Exploring heritage careers with Britain From Above

 3 October 2014

The ambitious Britain From Above project saw heritage organisations in England, Scotland and Wales collaborate to make aerial photography from the past available online. Watch four people discuss the important roles they played in the project.

Britain From Above is the four-year Heritage Lottery Fund project to conserve, digitise, catalogue and make available online 95,000 unique images of aerial photography taken between 1919 and 1953.

The full collection contains over 1.2 million photographs taken by the commercial aerial photographers Aerofilms Ltd between 1919 and 2006.

These images provide a unique photographic record of Britain from the air in the 20th century, illustrating the enormous changes that have taken place in housing, leisure, industry, transport and agriculture during this time, and also the physical impact of two World Wars.

Project staff from across England, Scotland and Wales have worked together to make these images available online for all to enjoy.

We hope that this film will give you a taste of the kind of work that goes on in the heritage sector in a major project such as this, and perhaps encourage you to think about working in the heritage sector yourself.

Michael Walker, digitisation officer

"My name's Michael and I am a digitisation officer and I work for English Heritage.

"First of all we upload the image into Photoshop and then we use the wizardry of Photoshop to create an image that looks aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

"Now I'm using a dodge and burn tool to darken and lighten the image. We want to burn in trees a little bit more because they’re a bit too light, so I’ll just go across the top.

"We’re allowed to take out little bits and pieces that have been artificially added. We’ve got to be careful of sheep because sheep look like dust.

"Once you know how to do it you can get a hell of a lot out of an image that looks like it's been destroyed.

We’ve got to be careful of sheep because sheep look like dust.

"I did a BA in Photographic Art, which is basically photograph practice and the history of art. I love working on images and that came across in the interview and I got the job.

"That's awesome – a gyrocopter is not a helicopter. That’s Wembley Stadium. If you zoom in here that’s actually people sitting on the edges – no health and safety!

"Most people look at images because they look nice not because of the historical point, so that's what we're trying to appeal to as well, because they’re historical and they look nice."

Alexander Treliving, cataloguer

"My name's Alexander and I'm a cataloguer on the Britain From Above project.

"I work here at the English Heritage Archive in Swindon.

"Cataloguing is looking at an aerial photograph and spotting the clues within the aerial photograph, and relating that to what we can see on a map enables us to then locate and catalogue the image.

I like to think of myself as a bit of a detective. 

"This one shows some caravans – a caravan park in Blackpool. The registered data says it’s in Blackpool but doesn't give us any more information than that. 

"Blackpool is fairly large so it could be anywhere really within Blackpool. It's a case of looking at the historical maps – it might be labelled as a holiday camp or we might be able to see the pattern of this road here or of all the buildings surrounding it as well.

"It’s good fun actually, I like to think of myself as a bit of a detective. One thing that I didn't expect when I signed up for the job was that I would research images for a book. I’m really proud about that some of my work is in a book."

Oliver Brooks, publications and design manager

"My name’s Oliver. I’m publications and design manager for the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland here in Edinburgh.

"My role in the Britain From Above Project was to design and produce the Aerofilms book.

"I quite like going through thousands and thousands of photographs, pitting one very similar image against another and asking myself why this might work.

"One of the pleasures of the task is to bring images together that actually construct a story.

"We wanted to talk about how fragile the early aeroplanes were, so we brought all the photographs together that just show the aeroplanes in the sky. And then we juxtapose that with crashes and again juxtapose that with images that really show the planes coming together, so you get a sense of the possibility of crashing.

"It's an interesting role as a designer because you are asked to be creative. You have to come up with ideas, you have to have a blank sheet of paper and come up with something.

One of the pleasures of the task is to bring images together that actually construct a story.

"So like this collection of images for a book: you're trying to work out what can you bring to it that will give a form to this collection?

"You do develop the skill and it is an important skill to be able to give order to things. It doesn't mean it has to be a regimented order, it just means that you bring sense to things.

"It’s really useful to say why you like things. If you can begin to say why one thing sticks out better than other, you begin to understand what it is that makes that difference, and you become more of it and you become better at talking about it and you come better at doing it.

"I suppose thinking about my career I never really had one. A cycle career and art mover and furniture maker… having done lots of things I was able to become clear about what it is I really enjoy doing, what was important and finding out takes quite a while. And you could be wrong."

Natasha Scuallion, Welsh Britain From Above activity officer

"I’m Natasha, I'm the Welsh Britain From Above Activity Officer and I'm responsible for the Welsh projects.

"A typical day can change. I could be working on a project, I could be answering emails, I go to schools, I go to libraries – it varies all the time.

"Understanding how to work with people is really the key I think. If you can have that sort of confidence talking to people, it opens so many doors. That’s where everything starts, that’s where ideas form, and that’s where projects spring from.

I could be working on a project, I could be answering emails, I go to schools, I go to libraries – it varies all the time.

"This is Aberystwyth as it was in 1932. The children were given this photo and told, 'Right this is in the thirties. You know what it looks like, now can you imagine in the future?' 

"And they did and they had some brilliant interpretations. I worry for the children of Aberystwyth! A consumer apocalypse... there were just shopping centres everywhere. In some of them it was the actual apocalypse... demons coming out the sea, and we were at war with Ireland apparently in one.

"But it was a nice way of getting people to use their imaginations to see what they thought the future would be like."

About Britain From Above

We’ve now looked at four of the roles involved in developing and delivering the Britain From Above project. But the whole team across three organisations involved nearly 30 people in total.

So what has been achieved? Over 95,000 images have been conserved, digitised, catalogued and made available online at the Britain From Above website. Over 38,800 users have signed up to Britain From Above website and made more than 230,000 contributions. 16 community projects have been completed in locations including Goven, Leeds and Trimsaran.

All this has been made possible by teamwork, by the project team working closely together and by each organisation working in partnership with all of the members of the public who have contributed their time and energy to make this project such a resounding success.

For more information on careers that are currently available in the heritage sector, check out the project partner websites and also take a look at the Creative & Cultural Skills website.