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University Libraries - News, Events & Exhibits

New Birch Collection sheds light on cameramen's lives

Mar 30, 2012 3:18 AM

A recent gift to University Libraries provides a significant addition to its Moving Image Research Collections (MIRC). The Harry and William Birch Collection focuses on the legacy of two generations of newsreel and television news cameramen: Harry Birch and his son Bill. Donated by Bill’s wife, Margie Fritz-Birch, the collection documents the professional and family lives of the Chicago-area cameramen, from 1915 to the present.

Comprised of more than 40 hours of motion picture film and video, photographs, paper records and equipment, the Birch Collection complements MIRC’s world-class newsreel and television news film. Highlights of the collection include 1933 films of the Chicago World’s Fair by Harry, early television news by Bill, a comprehensive scrapbook of Bill’s wartime service in the Signal Corps, and a 35mm silent camera used by Harry in the 1920s. The photograph at left shows Bill Birch on location.

“The University of South Carolina is an educational institution with a strong undergraduate focus, and the Birch Collection will be an enormous instructional resource,” said Greg Wilsbacher, MIRC’s newsfilm curator. “Many of the items, including the camera, will be used to show how films were made.”

The items came to the University through a years-long friendship between MIRC and Bill Birch and his wife Margie.

“Bill contacted us a number of years ago,” Wilsbacher said. “He had heard that we had some newsfilm that had been gathered by his father Harry. In fact, MIRC has more than 100 of his father’s nitrate films. Bill had never seen them, and asked if he could see one or two that may have survived the years. We made transfers of almost all of his dad’s films onto VHS. As they were ready, we would ship them to him so he could enjoy them.

“Bill had expressed a longstanding wish that the collection – films, ephemera, photographs and even the camera -- come to MIRC,” Wilsbacher said. “He died in November, and we are quite honored to be given the collection.”