Keeping things in focus

After Alice project's first members - Darren Pardoe, Sooze Hodgin,  Jo Hirons and H Gregg
After Alice project's first members - Darren Pardoe, Sooze Hodgin, Jo Hirons and H Gregg

The After Alice Project - named after Hebden Royd’s most famous photographer Alice Longstaff – is a new community project offering residents of the upper Calder Valley the chance to help ensure all aspects of our everyday lives will be recognised and remembered in the years to come, writes Jo Hirons.

After Alice is encouraging experienced and novice photographers alike to have a go at capturing images for the future from around our region – their unusual premise is that all of these images will be taken on film and then stored in digital and negative formats in a centrally-conserved accredited archive to museum standards.

This duplicate preservation is part of what will carry the Calder Valley’s photographs safely into the future, for current estimates are that modern film negatives can be safely stored for anything between one and four centuries – and that’s a daunting amount of time compared to the inbuilt obsolescence of Snapchat.

The project will be working closely with the Pennine Horizons Digital Archive who already conserve the Alice Longstaff Collection, together with other photographic resources, in their Grade II listed facility at the former Birchcliffe Chapel, Hebden Bridge.

After Alice will be teaching all aspects of film photography including how to repair and restore old cameras and lenses.

The project is already selling and hand-developing B&W film, so there’s no need for anyone to entrust their precious photographs to the Internet or postal service, and there are plans afoot to create a community darkroom.

Anyone can get involved with the After Alice Project and there are no age restrictions to joining – all you have to do is live in the Upper Calder Valley. There’s already a real buzz of interest from past film photographers dusting off old equipment not used since the last century and rescuing venerable cameras from lonely exile to the attic, loft and back of the wardrobe – some have even found undeveloped rolls of film and happily rediscovered their sixth form selves, or intoxicated memories of Live Aid.

Those who parted company with their old gear decades ago are finding their eye-wateringly expensive dream cameras from the 70s, 80s, and 90s now changing hands on Ebay at pocket-money prices. You don’t even have to have your own camera – After Alice has a stock of pool cameras from child-friendly focus-free ones to power zooms and simple point-and-press units; there are even some rather desirable SLRs. And all of these you can borrow for a small, refundable deposit.

Pool cameras are also available to clubs and small groups, such as local scouts or guides,

As the project grows it hopes to be able to make cameras available to larger groups and to supply schools with free film. After Alice is thinking long term – with careful planning and resourcing there’s no reason why the project cannot last for a hundred years.

Many of the pool cameras have been donated to After Alice and have come with messages of support from their previous owners.

If you borrow a pool camera chances are you will be making history with something that’s already history. There are donated cameras that belonged to a D-Day veteran, and another whose last use was on New Year’s Eve at the turn of the Millennium.

If you have any unwanted film cameras, or photography equipment you no longer use, you can donate it to the After Alice Project by dropping it off at Word of Mouth Craft Supplies on Valley Road, Hebden Bridge. There are other collection points around the valley, and the project can arrange collection if you get in touch. It doesn’t matter either if the equipment no longer works or needs a bit of TLC because the After Alice repair shop is already up and running

Unfortunately, the Project can’t take 110mm, or APS / Advantix items because the films for these are no longer made.

Why not join the After Alice Facebook group and consider becoming a member of the project? There’s lots more informationon the website

Even if you’re not a photographer you can still help by letting the project know about anything else you think should be recorded and preserved. You can also sponsor anything from the cost of a cardboard archive box to a dedicated film shoot.

We often imagine what a film of our lives would be like - but After Alice is asking you to imagine what a documentary would be like. What would be important to you? The towns and people of the upper Calder Valley have a reputation for doing things well, and doing them differently - wouldn’t it be terrible if future generations could only wonder why?