I spend a lot of time working with old photographs, at home and at work, but I have recently started spending more time looking at old films online to help me be able to visualize the times and places where my grandparents lived.
My mother’s parents came from Scotland, and I have been enjoying the short, silent films at Scottish Screen Archive at the National Library of Scotland. This film of Glasgow Trams is from around 1902, and it provides me with a moving image of Glasgow as it would have looked to my grandmother Agnes, who just two years later left school and went to work as a 14 year old shop girl. I picture her getting on and off those trams on her way to her first job, feeling nervous but proud to be the first of six children to be able to help support their family.
My grandfather Willie was raised in Ayrshire, and like all of his family members, he went down into the mines at 14. But he wanted to be a photographer, and as a young man he traveled to popular seaside destinations to photograph the tourists. I’m pretty sure one of the places he went was Rothesay on the island of Bute, and when I was there a few years ago I tried to picture the scene as it would have looked during his time. The film Holiday Scenes in Rothesay from the early 1920s shows holiday-makers arriving by steamer and enjoying the beach, the bathing pool, the putting green and the castle, and I wonder of anyone I can see in the film stopped to have their photograph taken by my grandfather.
Those are my favorites because of how they relate to my grandparents’ lives, but there’s a variety of films available in this collection from the 1890s to the current decade, including sponsored and promotional films, documentaries, newsreels, home movies and more.
Here are a few of my favorites:
- Making Bagpipes — A 10-minute educational film of the work of the Highland Bagpipe Makers in Edinburgh.
- Charles Rennie Mackintosh — A 21 minute documentary about the decorative artist Mackintosh’s work in Glasgow
- Hugh MacDiarmid: No Fellow Travellers — A 25 minute film about Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, an influential figure in the Scottish Renaissance, made to commemorate his 80th birthday, including conversation with his son Michael Grieve and fellow poet Norman MacCaig about his life, work and politics