Photography Student, Fern Denyer shares her experience volunteering at the Study Collection Centre and assisting with the recording of the Brain Collection Archives.
Recently I completed a three-month placement at the Horniman’s Study Collection Centre (SCC), where I assisted with acquisitions and archives from the Brain Collection. Acquisitions are objects acquired by the Museum from donations. I helped with objects and archives from 1953 that were collected in Sudan and Nigeria.
Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp, Deputy Keeper of Anthropology, and Carly Randall, Archivist, organised my 12-week student placement which included accessioning, a way of recording new additions to collections and scanning an archive of 35mm photographic slides. I also assisted Sarah Duncan, the Horniman’s Photographer, with photographing and retouching the objects. Later in the programme I gained a unique insight into how Museum acquisitions are managed and the procedures involved at an Acquisitions and Disposals Committee Meeting.
The Brain Collection archive is made up of hundreds of photographic slides, each of which needed to be scanned and uploaded onto the Collections Database: a system called MIMSY.
I described and recorded each scan carefully, giving each one its own unique collection number. With guidance from Johanna, I also gave each slide a rough estimation of what had been shot and its location.
As well as archive material, there were lots of objects in the collection that needed to be labelled. Working with Rosamund West, Documentation Officer, I learned how to handle objects appropriately and record their measurements.
Rosamund also showed me how to label the objects using both ink and other materials. I used ink and varnish to mark the objects with collection numbers (it required a very steady hand!).
As a photography student, it was insightful to see how the Photographer Sarah worked in the studio. Sarah was encouraging and allowed me to shoot some images in the collection.
Getting hands-on experience with museum photography really helped to improve my confidence. I really enjoyed working in the studio and seeing what decisions Sarah made to get the best possible photographs of the objects. She showed me the process of editing images post-production and a layering image technique which ensures the entire object is in focus.
During this volunteering opportunity, I saw different aspects of how a collection is prepared and how museum stores are organised. I also gained knowledge about how an archive is appropriately managed.
Overall I have really appreciated my student placement experience and learned so many skills. I saw the progression of the Brain Collection as a project and assisted at each stage. I now also feel much more confident photographing in a studio setting.