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Peter Trowles, the GSA Mackintosh Curator, reflects on the current importance of the GSA Photographic Archive in informing the work of Page & Park and the ongoing restoration of the Mackintosh Building.

As the task of rebuilding the fire damaged Mackintosh Building gathers pace, those involved in the detailed restoration programme continue to collate evidence as to how the Mackintosh Building has been altered or adapted over the past 100 years. In an earlier blog post, I reflected on the importance of GSA’s written archive. In particular, how information contained in the minutes of Board of Governors meetings (from 1910 to the late 1940s) offered a unique analysis of changes to the Mackintosh Building, both in terms of its day to day use, and where physical alterations to the original structure were deemed necessary – as in the case of replacing the iconic library windows in 1947.

Photograph from the GSA Archives of the Mackintosh Library windows (Archive reference: GSAA/P/7/49)

Photograph from the GSA Archives of the Mackintosh Library windows (Archive reference: GSAA/P/7/49)

Such information is already proving to be of crucial importance to the restoration project’s architects Page/Park as they pull together an ever growing archive of what is ‘actually’ known about the building pre-fire. However, for a building that has been so widely documented through past architectural drawings, photographs and film, there are, remarkably, small areas of the interior (such as the second floor Professors’ studios) for which little or no useful, visual evidence seemingly exists of spaces now tragically lost to the fire. Although, understandably, the Mackintosh Library was one of the most photographed interiors of any modern building it is now apparent that even here one or two questions remain about the room’s detailed structure and decoration as evidence is still patchy at best.

But it is this detailing that is so important if the authenticity of the reconstructed Mackintosh Building is to receive universal acclaim.

Not surprisingly, GSA’s own photographic archive, built up over the past century is the most substantial visual resource available to the restoration team. Aside from images taken by the School for its own institutional use, the GSA archive includes copies of the iconic interior photographs taken by London-based Bedford Lemere (in 1910), Glasgow’s own T & R Annan (on a number of occasions during the early 20th century) and by RCAHMS (the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, now Historic Environment Scotland), carried out between 2003-04. But even the survey images taken by RCAHMS (available here) only scratched the surface. Not every room was included in this survey and for those that were, usually a single image sufficed; so that most interiors are represented by one view-point only, frequently a ‘general shot’ that fails to capture much in the way of detail. Even film footage taken and used in a number of Mackintosh documentaries over the years or included in various TV and drama series such as the ever popular ‘Taggart’ usually only ever capture a passing glimpse of a particular room or interior space, seen from particular angle.

In the immediate aftermath of the Mackintosh Building fire a dedicated website, The Mac Photographic Archive (http://the-mac-photo-archive.net), was established. Its aim was to provide a simple facility whereby members of the public (albeit mostly former staff and students) could post on-line their own private images of the Mackintosh Building, in doing so, creating a unique image or ‘memory’ bank; the content of which has already provided the School with some useful additional information concerning the building’s structure. Sometimes a tiny, seemingly humdrum architectural detail in the corner of a photograph showing students at work (or even socialising) can tell us something new.

And we can be sure that there must be plenty of previously unseen images of the Mackintosh Building still waiting to be discovered, hence the ongoing importance of The Mac Photographic Archive as a means of documenting the very heart of this important living building as it enters the next crucial phase of its history.

In addition, GSA is always interested to hear from members of the public with photographic and film material relating to the Mackintosh Building that would enhance the current holdings of the School’s Archive and Collections Centre still further.