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This page contains the detailed report written by a Research Fellow in Ceramics Studies from a British University.

Positive points 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 century ceramics.
  • 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.

Positive comments 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.

Critical comments 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' concerns.
  • 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.

Prefered layout 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 interviewed).
  • 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' facility.
  • 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.

General points 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 required.
  • 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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