Northern Lens: Mr Turner’s apples

The Allison Collection held at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) consists of about 1,550 photographs and 34 volumes from Allison Photographic Studios between circa 1900 and 1950. The studios were established by Herbert Thackwray Allison, who came to Ireland in 1881 with his brother. After starting in Belfast, they expanded with county branches in Dundalk, Armagh, Newry, and Warrenpoint. His son, Herbert Thackwray Jr, ended up managing the Armagh studio in 1903, where he remained for almost 50 years; his father ran the Newry and Warrenpoint studies.

PRONI has published online digitised versions of the glass-plate negatives from the Allison Collection. This would have been a meticulous process, considering the fragility of the glass plates and thin coatings of silver salt emulsions.

The Allison Collection on Flickr is organised into albums: buildings, businesses, events, portraits (individual, family, group, weddings) rural and street scenes, and transport.

Offline I discovered two volumes of 113 prints, which I accessed in the PRONI reading room. They cover the same topics above, but I was captivated by the study of apples, a recognised agricultural industry of Co. Armagh with a rich history.

There are images showing the planting, growing, and harvesting of this daily staple.

The quality of the images are sometimes artistic, with block-out effects (perhaps created by removing emulsion from parts of the negative).

Handwritten notes attribute the images to “Mr Turner, Stormont”. Some also suggest a link “Turners Fruit Markets Ltd, Oxford Street, Belfast”.

Evidence that this was commissioned work is a note on a couple of the images, “Order 11300 = pictures of ‘sprayer, boxes, machine, buds’.” And this would be consistent with the work of a photographic studio such as Allison’s.

Nevertheless, it is refreshing to see such work beyond official portraiture, landscapes, and statues.

These images provide a curious insight into this familiar local industry.

About Allan Leonard

Allan Leonard is a peace builder. He does this through his personal and professional vocations, with learning, exploring, and reporting. Allan's specialism is the politics of Northern Ireland, whose people and land he loves and where he has made his home. He believes in the power of the arts for conflict transformation, through vision, sound, and performance. Allan works for a shared society and a #SharedFuture