This page contains
the detailed report written by a Research Fellow in Ceramics Studies
from a British University.
of NEVAC material:
- The NEVAC archive,
as it now stands, contains valuable material which mostly relates to
a generation of makers in ceramics whose testimony might otherwise have
been lost. This material helps to fill a gap in the history of twentieth
- Although the collection
of published CDs consists of this older generation of makers, it became
clear during the usability study that younger makers are also now being
recorded and this usefully extends the archive content.
- The archive covers
a range of makers in ceramics, not just 'studio' potters but also designer/makers
such as Anita Hoy and decorators such as June Woolley.
- Women are well
represented in the archive.
on the interviewing approach:
- There seemed to
be a range of interviewers, all of whom had slightly different approaches
to their subject and this diversity was valuable. However, as in all
situations in which diversity is appreciated as a virtue, there is always
an issue concerning the parameters of the diversity on offer.
- All the interviewers
that I saw seemed sympathetic to the interviewees and their concerns
and were patient in eliciting responses and information.
- The interviewees
were filmed in a variety of venues - home, studio, gallery etc. - and
from what I saw these venues appeared appropriate to the interviewee
concerned. All of the videos that I saw contained passages where the
subject showed pots and talked about them, either as completed pots
or as pots in the process of being made. The opportunity to see the
interviewees handling pottery added a further interesting dimension
to the videos.
- The dialogue was
generally easy to follow and the interviewees talked intelligently and
enthusiastically about their life and work. This indicates that the
interviewers were mostly getting it right.
- The material was
obviously unedited and this was noticeable mostly at the beginnings
of the videos. This is different to what we are used to in broadcast
material but it did not bother me. In fact I quite liked the unedited
quality because I knew I was seeing everything that had been recorded.
on the interviewing approach:
- There was nothing
that I saw in any of the interviews which could be described as confrontational:
the interviewees were given as much space as they needed, to say what
they wished to say without being overly challenged. I am not sure if
there is anything about that state of affairs which could be regarded
as a criticism or not. I suppose it could be said there was a degree
of cosiness about the interviews. Perhaps that is inevitable unless
you deliberately set up an antagonistic situation.
- I think I would
have liked to have seen the interviewers, albeit briefly, instead of
being aware of them always as disembodied voices. Perhaps I am mistaken
and in fact all the interviewers are shown at some point, but I looked
at a few of the Anita Hoy videos and I did not see either Anna Hale
or David Hamilton.
Criticisms of the
content of the video:
- It could be argued
that the range of makers is not wide enough; for example the ceramics
industry is hardly covered, apart perhaps from the interview with Anita
Hoy. It might also be argued that although oral history aims to empower
and give a voice to the overlooked or unimportant figures of history
the NEVAC archive is still, predominantly, an archive of strong, independent
people who are not afraid to voice an opinion. What about the people
who did the really dreary jobs in Stoke on Trent?
- The interviewees
talk a lot about other potters and other pots which of course is very
interesting and useful. However I would have liked to have known more
about the relationship between ceramics and other areas of human activities
and interests, fine art for example, but NEVAC could never have delivered
material on that or other topics if it was not already part of the subjects'
- There was little
in the way of practical demonstrations and while I would certainly not
wish to see the archive full of 'how to do ceramics' videos I think
there is a place for the recording of makers as they work and respond
to their materials, tools etc.
- It fails to meet
my needs in that it is relatively difficult to search the material at
present in comparison, say, to books.
- I also have a
problem with the fact that it can appear to be unmediated, raw, innocent
material giving direct access to the 'truth' of a person's life when
in fact it is not and does not. Perhaps this need not be a problem if
we think that in the same way that we can 'read between the lines' of
books we need to develop the capacity to 'listen between the words'
and 'look between the images' of these videos. We need to learn to interpret
them and perhaps there has not been time for us to do this yet.
of the web-based video database:
- Alphabetical index
linked to a thesaurus. I would like to be able to browse an alphabetical
index looking for key names or words. It would be helpful if this also
operated as a thesaurus giving me alternative search terms.
- Name search. I
think this would probably be the first thing I would wish to try and
I would hope that it would give me all the instances when a particular
person is named in the archive (as well of course giving the catalogue
numbers of videos where that person is interviewed, if they have been
- Place name search,
perhaps linked to a map.
- Key word search.
I should think there are lots of separate categories that you might
make available for key word searches on the user's part such as galleries,
potteries, educational institutions, materials, techniques etc. but
do you really need to do that and wouldn't the web site become cluttered?
Would a general 'key word search' icon should do for most users? Of
course the important job is done by the person who puts all the information
in and I should think that such a person would quickly develop an insight
into what is needed.
- All of the interviewees
that I saw talked with composure for most of the time but of course
there were subtle changes in mood and attitude. I guess that interviewees
occasionally get angry or cry. I am not sure if a search for emotion
would be either possible or useful but it might be worth thinking about.
- Is there any way
of doing some kind of linked search with two names or terms e.g. Anita
Hoy/slipcasting or David Leach/Stoke-on-Trent?
- I remember Mike
Hughes [founder of NEVAC] talking about how the interviews could
be divided up into objects, i.e. sections or clips which can be categorised
as to whether the subject is telling an anecdote, giving technical information,
offering a critique of a pot etc. I think that this idea is well worth
developing and users of the archive would quickly learn how to make
the most of that kind of search. This might be linked with a 'time line'
- It would be very
useful to be able to search for any term as you can in 'Word' i.e. go
to edit, find and then be taken through the video to each point at which
the term occurs.
about how the web-based video database may be organised:
- The 'mission'
or at least the aims and objectives of NEVAC should be made clear and
something of the history of NEVAC given. This may not need to be repeated
on the 'search' website as long as it is prominent on the NEVAC main
site and users of the 'search' site can find their way to it easily.
- I think it is important
that the archive is seen as a resource to be researched and interpreted
and not as a source of entertainment. Somehow this must be made clear
on the website itself and through the provision of links to other sites
where a critical perspective is given. There should be some sort of
bibliography given of articles etc. which make reference in some way
to the material in the archive.
- There is an unavoidable
problem in that an archive such as NEVAC privileges those who are articulate
and who see some value in talking about their lives and their work i.e.
those who are ready to produce or perform a version of themselves for
the camera. What of those who are unwilling to do that or for whom reticence
or even silence is the preferred option and/or choose to let their work
speak for itself? (Norah Braden, Lucie Rie, Hans Coper?) I suppose that
we must simply accept the inability of an archive such as this to capture
the viewpoints of such people.
- I would have liked
to have been provided with some details of the interviewers and why
they were matched up with the particular subjects. I think there is
a need for the NEVAC archive itself to be contextualised. The interviewees
and the interviewers did not come together by accident on a particular
day and at a particular place: there is a need to reconstruct, explain,
and interpret the rationale. The short video clip that we were shown
of Mike Hughes talking about how NEVAC came into being was very succinct
and illuminating and this perhaps could be used as the basis for a combined
video/text introduction to NEVAC which appears prominently somewhere
at the beginning of the proposed website.
- When listening
to audio files it would be useful to have a photograph of the person
speaking as well a transcript made available on the screen for use as
- The website needs
to look clear, uncluttered, professional but user friendly. I would
caution against using any kind of animation.
- Some of the other
web sites that I saw had text superimposed over images and I think that
should be avoided.
- As far as the
two day usability study itself was concerned I felt that it was well
organised and it was very useful for me to find out more about the archive
and its future development.
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