Artist Chrystel Lebas and Museum biologist and botanist Kath Castillo are exploring the E J Salisbury collection at the Natural History Museum and Kew Gardens Archives. They hope to use Salisbury’s images of Scottish landscapes to reconstruct environmental change over the last 50 years.
Article in the New Scientist 11 June 1959, Courtesy of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew Library & Archives.
Chrystel and Kath began looking for clues that could reveal more about Salisbury’s research on ecology and botany through his methods of recording data, his travel journals and field notes. Delving into the 30 boxes of Salisbury’s documents has also revealed a small collection of hand written quotations, puns and limericks.
The Salisbury archive at Kew Gardens is currently in the condition in which it was received and will be fully conserved when resources allow.
One of the notebooks found in Kew Library & Archives reveals a wealth of information including experimental data and research annotations on ecology. Courtesy of the Royal Botany Gardens Kew Library & Archives.
Funding from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation permitted Kath Castillo to join Chrystel on her research in Scotland. Kath, who joined the project in September 2013, provides the necessary scientific knowledge (botanical and ecological) that enables geographical and botanical determinations in the field, based on Salisbury’s recorded images in the same locations.
Kath and Chrystel began the research and comparative study in Rothiemurchus Estate, a privately owned Highland estate within the Strathspey, northeast of the river Spey, in theCairngorms National Park.
Kath and Chrystel comparing and searching for Salisbury’s locations from his landscape images in Rothiemurchus Estate. Photograph by Bergit Arends.
The project engages with environmental change, particularly in the Scottish landscape, and creates new understandings of the artistic and scientific gaze onto the natural environment and its representation. The project is supported by a grant from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundationand the University of the Arts London.
Kath holding one of E J Salisbury’s photographs against the Rothiemurchus landscape. Photograph by Bergit Arends.
Above left: Kath identifying a specimen. Right: Chrystel photographing ‘Vaccinium vitis-idaea on remains of pine bole in Rothiemurchus forest’. Bottom: Chrystel recording a view of the fens at twilight.
The Salisbury collection has, until recently, remained un-catalogued and undervalued. A collaborative approach to these materials is important as the plates represent an important piece of landscape and wildlife photographic history – UK natural history and photographic history knowledge and expertise will be essential to unlock the arts and science potential of this collection.
The images represent a unique record of landscapes that may have changed dramatically. They are an irreplaceable piece of the scientific information that may be used to investigate environmental change, either through natural processes or the hand of man.