Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart Blog

Flood Image Salvage – Sandy Barrie Collection

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On January 12 and 13 as floodwaters rose in Ipswich and Brisbane the inundated one of Australia’s largest private photographic collections. This massive collection has grown over a lifetime of careful and persistent work by photographer and historian Sandy Barrie. With tonnes of material to shift, including thousands of glass plate negatives and 2,000 cameras, Sandy could only try to keep stacking important things higher and higher in his house as the water rose around him. The water came up to about 30cm from the ceiling on the top floor of his home – drowning just about everything.
For short time after the flood Sandy was uncontactable and friends searched desperately for him and ways to attempt salvage of whatever could be saved. Fellow collector and historian Marcel Safier took charge on the ground and assembled a volunteer workforce who set about the massive task ahead. Through advice given by former Queensland Museum curator Brian Crozier I made contact with representatives from the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials. Unfortunately most AICCM members are linked to institutions who were also suffering inundation and were therefore challenged by their own workplace problems. None-the-less it fell to AICCM member Lydia Egunnike to offer advice and support to the recovery project. See the Queensland Times news piece about the project.
With Marcel and his team, one of Sandy’s family George and Lydia the recovery began. The Incinerator Theatre was accessed as a clean workplace and teams setup to wash and dry photographs and other materials. A record of this activity was made by another great supporter of the salvage project Peter Marquis-Kyle. The Brisbane ‘volunteer army’ visited Sandy’s street and swept all before it leaving piles of wet, muddy and increasingly mouldy ‘junk’ in the street. As in many circumstances in Brisbane and Ipswich at the time many recoverable items may have been lost in the urgency to ‘clean up’ after the deluge.
At the time Toowoomba was cut-off by the devastating tsunami of Grantham and the Toowoomba range. However both Vicky and I had been working via the telephone and internet trying to coordinate whatever we could. On Monday we were able to travel to Ipswich and collect about ten cartons of negatives from the Dorothy Coleman collection. Back in Toowoomba we had assembled our own team of photographers, students and members of the local camera club in the photo department at Southern Queensland Institute of TAFE.
Local conservator from the Cobb and Co Museum Vicki Warden, also an AICCM member, guided the Toowoomba TAFE team through the delicate steps to unpack rinse large format film negatives and dry them. It was important to also treat the packaging that enclosed the negatives as it included indentifying information. Before long three darkroom sink areas were buzzing with activity and string-lines setup around the studio and corridor spaces were being filled with drying negatives and packaging. John Elliott, a local photographic identity, made a video of the activity that can be viewed at youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbfXDVKxiVk.  See also the story published in the Toowoomba Chronicle (2.1 mb)  about the TAFE recovery work.
In Toowoomba we processed around 800 negatives in around three days but time was running out for the flooded materials as mould began to grow on packaging and negatives. Due to health concerns, as fungal products can be dangerous to health, we had to abandon work on the Coleman negatives. Lydia, using her own car, drove the 90 kms from Ipswich to Toowoomba with glass plate negatives from the Poulson and Mathieson collections. Vicki came by again and briefed the TAFE team on handling glass plate negs and we got underway. The work continued for another three days during which an estimated 600 negatives were treated.
At this time the recovered negatives have been re enveloped and are being kept in cool storage until Sandy is ready to receive the material back into his care. There are some amazing images – so much of the excitement of the recovery work was the deep sense that something was able to be saved. When each negative was removed from its wet and stained envelope the person doing the work was able to connect with a part of photographic history – or, perhaps, part of all our histories.
We are indeed indebted to the work done by the volunteers and by heroes of the project like Marcel, Peter, George and Anita, and AICCM members Vicki and, in particular – Lydia.
In the meantime Sandy is trying to re-establish a home and the life that was once filled by so many treasures.
We wish him well.

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  1. […]  For those who follow our WOTWEDID blog will remember the post about the salvage work done on the Sandy Barrie Photo Collection that was inundated in the Ipswich Floods. Conservator Lydia Egunnike, a member of the Australian […]

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