The Visual Resources Centre at Manchester School of Art contains more than 300,000 photographic slides. This collection was once at the heart of the Art School’s teaching practices. Its contents document a century of art education. But times have changed. In the rush to embrace the digital and all it can do, the value of such ‘obsolete’ technologies is in danger of being lost.
Prompted by proposals to dispose of the collection, Adopt a Slide began as a collaborative student project. In May 2015, we invited people simply to browse the collection, pick a slide and respond to it. The response has been amazing – from students, staff, alumni and other friends of the art school; from academics, librarians, journalists, artists and other interested parties further afield. Some have been fascinated by analogue image-making processes. For others, it is the collection’s particular history of art and design. And for others still, it is the jolt of the familiar, the unexpected find of images that resonate with personal significance. Such responses have clearly demonstrated the collection’s ongoing relevance, both as historic artefact and source of creative inspiration. Our project, disseminated via the internet, demonstrates how digital technology complements rather than replaces the unique qualities of the analogue image.
In July 2015 the Art School announced its intention to transfer the entire collection to the University’s Special Collections. The collection will thus be preserved in its entirety as a historic archive document. However, its future accessibility, for students, staff, and anyone with an interest in the diverse histories and creative possibilities it contains, remains, for the moment, unresolved. We are hopeful, though, that the richness of responses such as those gathered here will continue to make the case for the future potential as well as historic significance of this collection. Our invitation to adopt a slide remains open, though the practicalities of doing so are now less straightforward. But we still invite you to pick a slide, any slide – write something about your choice – and post it to the blog. Here’s how.