Methodological approaches to the collection of Arthur Hopkinson

Arthur Hopkinson’s collection appears at a surface level to be one of the most straightforward to deal with. The collection, unusually from what has been said above, seems to be comprised entirely of Hopkinson’s own photographs (or at least taken with his own camera in cases where he has included himself in the image). The images were taken in two main phases reflecting Hopkinson’s official status in the region (see Biography).

The 1926-28 original images can be distinguished from the 1948 images by the size of the negatives used reflecting technical developments in photography during this time. The 1948 images also include colour transparencies, which were not available in 1928.

This obviously made basic date identifications far simpler than other collections. Included in some of the wallet pockets for the earlier images are contact prints with place inscriptions on the back. There are sometimes multiple prints with slight variations in the inscription which seem to have accrued over time. The smaller negatives made later during Hopkinson’s second placement in Tibet (see Biography) also have accompanying contact prints with various inscriptions on the back. They have also been collated into envelopes with further annotations upon them.

More detailed identifications of date, place and people were assisted by a number of sources. For the images taken in 1948, a handlist had been produced by staff at the British Museum in conversation with Hopkinson’s wife, Eleanor. As she had been present on the trip to Shigatse, which the collection for this period principally presents, the identifications provided a very solid foundation for further study. However, the dating and identification of the 1926-28 images presented other challenges.

Hopkinson kept his negatives in wallets which were identified ‘A’ through to ‘G’. These negative wallets contained 100 pockets and the backs of the wallets included several lined pages providing space for writing a caption for each image. Close study of the Hopkinson archive in the Oriental & India Office Collections at the British Library in London for this time (mainly letters to his future wife and family members) seemed to corroborate the fact that he took photographs in a systematic way, labelling them ‘A1 – 100’ to ‘G1 – 100’ and so on, sending sample images home at intervals. These letters provided markers by which one knew certain images had to have been taken. Many of the negatives also had the numbers written on their edges to further aid identification. The journals and letters of this time also seemed to be relatively detailed and it was therefore possible to reconstruct a fairly detailed chronology of events, which again helped to provide chronological markers for the content of certain groups of images [see for example, photographs of Dorje Pamo or of the cars being taken from Dochen]. On a previous occasion, Mrs Eleanor Hopkinson, Arthur Hopkinson’s wife, had been recorded giving her account of the images in conversation with Richard Blurton at the British Museum. These tapes and the handlists developed from them proved invaluable resources in the research.

However, more detailed study of the negatives indicated that all was not so straightforward and that there had been some reordering of images over time with un-numbered negatives being slotted into wallets in a broadly but not entirely chronological order. This created enough uncertainty however that date ranges for the images rather than precise dates have had to be used more frequently than at first seemed likely. Only where there is a high degree of certainty as to dating has this been included as such, with explanation in the notes field. However, with more time it would be possible to reconstruct these films more fully, although the technique required would be painstaking and laborious. The key to this lies in the fact that the negatives used in 1926-28 were all part of film rolls which have later been cut up. However, the cutting was done by hand rather than machine with the result, as noted in the Further Information for each image, that many of the edges are very irregular. These irregular edges could be matched together to reconstruct the film (albeit with great difficulty) but this technique has on occasion been used to identify whether one image actually followed another, as suggested by the notes in the wallet, or whether one was added later.

Dr Mandy Sadan, Project Manager/Researcher, 2006