A visit from Art UK: Photographing the sculpture collections

In his latest blog Adi talks about helping with a recent visit from Art UK. Adi is working with the museums on a year long internship with the Next Step Initiative.artukArt UK boasts a staggering collection of 200,000 artworks on its website; works that belong to museums across all corners of…*Sigh* Do I even have to say it?…The UK! Where else? As a matter of fact, Art U.K’s collection goes beyond obvious cultural venues; having photographed artifacts in universities, town halls, hospitals and even a lighthouse! So, it was only a matter of time until Art UK contacted the City Art Centre about expanding its online catalogue even further, with hopes of achieving their greatest feat yet: amassing a nationwide collection of sculptures, from all British museums, over the past one thousand years!

Art UK had an initial target of 170,000 pieces, which would be updated consistently from this year onwards. The City Art Centre was eager to chip in a few stones here and there, but not all 170,000, of course. A modest 60, rather. Nonetheless, it was an absolute trek and a half for our brave technicians, Denny Hunter and Paul Carnie, as they carefully carted and carried many of our sculptures -either one by one or in groups- up and down from the City Art Centre’s Picture Store.

A few tables and benches were carefully set up in Gallery 4 to accommodate the sculptures. However, heavier items, such as the marble busts, had to be mounted on plinths: strong, sturdy white platforms.

Helen Scott, a curator on the project, explained to me that the weight of these busts may be too much for the tables and that, by putting them on the plinths, we could ensure that they were immediately presentable for photography, without having to move them around all the time.

As mentioned before, I myself, unlike the technicians, did not possess the brute strength and training needed to carry these sculptures. However, I still managed to contribute to the care and conservation of these items in a way that already suited my delicate sensibilities.

For starters, I had to carefully dust off the sculptures one by one; essentially, a basic beauty treatment but a scientific one at that. Dust particles are known to be very sharp. Therefore, if left on an item for too long, they can become ingrained onto the surface and cause a significant amount of discoloring. I was also taught by Helen to replace old string labels with cotton tape ones and then tie them around the sculptures. This was to prevent the string from cutting into and chafing their surfaces. I was really glad to have done this as it not only opened me up to a variety of different conservation techniques but also raised my awareness of the many environmental threats that museum objects encounter on a daily basis.

Once Art U.K’s photographer, Jessie Maucor, and coordinator, Rhona Taylor, stepped onto the scene, our collection of busts, bronzes and abstract figures were ready for their close-ups. A large table was set up in the middle of the room for principal photography.

A long paper backdrop had been laid out onto the table and was hung up on a stand. I understood this creative decision immediately, as I knew that this neutral white background would perfectly concentrate all of the intrigue and focus onto the beauty of the objects themselves.

Rhona, with gloved hands, would carefully position the objects as Jessie took photos of them from several different angles, on and off of her tripod. Watching her process as a photographer was truly captivating and the experience of doing so endowed me with a whole new respect for the craft. Throughout the entire shoot, each item was processed with the utmost patience and care. I watched Jessie constantly adjust the lights, switch lenses and carefully consider frame rate and composition. As creative an art as photography may be, there are several technical aspects that one has to keep in mind on top of simply ‘getting the right shot’. It doesn’t matter what you’re taking a photo of, who you’re taking a photo of or how fancy your equipment is. A photo of a damp park bench taken on a Huawei smart phone could turn out much better than a photo of Brad Pitt hiding under a park bench from an oncoming hoard of UFOs, taken on Panasonic Lumia GH5S, if the photographer can make the most of the features available on their equipment- regardless of how many there may be.

I hoped to achieve this myself when I was taking pictures of the photographic process for social media. This was to let Joe Public know that our very own collection making history or, at the very least, accounting for the last 1000 years of it.

Looking back on my coverage of the event now, I can’t help but comment on how Meta the whole process was. Photos of a photographer taking photos. That’s like making a short film about the behind the scenes documentary of a film.

All that aside, I’m proud to have had a role in fleshing out the history of great British art. Furthermore, as a proud British citizen, I hope, with the best of intentions, that this growing catalogue of artifacts will entice art enthusiasts from all around the world to come and experience these items, first hand, in the best galleries that the UK has to offer.

About edinburghmuseumsoutreach

I'm the Outreach & Access Manager at Edinburgh Museums & Galleries (the museums service of the City of Edinburgh Council). I take the museums out to community groups and schools. I really enjoy meeting lots of people of different ages and backgrounds and helping them connect with our collections. I love showing people some of the amazing objects that we hold and I like helping them to remember the past or to create something amazing.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s