‘A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words’ Part III

To make sure that things run as smoothly as possible in the Photographic Studio, we need to clearly specify what shots need to be taken of each object. This means that the photographers are comfortable with what they need to capture and can just ‘get on’ with what they do best. It also means that they can have a fair idea of how much time they may need to spend on an object – it may take just a few minutes to photograph a simple 2d print, but perhaps a day or more for some large pieces of furniture. Whilst it would be marvelous to have hundreds of details of every single object, there is a limit to how much time the photographers can spend on each object. There is also a limit to the digital storage for the extra millions of images. We therefore need to carefully consider the photography of each object. For each object we initially needed to decide on what basic shots were crucial to record its appearance and give a sense of it as a physical piece. Some objects, such as prints, may only require one single shot.

'L'académie des Sciences et des Arts dédiée au Roy', print, after Sebastien Le  Clerc, made by Charles-Nicolas Cochin, Paris, 1698-1715 V&A 26912

‘L’académie des Sciences et des Arts dédiée au Roy’, print, after Sebastien Le Clerc, made by Charles-Nicolas Cochin, Paris, 1698-1715 V&A 26912

All of the photographs are taken at an extremely high resolution, meaning that it is possible to zoom right in to examine all the details, such as in this rather busy print depicting L’académie des Sciences et des Arts.

Can you spot the armadillo in the picture above?

Can you spot the armadillo in the picture above?

For 3-dimensional objects it may be necessary to include a shot taken at an angle to clearly convey their 3-dimensional form.

A pair of silver-gilt perfume flasks with foliate decoration, with the marks of Geneviève Cabarin, widow of Pierre Danet and of Jean Leroy, Paris, around 1672 V&A 806toC-1892

A pair of silver-gilt perfume flasks with foliate decoration, with the marks of Geneviève Cabarin, widow of Pierre Danet and of Jean Leroy, Paris, around 1672. V&A 806toC-1892

For those with movable parts, this may mean taking multiple shots demonstrating how they move.

This mid-17th century watch, with its enamelled gold case and movement by Jacques Huon, required a number of shots to convey its facets. V&A 7715&A-1862

This mid-17th century watch, with its enamelled gold case and movement by Jacques Huon, required a number of shots to convey its different facets. V&A 7715&A-1862

watches We then needed to identify any particular parts or details of an object that should be recorded. These may relate to the person who designed or made the object, how it was constructed, how it was used or who owned it etc. These detail shots were noted following discussions with Collections Curators, Project Curators and Conservators – each of whom will be familiar with an object in a different manner. It is particularly important to consider which aspects of an object may not be clearly visible once it is on display. Details to record may include:

  • The reverse (back) of an object
  • Makers’ marks
  • Signatures
  • Inscriptions
  • Customs stamps
  • Mechanisms
  • Internal views of objects which will be displayed closed
  • Interesting or unusual elements of decorative designs

Having clear visual records of features such as these can be immensely helpful for individuals researching objects in the future.

Shot showing the back of an unfinished panel of needlework. It was partially embroidered with wool and silk threads,  in tent stitch, on linen canvas, France (probably), ca.1720-50 V&A T.131-2012

Shot showing the back of an unfinished panel of needlework. It was partially embroidered with wool and silk threads, in tent stitch, on linen canvas, France (probably), ca.1720-50 V&A T.131-2012

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A detail of the underside of a saucer painted with coloured enamels, showing the signature of Jean-Pierre Huaut (1655-1723) and his brother Ami (1657-1724). V&A 957&A-1882

The maker's signature (Lazarino Cominazzo) engraved on the barrel of a mid-17th century carbine gun. V&A M.620-1927

The maker’s signature (Lazarino Cominazzo) engraved on the barrel of a mid-17th century carbine gun. V&A M.620-1927

A detail of the gun's lock mechanism.

A detail of the gun’s lock mechanism.

The same gun also has this 'B 28' marked on the butt.

The same gun also has this ‘B 28′ marked on the butt.

And some interesting decorative metalwork on the end of the butt.

And some interesting decorative metalwork on the end of the butt!

An 1813 lead customs seal attached to the corner of a silk furnishing fabric, woven by Jean Pierre Mazer, Stockholm, 1813.

An 1813 lead customs seal attached to the corner of a silk furnishing fabric, woven by Jean Pierre Mazer, Stockholm, 1813. V&A T.32-1988

The inside of our mid-18th century 'Augustus Rex' writing cabinet V&A W.63-1977

The inside of our mid-18th century ‘Augustus Rex’ writing cabinet, which needs to be displayed closed V&A W.63-1977

The inside of one of the many drawers from an imposing 1716 writing cabinet. Made in Würzburg by Jacob Arend of  Koblenz and Johannes Wittalm of Vienna, working for Servatius Arend, the court  cabinet-maker in Würzburg. V&A W.23-1975

The decorated inside of a drawer from an imposing writing cabinet made by Jacob Arend of Koblenz and Johannes Wittalm of Vienna, working for Servatius Arend, the court cabinet-maker in Würzburg, 1716. V&A W.23-1975

When a lot of detail shots are required (or ones which are difficult to clearly describe in writing) it is preferable for curators to visit the photography studio to discuss them directly with the photographer.

One of the Curators and Assistant Educator discussing which detail shots should be taken of the rather large and busy 'Ommegang' painting.  © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Liz (one of the Europe Curators) and Nadine (Assistant Educator) discussing which detail shots should be taken of the rather large and busy ‘Ommegang’ painting. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Detail from ‘Triumph of Archduchess Isabella in the Brussels Ommegang of Sunday, 31st May 1615’, oil on canvas, Denys van Alsloot, Southern Netherlands, now Belgium (Brussels), 1616 V&A 5928-1859 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

One of the details they selected © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Textiles Curator Clare and photographer Jaron in the midst of photographing details of the ‘Winter’ tapestry © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Reviewing the details taken so far © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Some objects may belong to a larger set or grouping which should also be photographed together in a manner that indicates or evokes how they would have been used or displayed. The guidance of curators is essential to successfully composing these shots.

The pieces that make up this 1761 Sèvres tea service have been photographed individually and also together in these groupings, suggestive of their use.

The pieces that make up this 1761 Sèvres tea service have been photographed individually and also in these groupings to suggest how they would have been used together.

Some objects provide particular challenges when attempting to capture their physical qualities and some creative thinking needs to be employed as to how to show them to best advantage when being photographed. The Polish sash shown below is a good example of a challenging object.

polish sash

Sash woven in silk and metal threads in a compound weave, woven by Francis Maslowski, Kraków, 1786-1806 V&A T.98-1968

In 18th-century Poland, sabre and sash were the most essential elements of a nobleman’s attire. The sash was worn around the waist, covering the sword/sabre belt. The wearing of the sash in the Polish way involved folding the sash along its length before winding it round the waist. Our sash is over 5 meters long and 38 cm wide! It was woven with a double-sided pattern and when worn could be folded to display any of the four possible colour-ways that were produced.

scarf1

The front and reverse of one end of the sash. If you look at the line of pattern at the top of the image, you can make out the four different colour-ways.

To photograph all 5 meters of it simply laid out completely flat would result in a lack-lustre image that would not indicate the four different colour-ways, nor give any suggestion as to how the sash would have been worn. An alternative would have been to wrap the sash around a mannequin in an approximation of how it would have been worn in the 18th century, but this wasn’t possible as it would have risked damaging the object. As a solution to this, Clare (Textile Curator) and some of our Textile Conservators came up with the following methods of laying out the sash, in order to clearly show both the decorative design and the different colours-ways and to provide a suggestion of the shape the sash would have formed against the body. scarf2 scarf3

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