One of the precious items in the UWI Museum is a film, released in 1953, that documents aspects of the life of the university, including many of its first students, staff members – even a dog!
The 22-minute film, one of the earliest colour films produced in the West Indies, provides a literal look back in time. But it has also been a potential source of even more information – names and stories hard to tag to specific scenes while pioneer students and staff point fingers at rapidly changing scenes. So the simple solution has been to print still images from the film and to engage alumni in annotating them.
That’s the simple premise of our February 2014 exhibition ‘Freeze Frame & Annotate: Engaging with images from UWI’s Past.’ The phrase ‘Freeze Frame’ works as descriptor and instruction. The timing is deliberate. Mid-February is Commemoration or Homecoming time at the University of the West Indies – especially the Mona Campus in Jamaica where on February 16, 1950, the first Chancellor of the then University College of the West Indies was installed, nearly two years after the first 33 students started classes there.
The film was made as an informational piece by the nascent Jamaica Film Unit, and sent out, but it faded and broke and all but disappeared. One of the first graduates and early Chemistry staffer Prof Ken Magnus credits an early medical student and UWI medicine staffer in Trinidad Dr Premchand Ratan with finding and rescuing an old copy, a copy of which found its way to the museum courtesy of UWI Mona Chemistry Prof Bob Lancashire.
So the frames that we have frozen show their age. They are nothing like as crisp as today’s digital marvels. Some, in fact, are almost impressionistic. But their content is as important as their character and as long as they are clear enough to be recognised, we feel that they will do the job.