My research began in earnest during a work placement at the Scottish Film And Television Archive during April and May 2002. Prior to this, in November 2002, I had been to the British Artist’s Film & Video Collection (BAFVC) at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design to go through their Margaret Tait files. With a better idea of how this paper would be written, I returned to Saint Martins again in June 2002. The BAFVC holds several of Tait’s films on video and has a unique collection of paper documents, largely consisting of correspondence between David Curtis and Tait since the early 1980s.
The SFTVA has also begun collecting documents relating to the Tait collection which includes some recent correspondence from Tait’s husband, a copy of the BFI’s database records relating to Tait, and other miscellaneous items. I did not contact Pirie during my research since the Archive had already approached him concerning the technical details of Tait’s film making and could answer any initial questions I had for him. It is the Archive’s responsibility to engage in any ‘real-world’ work on the films and I hope that this paper might provoke further questions which they will then put to Pirie.
Although I have only discussed five complete films up to now, there are twenty-five cans in the collection relating to these titles and I will address each one below. My method of working with each can was fairly systematic: Working at a winding bench, I carefully ran each element through once and noted details such as stock dates, codes, splices, and condition. At all times, I had a video camera positioned beside me at the bench in order to make an accurate record which I could review after I had left the archive. I also made written records and drawings of the film stock for a quick reference later. Having looked at each element in the can, I photocopied any documentation included and also the can label. Having done all of this, I compared my observations with the Archive’s Technical Records of which I possess a full printed set for each can.
Besides technical books and articles I have used, I contacted several professionals who are known experts in film printing, digital restoration and colour dyes and presented my observations and queries to them. I was also able to find and contact Peter Hollander in the USA who had been out of touch with Tait for many years. 1 My correspondence with him turned out to be critical to my understanding of the dyes Tait used. With that understanding, I searched for information on the appropriate dyes and eventually contacted a Histotechnologist who had created an excellent record of dyes used in medical procedures and published it on the internet. At all times, people were intrigued by the bizarre turns my research was taking and were eager to help me in my detective work.