Photo archive is monumental task

THE WORK of one of Montrose’s most prolific photographers has proved to be a formidable and valuable addition to the county’s archive.

Over a career spanning more than half a century Ken Hay recorded many aspects of the town and district’s life, both its public face as well as its private and personal moments, to form a unique body of work unparalleled in the area.

Mr Hay presented Angus Archives with his collection before his death last year and a small but dedicated team of volunteers, under the direction of archive manager Fiona Scharlau, has now begun the Herculean task of sorting through 67 boxes of prints and negatives.

The extent of the job is indicated by one estimate which suggests that he took around one million photographs in total including approximately 6,000 weddings. The number of negatives and glass plates alone in Angus Council’s possession is thought to run to more than 40,000.

Mrs Scharlau said: “At this stage we’re doing a lot of organising, making an inventory, grouping pictures together and numbering them. Once we do this, we’ll work closely with Montrose Museum who know more people with more local knowledge who might be able to identify places and subjects.

“It’s going to take us quite a long time but at least we’ve made a start. By the spring we hope to have enough to deliver a talk at the museum about what we’re doing and showing slides of what we’ve done so far.”

Well known for his wedding and family portraiture, Mr Hay also freelanced for several newspapers and supplied photos for postcards, calendars and books.

His work is also a valuable record of the town’s industrial development as well as its social history. When Glaxo Laboratories, now GlaxoSmithKline, first came to Montrose in 1952, Mr Hay was appointed official photographer for the local factory and he continued in the post until 1986.

Over the years he also undertook work for Montrose Port Authority as well as local businesses such as Joseph Johnston & Sons.

Mrs Scharlau said that after several weeks’ work the team has hardly even begun to scratch the surface of the collection which has first to be catalogued and scanned before identification of subjects can begin. More volunteers will also be needed to help with the initial cleaning, cataloguing and scanning work.

She said: “I’m a great fan of Ken’s work and I’m becoming more so as I see more and more of it. There’s no body of work that’s so extensive and it’s unique.

“It documents the changes that have taken place and he took pictures of everything. As far as the weddings are concerned, there’s also a fabulous procession of different fashions.”

Although there are currently no plans to mount a retrospective exhibition, Mrs Scharlau said she hopes that one will take place in the future.

Anyone interested in helping to catalogue the collection can contact the Angus Archives on 01307 468644.