Meet our volunteers… Celia and Erva

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It’s Volunteers’ Week in the UK this week and we wanted to take this opportunity to celebrate our fantastic Digitisation Volunteers. Every day this week we will be sharing their stories and thoughts in our Meet our volunteers series – we hope you enjoy meeting them!

Why I volunteer…

Celia: I enjoy keeping busy and helping out. This was a project I thought worth supporting. 

Erva: By volunteering, I contribute to both myself and other people around me. I focus on what brings me joy and what I can do to make a difference in other people’s lives, and as a result of that, I feel happiness in my own life. Also, different projects enable me to gain a new perspective and take stock of what I like, what I don’t.

I love to create. I’m passionate about editing and making it fun. My dream is to inspire others through my art (esp. photographs and films!). Time goes by in the blink of an eye, and I want to capture every moment. When it comes to the digitisation project, it allows me to deal with photographs and a variety of collections. That’s why I know what works for me. I become happier when I come across street and portrait photos.

What I enjoy most about volunteering…

Celia: I feel privileged to be a part of this project and to work with the amazing works in the library. The very positive and welcoming behaviour that volunteers get from all members of the Courtauld staff has been the unexpected bonus. You can most often find me in the camera room, taking photographs of the illustrations and photographs.

Celia and Erva can often by found in the camera vaults! Photo by Erva Akin.

Erva: The building and the environment of the Courtauld itself are very quiet and silent. I like the way we focus and dedicate time to our tasks with such commitment. I like the volunteer managers’ efforts to make us comfortable (biscuits and tea are great!). I remember many times staff encouraging us volunteers to take a break, I really appreciate that.

A favourite photo or moment?

Celia: Among many others, I really enjoyed the photos of church ruins in Turkey, for instance in box 3844, and early 20th century German architecture in box 4367. I love the way the ruins of many Turkish churches often appear to be one with the rocks that surround them. As with so many of the images I have photographed at the Courtauld, I often feel compelled to research them further, not content solely to digitise them.

When I taught Humanities courses in Norwalk High School, Connecticut, over four decades ago, I often spoke of these landscapes and histories. When relevant, I sometimes showed photographs I had taken on my travels. The Courtauld’s Digitisation Project often allows me to revisit or see for the first time, important and beautiful sites.

Celia enjoys photographs of ruins, for instance, this one, CON_B03844_F004_011. The Conway Library.

Erva: I don’t remember the box number, however, I really liked the Syrian woman portrait displaying in Hermitage Museum, Russia.

One of Erva’s favourite images: a sculpture of a “Syrian Woman”.

What do you do when not volunteering?

Celia: I am a Team London Ambassador, one of thousands of volunteers linked to the Office of the Mayor of London. I am a member of the Older People’s Advisory Group (OPAG) of Age UK Camden and participate in many of the age and or disability-related meetings and conferences in London. I love to walk and take photographs wherever possible.

Erva: I moved to the UK and I have been living in London for 8 months since September to study abroad. I am a law master student at Istanbul University, however, I hope to study filmmaking in the upcoming years in London. Since moving to London, I have participated in many volunteer activities such as London Short Film Festival (volunteer photographer) and Charing Cross Library (leading the English speaking club) while I am working on my LLM thesis. I like photographing and filming. I took an introductory documentary filmmaking course at UCL.

What would you say to someone who wasn’t sure whether volunteering is for them?

Celia: As I seem to espouse to everyone, even people I meet in the cinema, this project is a lovely mixture of art and technology. Anyone who wants to look at amazing photographs and illustrations, or learn more about cataloguing, processing, or digitisation will find something to interest them. 

Erva: Volunteering at the Courtauld involves learning the technical and theoretical details of digital visual products which I focus on the intellectual property law side during my LLM at the university. Through these activities at the Courtauld, I am trying to build an interdisciplinary approach to the field. I would say “if you value art and photography and you want to feed your sense of beauty with aesthetically beautiful pieces of art, that’s the perfect place for you!”.

Volunteering during lockdown

Celia: I have done only a bit of volunteering for the Courtauld during the lockdowns. I have researched a couple of photographers for Courtauld-related Wikipedia pages, and recorded a few audio versions of Courtauld blogs.
As a Team London volunteer I distributed face coverings at Euston and King’s Cross St Pancras Underground stations on four days in June. The Older People’s Advisory Group has continued to meet via Zoom and telephone every month, and I and other members have taken turns writing newsletters to maintain contact. I have continued to try to represent older and disabled people in virtual meetings with TFL, Positive Ageing in London, and other groups.

Erva: I lose track of time in the time of coronavirus, so working on lots of different things at the same time is really difficult. Still, I find doing a little volunteering helps my mental wellbeing.


Celia with her ‘covid warrior’ outfit during the lockdown.

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