Photographing objects for Collections Online

By marketing on 29 Jun 2012

Digitisation Coordinator, Sarah Fairhurst, explains how and why thousands of objects are being photographed for the Museum’s Collections Online project. Find out more below…

If you were in the Museum of London this week you may have noticed that a photography studio had sprung up inside the Victorian Walk. As part of our Collections Online project we were taking new photographs of the objects in the Bank Manager’s and Bank Clerk’s offices so the records can go online later in the year.

Last year our photographers took over 15,000 new photographs for the project and many of these are available to view online today. As Digitisation Coordinator it is my job to organise the huge task of photographing every object that needs an image for Collections Online.

Our Museum curators each choose up to 1000 items to put on Collections Online and these are grouped into different themes such as Bassano Fashion Photography or London and the Olympic Games. I check each group to see if it has been photographed before and if not I mark it for photography. Each new group of objects to be photographed is assessed by our conservators to see if any work or cleaning is needed to make them look good for the cameras.

The photography of the collection usually involves curators bringing their objects to the photography studio on their selected day in the timetable. The photographers and I usually look after the sessions on our own but occasionally a curator may stay to help out. The photographers choose the best set-up for the objects to be photographed, using table tops for smaller items such as prints and books and the whole studio for mannequins and mantraps!

The photographers shoot tethered straight into a laptop so we can see the image straight away. I record what is photographed and number the images with their accession numbers. The number of photographs taken each session can vary but we can photograph up to 200 prints in one day!

Sometimes photography has to take place outside of the studio and move to stores or the galleries themselves. Costume is one of the more difficult collections to shoot in the studio as more space can be needed for the mannequins. Last year a lot of photography was carried out in the costume store. Here you can see one of our costume curators Hilary Davidson preparing a dress for photography.

You can see the finished image here.
Photographing costume can involve several pairs of hands and the use of wires and props. Earlier this year we photographed a corset group in the costume store and, as you can see below, it involved senior curator Beatrice Behlen, textile conservator Janet Wood and Jo Garrard holding wires on the corset so that the straps were lifted to their correct position.

Photography also has to take place in the galleries as it is difficult to move objects out of displays. We chose to photograph the Bank Manager’s and Bank Clerk’s offices in the Victorian Walk because they were easy for us to cordon off and set up our studio.

The photographers had to get right inside the room settings in order to take some shots. Here you can see one of our photographers, John Chase, photographing a walking cane and a letter tray inside the Bank Manager’s office. Later in the summer we will be photographing the Toy Shop in the Victorian Walk and hope to eventually photograph the rest of the rooms next year.

Our photography timetable runs until March 2013 and we have almost 8,000 objects to photograph within this time. Future photography includes items such as medieval pilgrim souvenirs, the War Plague and Fire Gallery, utility wartime clothing and artificial flower making equipment and materials! In the meantime you can visit our Collections Online site to see what we have photographed so far.