Pairings

The Pairings Project undertaken with award-winning artist Dr Wendy McMurdo is one of the events to mark the 40th anniversary of the admission of women to Trinity. It includes contributions from those who live, work or study at the college and seeks to share, through photography and word, individual experiences of life at Trinity. The Pairings exhibition of photographs will be on display in Nevile’s Court Cloisters, beneath the Wren Library, between 4th and 25th August 2017. There will be another opportunity to view the exhibition in ante-chapel in the second half of October 2017. The contributions by four members of the Library staff are featured below.

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This is a photograph of the Library’s conservator at work. It is fascinating to see all of the different tools and methods used in this job. The conservator seems to work miracles in restoring books, bindings, manuscripts and scrolls to their full glory. The before and after views are often hard to believe. His work is hugely important in keeping the collections in usable condition and with the tens of thousands of books, manuscripts, and papers held in the Library he is never short of work.

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Keys are part of our everyday life. Most of us carry them around with us all the time. They can be symbolic of so many things: love, maturity, mystery, and understanding.

I have always liked keys, especially chunky ones with intricate decoration and a patina. Although they are familiar, prosaic objects they also have a sense of secrecy and potential. Where will they fit? What will they unlock? Who else has used them?

Of course, they are also about access and security. These four keys (themselves kept under lock and key) unlock the bays in the Wren Library which hold some of our most valued treasures. They are lovely to hold and give a satisfying clunk when you correctly engage them in the lock. Though these keys open areas and give access to manuscripts unseen by many, you always sense that someone has been there before you…

Will we still use keys in the future? I hope so.

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This is Zazel, the human cannonball. She found fame by being launched twice a day from a spring-loaded cannon.

She was one of several female acrobats of the nineteenth century whose commercial portraits were purchased by Trinity alumnus Arthur Munby. He was interested in what he described as ‘unbecoming’ women – miners, domestic servants, milkmaids – and acrobats.

I think what inspires me about these acrobats is not only the verve of the women but also the confidence they exude. In these portrait photographs they look directly at the camera and they are confident in their status as popular celebrities of the time, known in music halls throughout the country. They made a living in their own right and performed remarkable – and dangerous – feats.

Indeed, Zazel’s career did not last as in her final act as a human canon ball she landed badly and broke her back. This life of danger, admittedly one with celebrity and popular fame, brings her much closer to the women miners and is, for me, a constant reminder of how precarious were the lives of these extraordinary women.

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I find myself in this waiting room for books.

This vast building is needed to keep all the silence in.

Thousands of volumes stand in readiness on the shelves.

With infinite patience they wait to be taken down and opened.

Words to be seen, and not spoken. There are so many questions, answers and thought processes kept here being preserved and shared.

The quietest sounds are the loudest.

A ringing telephone is startling.

All my notes can be rubbed out. Ink is not permitted, my pencil is precious.

Navigate by letters and numbers. I sit in a bay where there are no boats, only books. I can’t see out, but the sun streams in lighting up the gold leaf, the brass fittings and the delicately carved fruit.

Watched over by the white marble men, I shiver in winter and simmer in the summer, but I can’t believe my luck to be spending my days in the great glass room of black and white squares and whispers.