the collection either by Gardens staff or by donations from private photographers.”

In the 1985-86 Annual Report there is this entry:

“Data collection
Further development of the computer systems occurred and all data for the Living Collections are now on the system..... The terminal in the Visitor Information Centre enables the public to find the locations of particular plants which interest them in the Gardens. Unfortunately it is not accessible on weekends when most visitors are in the Gardens as the mainframe computer in the Department of Territories operates only on weekdays. Reports generated from this database are used as an alternative to provide information to the public on weekends and holidays.
Uplift of data, for the horticultural database was completed using a contract data-entry company, whilst data related to the Gardens photographic collection is gradually being input by a Gardens’ staff member.”

["staff member" is Jan Wilson]

On 27 April 1987, the ANBG Director sent a letter to the Secretary of the Committee for Taxation Incentives for the Arts, confirming eligibility under this scheme and enclosing “policy statements” in relation to the various collections held by the Gardens. The most comprehensive of these is that  headed “Collections Policy – Photographs” (TRIM file 87/734 pages 22-26)

Appendix 1 of this Policy, headed “Proposed Storage and Organisation of the ANBG Photograph Collection” states:

“The collection will be organised in two sections. The first, comprising a large proportion of the existing collection will remain in its present form and organisation and be known as the ‘ANBG Photograph Collection’.

The second, to be known as the ‘National Photographic Index of Australian Plants’ will be made up of the highest quality plant photos from the ANBG Photograph Collection plus high quality photographs or duplicates donated by photographers from around Australia. Selection of photographs for incorporation into the Index will be by a committee set up for that purpose and will comprise both ANBG officers and invited outside members.”

While this was not implemented in quite this way, it did give rise to the ‘best of’ field in the photo database whereby the best images of each taxon were flagged, and this became the criterion for the 'digitizing priority' for slides. Thus the non-plant photos were just referred to as the ‘ANBG Photograph Collection’ and the plants the ‘National Plant Photograph Index’.

During the 1990s

With the approval of the Gardens as a recipient for gifts under the 'Taxation Incentives for the Arts Scheme', valuers were enlisted and the first major donation of slides under this scheme was from Denise Greig in April 1993. Denise became a regular donor for several years, but other donors followed. This continued through to the rise of digital photography when the lack of a physical object (the slide) and the inability to distinuish 'original' from 'copy' in digital photography made it virtually in-applicable to photo donations.

In July 1993 the Gardens launched its own internet site on the World Wide Web, and by September 1994 Greg Whitbread had placed the whole of the Plant Photograph collection catalogue on the web via a Gopher server. This became part of the 'Integrated Botanical Information System' known as 'IBIS'. Web access to the catalogue of non-plant photos followed shortly after when Jim Croft set up 'KwikPik' website over the course of one evening.

In August 1994, Jan Wilson started databasing a catalogue of the in-house botanical line-drawings that had been generated up until that time by staff or commissioned artists. These were stored in a FileMaker Pro database, awaiting a method of incorporating art-work into the IBIS database system. This software was also used to catalogue all the mounted photographs and other material used in botanical displays and exhibitions.

In February 1995 the first Kodak Photo-CD of digital images converted from 35mm slides was produced (Acacias), and this became the main method of bulk generating digital images from the Collection. By September 1997 all the images from Photo-CDs were able to be seen in the web version of the Photo Collection database.

During the 2000s

In early 2003 Jan Wilson foreshadowed her retirement in a year's time, and offered to go part-time so that a person could be trained in her duties. From May 2003 Laura Vallee started work in the Photograph Collection, overlapping with Jan, and issuing image licences.

In January 2004 Jan Wilson retired as Photograph Curator after 21 years with the Gardens. After a year's gap, Jan returned as a volunteer one day each week for several years and made a further significant input into the collection.

Laura Vallee succeded Jan Wilson in the position of Photograph Curator.

On 9 February 2004, the decision was made to change the name of the collection from the 'Australian Plant Photograph Index' (APPI) to the 'Australian Plant Image Index' (APII), to reflect the growing collection of line drawings and other image material being managed within this area.

From 2005, with the demise of Kodak and its archival Kodachrome 35mm slide film, the Gardens switched to digital photos as the main source of new images for the collection.

In July 2006 the Gardens purchased an Imacon 35 mm slide scanner which could bulk scan 50 slides at a time. Prior to this the Gardens had relied on the Kodak Photo-CD process as the prime means of digitising its collection.

In September 2006 Cheryl Backhouse started working part-time in the Photo Collection following Laura Vallee's decision to take a year's leave. Laura never returned and Cheryl took on the full-time position of 'Curator, Australian Plant Image Index'.

In 2007 negotiations started with the Dept of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) to populate their weed website with images and captions from the Gardens' Photograph Collection. This was a new direction for the Collection which had not previously targeted images of non-native plants. This resulted in an MOU in June 2009, a total payment to the Gardens of c. $140,000, and the employment of two extra staff for a year: Jess Miller and Helen Hadobas. This project was basically finished by 30 June 2010.

The weed project prompted the seeking of weed photos from external photographers under a range of different copyright arrangements. The most significant of these was a generous gift, with unrestricted use, of a hard-drive of digital images from R.G. Richardson, F.J.Richardson and R.C.H. Shepherd in December 2007. The images had been taken for their published book, Weeds of South Eastern Australia.

During the 2010s

In January 2011, in recognition of the poor coverage of tropical rainforest species represented in the Collection, CSIRO funds were found to employ Jess Miller and Helen Hadobas to incorporate the images from the 'Australian Tropical Rainforest Plants' electronic key into the Photograph Collection. The project was completed by 30 June 2011.

In June 2012 Murray Fagg retired after 42 years at the Gardens, having had responsibility for the Photograph Collection in whichever management position he held throughout his career since the mid 1970s. Anna Monro took over the leadership of the Botanical Information Group, which then managed the Collection, on 11 February 2013.

In May 2014 the Photograph Collection was physically moved from the Ellis Rowan Building where it had been housed for 44 years to the Botany Building, bringing it closer to the IBIS computer database team where images were being viewed as 'data'.

In June 2014 Murray Fagg's private slide collection and its fire-proof safe were moved from his home to be incorporated with the fire-proof safes housing the Gardens' slide collection. He had been supplying DVDs of digital images to the collection since he 'went digital' in 2005.


Source: Various TRIM files held by the ANBG Photograph Collection; archival files held by the ANBG Library & Archives; personal recollections of Murray Fagg, last updated: 4/3/2016

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