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Photography on a Large Scale

One of the aims of the Collections People Stories project is to properly image and accurately document a much larger part of our Anthropology collections than has ever been done before. While most of our objects are fairly small, the size of some objects offer some extra challenges.

In June 2014, I started planning for the “Long Object Photography” Project, which was about photographing very long objects from our Anthropology collection as part of the Collection People Stories Project that had been running since June 2012.

The objects to be photographed by me and reviewed by the CPS teams were mainly canoes, some of them up to 7.5metres long. Some of these object had no record shots or if they had they were not good enough for a documentation point of view.

The main issue was space: where to photograph such long objects? Our studio space wouldn’t be big enough so my first idea was to photograph them outside but in order to do so we would need to build a marquee to protect the objects from the environment.

After a lot of discussions and visits from specialist art movers we realised that the biggest canoe would only come out of its storage if the entire shelf surrounding it came apart and for that to happen we would need to make a lot of space beforehand, breaking down other shelves around it.

Once this was agreed, I then reassessed the area and came up with an indoors solution for the photography set up, which not only would allow the objects to be in a safer environment but also meant we would spend much less on hiring the marquee. This new solution meant that all the electric cables and wires attached to the photographic equipment would be hanging from the ceiling, meaning a much safer working condition for all the staff needed to make this project happen.

On 24th November, the specialist art movers arrived and started breaking down Hall 1 at SCC – the Horniman Museum storage area where the canoes are located – and leaving the canoes ready for the conservators to clean them.

On the 5th December we started the photography – which was like being in a film set, with lots of people around where each had their own role and just had to be waiting to get in action when needed. By the end of the week we had managed to photograph and review the objects and on the following week the art movers put everything back in place.

I also made a time-lapse of the whole process, so you can have a taste of how it all worked out. A bit of a behind the scene!

 You can find out more about our behind the scenes work at our event Secret Late.