New artefacts for old?
Something I’m regularly asked when people find I work in a museum is “how do museums get new objects”?. The answer probably is that it varies. Where there’s a collecting policy the process is transparent but otherwise an enigma inside a mystery.
On visiting the National Army Museum in Stockholm in early September 2017 I saw their exhibition dedicated to explaining this mystery.
How museums get new objects – the exhibition
The Army Museum’s exhibition was in their temporary exhibition space on the ground floor. I liked the focus on objects for visitors to reflect on and practical examples. Also the emphasis on who made decisions.
A key part of the exhibition was an infographic showing the path an object follows to join the collection. Unfortunately this was in a shadow so whilst legible in the museum didn’t photograph well. This was supported by another display explaining who makes the decisions.
This display was very honest about the influence of individuals and groups on collecting policy. It stated that in the museum’s early days former soldiers were making the decisions but now it’s mainly highly educated middle class people.
An object that didn’t get in
An example of new objects was based around items used by an officer in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Most items were conserved ready to go into the collection. One item was not and this was the shipping crate the officer had lived in. Why was it rejected? Because it wasn’t the actual container the officer used but one the shipping company sent. So a good example of an object being rejected because of a lack of direct association with the museum’s purpose and lacking heritage authenticity.
Terence Donovan retrospective in Soho
This 2016 exhibition is spread over two floors of the Photographers’ Gallery in London. My interest in Donovan’s work comes from his taking fashion out of the studio and into his East End. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of conventional fashion shots in the exhibition.
The exhibition includes studio, outdoor work, portraits and video. Something that really comes out is how Donovan was very much a man of his time whether commissions from Town magazine, photographing a young Julie Christie, musicians’ portraits in the 1990s or directing pop videos.
Seeing his studio day bookss give a reminder that he was earning a living from his work. The more bread and butter commissions recorded for Woman’s Own are a good example of this.
What made Donovan different?
One of a trio of working class photographers in the 1960s Donovan does stand out (David Bailey and Brian Duffy were the other two). I see him as different because he used photojournalism techniques with fashion. Whether on East End streets, power stations or shooting through a car window he took fashion photography out of the studio and safe landscape.
This technique is maybe taken too far though in his Spy series of photographs for Town magazine. Or perhaps time simply has made them lose the innovative look they had when published.
There’s an exhibition catalogue for anyone who missed the show.
Beyond the flowers
Like most people who’ve encountered O’Keeffe’s art its the flowers and sound based abstracts that stick in the mind. So it was great to see such a broad cross section of all her work from the bones to early charcoal work. And a visit to Tate Modern is always enjoyable.
In particular the New York landscapes were new to me and I liked the mix of views and times of day used. Having lived in a tower block in a city the high viewpoint of the city at night really struck a chord.
Stieglitz and photographs
Alfred Stieglitz’s photographs featured throughout the exhibition. This included personal photos, landscapes, the well known images of O’Keeffe. The photos added context to O’Keeffe’s life and works but also her relationship with someone who had a creative life in their own right. Seeing Stieglitz’s photos with O’Keeffe’s painting of the same viewpoint was really interesting. Not least because he used daylight whereas she had painted a night scene.
There was little in the way of ephemera in the exhibition but books and copies of Stieglitz’s journal Camera Club were on view. Also exhibited were some examples of his series of cloudscapes from the Equivalent series.
Better known now is Ansel Adams and his work appeared too. He travelled with O’Keeffe and shared a love of landscapes. I found it interesting seeing his large, very clear and more contemporary looking images compared to some of Stieglitz’s smaller and darker prints.
The 2015 exhibition
Saw the touring exhibition of last year’s competition in Bristol’s M Shed today. As ever much to admire, study and get inspired by. We also liked the fridge magnets.
The exhibition space at M Shed is great for photography. It’s got enough space for plenty of work to get shown without feeling squeezed. This includes space for stop motion and a slideshow of the public’s choice.
Not just wildlife but the natural world
Perhaps the use of the environment is greater in this exhibition or I maybe simply noticed it more. A lot of images have a clear context whether tiny weevils on a plant stem or an aerial shot of small flamingoes.
Some parts of the competition are focussed (had to get that in somewhere) on the environment itself. I liked this and found the mix of small and large scale approaches kept it interesting.
The world is changing
The effects of climate change, politics and economics all feature. This added a depth to the exhibition for me as a reminder of mankind being able to influence nature.
There were some clear themes from previous years and nature photography in general. All were beautifully executed and in no way disappointing.
Some were visual as with the blue sea and shark combination or using sand dunes. More interesting for me were descriptions of how photographers achieved shots. These included using simple patience, bait of various kinds, testing their stamina in adverse conditions or simply taking lots of shots before achieving what they wanted.
Enter for 2016?
Well the familiar scenes of foxes and other found shots are encouraging but the standard is very high. I’m pondering it which is a good excuse. If you’re tempted have a go!