Without grants, in the early days Amber both took on paid work for colleges and broadcasters and generated businesses, sharing the income to take the group’s work forward. In 1972 it launched the Lambton Visual Aids slide library, producing sets of transparencies for Higher Education.
One of the founder members, Graham Denman, designed and built a high quality slide copying system. Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen copied imagery to illustrate potential lectures on a host of subjects and also developed a number of sets of original slides on urban architecture, fairground arts, Blackpool Illuminations, shop fronts and other topics. Other photographers were commissioned to develop groups of slide sets, Karen Melvin, for example, photographing wooden buildings across the USA when she spent time there.
It is hard to explore the range of slide sets without thinking that Lambton Visual Aids lacked a ruthlessly commercial instinct. How many universities ever bought Wire & Its Uses, a set of black & white illustrations from a book published in 1902? There were supportive academics in a couple of institutions who were happy to buy any set produced and this just about covered the costs of developing one. The imagery copied from books, catalogues, magazines, cards, etc, largely came via the acquisitions of bookseller Brian Mills, who ran his shop from Amber premises. He had an eye and different Amber members were fascinated by the detail of the C19th and C20th visual culture that came together as sets of 24 slides. Original photography sets were often taken by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen alongside her own work – Fairground Arts alongside her photographs of The Hoppings, Modern Urban Housing Byker as the Byker Wall Estate went up, replacing the terraced streets she documented in her Byker photographs. A weekend in Leeds, Liverpool or Manchester could always be turned to advantage.
Why did it stop?
Lambton Visual Aids provided Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen’s ‘day job’ throughout the 1970s and the early 1980s – Almost all of her own photography at the time was developed on the side. With Channel 4 workshop funding in the early 80s and with the development of Side Gallery’s production funding, there was less of a need for day jobs. Members of the collective could concentrate more on the group’s own work and levels of production went up accordingly. Annie Robson joined the collective in the mid 1980s and took on running LVA, but the production of new slide sets stopped and then it was simply abandoned as a business. The 10,000 or so master slides were kept a filing cabinet and people often talked of doing something with them, but it wasn’t until Amber secured Heritage Lottery funding in 2014, that we could begin to plan opening up this beautiful celebration of visual culture as part of our digital access provision.