Photographer and filmmaker Chrystel Lebas is working on a collaborative project to observe environmental change in the British landscape using the the Sir Edward James Salisbury Archive.
The Museum holds a beguiling collection of unexplored landscape images and field notes taken by British botanist and ecologist Sir Edward James Salisbury, who was Director of Kew Gardens from 1943 to 1956. The collection of over 1,400 works was orphaned – an anonymous assembly of Kodak boxes containing silver gelatine prints and photographic glass plates kept in two large cardboard boxes. The images record natural environments, capturing in particular botanical information in the United Kingdom and Ireland, to which specific annotations on the regions’ ecology were added.
Around two years ago photographer and filmmaker Chrystel Lebas was introduced to the collection by Bergit Arends (former Curator of Contempory Art at the Natural History Museum). Chrystel Lebas and Museum botanist Mark Spencer (Curator of the British and Irish Herbarium), began to trace this important collection, which was assembled in the first third of the 20th century.
The images include close-ups of plants and sometimes a foot appearing in the corner of the frame, presumably to indicate the scale of the specimen, or sometimes a subject, a woman standing amongst the forest trees.
Each of the boxes containing glass plates were scrutinised to look for clues that could indicate the author’s name or any information that could relocate the collection. And finally one day, and after a couple of months researching the collection, Chrystel found a glass plate negative with a handwritten name on it: E.J Salisbury, and of course this was the moment that made us realise that this particular collection was extremely valuable!
Chrystel began travelling to Scotland on her own, prior to the research being funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. She started her research in the field and recorded the landscapes.
The focus of this project is on the Scottish landscape through Salisbury’s images taken between 1925 to 1933 in the following areas:
- Arrochar in Argyll and Bute
- the Trossachs National park
- the Rothiemurchus Estate, a privately owned Highland Estate within the Strathspey, northeast of the river Spey, in the Cairngorms National Park
- Culbin Forest, which sits on the Moray Firth between Nairn and Findhorn
The research contributes to a comparative landscape and botanical study spanning nearly 90 years.