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Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this article to

This article is taken from PN Review 214, Volume 40 Number 2, November - December 2013.

Pictures from a Library 11:
'I have lived. Here is the proof': A Portrait of a Living Archive
Stella Halkyard
Portrait of Vona Groarke

Portrait of Vona Groarke, reproduced by permission of Jamie Robinson and Gwen Jones.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that bibliophiles regard libraries as the natural home of written, rather than visual, culture. So readers are often surprised to discover that paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints and photographs are housed amongst the millions of books in Manchester's John Rylands Library and that these works of art include a myriad of artistic genres including the portrait.

People are also often surprised that the hallowed dust of this Mancunian Pantheon sparkles with the life of the living, as many contemporary writers, artists, scribes, translators, printers and book-binders find their place alongside their revered ancestors from the past.

Working across the verbal and the visual, and the medieval and the modern, Jamie Robinson and Gwen Jones, the Rylands' photographers, are inspired, on a daily basis, as they digitise their way through its collections. Keen to explode the myth that the archive is the preserve of the written, or the venerably dead, they have worked through the medium of photography, with the creators of some of the 'living' archives in the library, to produce a series of portraits on film as well as in digital format. This experiment in shared authorship is currently on display in the Atrium of the John Rylands Library until January 2014. The portrait shown here pictures the poet Vona Groarke.

Both graduates of the BA in Photography at Blackpool and The Fylde College, Robinson and Jones have worked in the Rylands since 2006 and 2007 respectively, where they have developed groundbreaking techniques to capture and establish our digital image collections. Both also practise the art of photography outside the realm of heritage digitisation and have exhibited and published their work widely.

The archive they have generated in the creation of their Portrait of a Living Archive project brings us face to face with some of the people who appear in our collections and show us their viewpoint from inside the archive. In turn, these photographs will become part of the library's collection of images, adding depth to our knowledge of some of the people present in the archive while enriching our collections of photographic portraits.

Accession 9, Box 4
Vona Groarke

Not the death but the certificate.
Not the marriage but the ring.
Not the children but the photograph.
Not the summer but the shell.

Not the body but the lock of hair.
Not the meal but the menu.
Not birdsong but the feathers.
Not home but the lost key.

Not the journey but the boarding pass.
Not the tree but the dried leaf.
Not the good suit but the button.
Not years but diaries.

Not the lover but the love letter.
Not the sea but the salt.
Not the poem but the words.
I have lived. Here is the proof.


This article is taken from PN Review 214, Volume 40 Number 2, November - December 2013.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this article to
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