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The Norris Photography Project

By Rebecca J Webster, on 9 April 2018

This is a guest post by Euan Guckian, UCL Special Collections volunteer.

Over terms one and two this year I have had the opportunity to sort and catalogue the photograph collection of Arthur Norris for the Special Collections team. Norris was a railway engineer who, at the beginning of the twentieth century, spent several years (roughly 1909-1916) working in Latin America. He captured scenes from across the continent, annotating some of them for his mother back home in Britain.

Already gathered into region specific files, alongside a separate one for a soccer game played at one of the highest points in the Andes, my first responsibility was to sort them into a more coherent order. I was at first helped by the extensive notes provided by Norris on the back on the photos, but as the years went on I was fortunate to have a date and location. A sense of lethargy that anyone who has committed to keeping at diary will be familiar with. Having sorted each file, my next job was to list them digitally, this comprised either paraphrasing Norris’ notes or, in their absence, describing concisely what would be considered each one’s important features.

UCL Special Collections, NORRIS/9

Having previously studied the modernisation of Latin America during this period, it was interesting to see the region enter the 20th century from such a visual perspective. This was most obviously represented by the numerous photographs of the laying of tracks, carving of tunnels, building of railway bridges, and constructing of train stations taken by Norris from Buenos Aires to Lima. Amongst my favourite photographs, was a shot taken from 13,000ft above sea level of an Argentine mountain range. It came with instructions from Norris to place it next to another to create a carefully framed panorama. Unfortunately, after weeks of searching I never found it. There is plenty however, that would be appeal to those with an interest in Latin America. These include, depictions of rural village life, as well as that of the region’s capitals, all alongside photographs of ceremonies both native to South America, and those, such as bullfights, brought over from Spain.

UCL Special Collections, NORRIS/1

You can see the full catalogue for the Norris photographic archive here. To arrange a visit to consult the collection please email us at spec.coll@ucl.ac.uk