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The loft

In 1990 a forgotten police photographic archive was discovered in the flooded basement of a suburban Sydney warehouse. An estimated four tons of negatives in glass plate and cellulose based formats were rescued and dried out by conservators and others. The negatives were transferred to the Museum’s loft for safe-keeping and in 2006 managerial responsibility for the archive was transferred to the Justice and Police Museum.

At the end of 2006 I joined the museum team and took on the mammoth task of organising, scanning, cataloguing and re-housing in conservation standard materials, this huge and largely unexplored collection. When I first climbed the narrow spiral staircase to the loft and stepped onto its coir matting I felt at once intrigued, overwhelmed and slightly intrusive. I paused, noticing the musty smell, before moving into the dimly lit space. My eyes traced the wooden shelving jutting at various heights towards the raking ceiling. The light switch flicked on to little affect. Between the tall, dark shelving I was surrounded by a towering corridor of pigeonholes. Each compartment was precariously stacked with branded boxes of varying size or grubbiness, some appeared to be failing under the weight of those above. Other boxes were damaged or without ends allowing me a glimpse at their negative content. The archive was a fascinating puzzle even before peering into silver emulsions.
A towering wall of pigeonholes, how the loft once looked.

The loft space that houses the collection was renovated and refurbished just over a year ago. Smooth metal shelves inside the newly constructed negative cool store now provide a home to a diverse mix of photographic media depicting many strange, provocative and mysterious subjects. My initial surreal experience of the loft is now just a distant memory. Only a few snapshots remain to remind me of the amazing changes implemented to stabilise and preserve this important resource. Over the last two years a team of staff, volunteers and interns have made a huge contribution to progressing this project. I look forward to sharing the knowledge, stories and some marvelous photographs excavated since my first encounter with the loft.

The refurbished work area of the loft.

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