There are currently well over a quarter of a million images of V&A objects available online through Search the Collections, but the V&A Photographic Studio is always in demand to photograph more. The Photographers are kept very busy with a steady stream (at times perhaps more a ‘torrent’) of objects coming through their doors to be photographed for various exhibitions and publications. This photography happens alongside long-term projects aimed at fully documenting all of the collections.
With over 1,000 objects going into the Europe Galleries I needed to be sure that we will be making best use of the Photographers’ time and not risk flooding the studio with objects. This means I have to have a clear understanding of exactly which objects require new photography; when they will be ready; where they will be; and how they need to be photographed.
The first step in co-ordinating the photography programme for the new galleries was to record which of the objects require new photography. The initial basic question being:
Are there existing digital photographs of the object?
For some objects, like this wooden gingerbread mould, the only images we had were old black & white photographs in hard-copy folders.
Those without images obviously require new photography. For the others, I had to assess the quality of existing photographs and record any which had insufficient or out-of-date images.
I went through the images with Curators from each collection to identify any objects which needed additional photography. Being familiar with the objects was important as it meant that we knew if there were maker’s marks or additional details that weren’t currently recorded.
In other cases, existing images might show an object in a slightly confusing or deceptive manner – this can occur with particularly three-dimensional objects which can sometimes appear rather flat in older photographs. As mentioned in my previous post, our aim is to provide the most accurate visual representation of objects, as close as possible to the experience of seeing them in person.
Conservation work is a major element of our project and so a crucial question for all of the objects (regardless of existing photographs) was:
Will this object change in appearance following conservation work?
Our very obliging Conservators helped me to identify any objects whose appearance would change. This meant they would need to be re-photographed once Conservation work was complete. The two paintings below are a good reminder of how much conservation work can change the appearance of objects.
With many hundreds of our objects requiring new photography, it has been important to carefully plan when each object can be photographed and co-ordinate who may need to be involved for it to happen.
The objects need to be photographed before they are installed in the galleries but we need to have them ready in a timely fashion and avoid any last-minute rushes for the photo studio which might delay installation. We have worked to spread the photography of objects across as long a period of time as possible to avoid swamping the Photographic Studio with an unfeasible number of objects at one time and disrupting their work on other projects.
Many objects could only be photographed after many hours of conservation work were completed and so in the meantime we prioritised the photography of objects which didn’t require conservation.
Two other groups of objects that needed to be prioritised were:
- Objects that will feature in the new publication
This book is being produced to accompany the new galleries and features over 200 photographs of V&A objects. Achieving the early-July photography deadline was the result of some hard-work by the conservators and photographers.
- Objects required for interpretation visuals
This included objects being used to provide content for some of our interpretation features (such as interactives and facsimile books), which need to be prepared many months before installation.
It is important to be aware which individuals may need to be involved in the photography of an object and to ensure that they will be available when needed. Some objects may require curators, conservators or technicians to be on hand when they are photographed.
Particularly large, heavy or otherwise ‘awkward’ objects will require Technical Services to move them to the Photography Studio.
Some particularly delicate or complicated objects may require conservators to prepare them for the camera. An example of this is clothing which needs to be mounted on mannequins by Textile Conservators.
Curators may also need to be on-hand to guide on an object’s appearance. For example, if a group of objects are being photographed together, or if they require setting up in some way. This was the case for a number of photographs for the gallery publication as it was important for the image to fit both with the content of the text accompanying it and also the overall book layout.