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Online Collections in Close Up

If you’ve been looking at our online collections recently, you might have noticed a 'Zoom' button in the top right of some of the images.

We have added new, larger images to our online collections and, if you press the button, you will be able to zoom in to really see our objects up close.

Once you've opened a zoomable image, you can move closer either by using the buttons at the bottom right, or scrolling with your mouse wheel.

At the moment, about 14,400 of our 23,400 online objects should have at least one zoomable image – and we’ll keep adding more, although processing so many large pictures into the necessary format can take some time.

The pictures really show off the skill of our photographer, Dani Tagen, and how well she's taught our Collections People Stories review teams.

None of them would have claimed to be expert photographers when they started work on the objects 17 months ago. In fact, Dani gave a paper on how she’s trained the review teams at the Association for Historical and Fine Art Photography conference last year, and several other museums were so impressed they have asked her to show them how she does it.

To whet your appetite, here are some examples of the level of detail you can see in the zoomed images:

Museum Documentation

Documentation Manager Rupert introduces us to #MuseumDocumentation and the important role it plays at the Horniman.

Documentation is one of the less visible aspects of what we do at the Horniman.

In museums, 'documentation' has quite a specific meaning: looking after the information about our objects (some of which finds its way online), and making sure that we can account properly for them – being able to say what we own and where it is, and making sure that nothing happens to the collections without being properly considered and authorised.

Without that information, our objects are effectively meaningless: we need to know what they are, where they came from and when, how they're used, who made them, and so on, before we can understand them.

So documentation is fundamental to everything we do, but few people realise how vital it is and how much of it goes on behind the scenes (for example, large parts of our projects Collections People Stories and Bioblitz are about finding out and recording more about the objects).

This was brought home to me before Christmas, on a visit to the National Maritime Museum, where I saw a collecting box asking people to choose to contribute either to education or to conservation work – but not to documentation, which so often seems to be invisible.

  • Collections Assistant Laura Cronin at work reconciling one of our mummies with its paperwork, Photo by Helen Merrett
    , Photo by Helen Merrett

So to try and raise its profile, I've encouraged my fellow documentalists (yes, that is what we seem to call ourselves) to tweet about they're doing, and why it's important, using the hashtag #MuseumDocumentation:

Tweets about "#MuseumDocumentation"

I also started a thread in the Collections Management group on LinkedIn, asking for people's suggestions for bite-sized definitions of why documentation is important. The discussion showed that opinion was divided between those of us who, like me, think we should try and raise the profile of documentation, and those who think we should just focus on the end results.

I’d be interested to hear what you think:

  • Would you be interested in hearing more about the documentation work we do, and why we do it?
  • Would you like to find out about our documentation work during activities like visits to our stores or exhibitions?
  • And of course, would you put money in the slot marked ‘documentation’ in a museum collecting box?

Let us know your answers in the comments or on Twitter with the hashtag #MuseumDocumentation.

Instrumental Photoshoots

Preparations are under way for the Horniman's new At Home With Music display to be added to the Music Gallery.

Moving some of the larger keyboard instruments into place offered the perfect opportunity to photograph each object to documentation standards. Horniman photographer Dani set up her studio in the performance space at the back of the music gallery and set to work.

Some instruments, such as this square piano had some special attention from the conservation team to get them looking their best for their photoshoot and new life on display.

Photographs taken for museum documentation purposes have strict quality guidelines. Each shot is examined closely to see it meets standards.

Sometimes getting just the right light in just the right places requires a bit of teamwork (and a large piece of Tyvek).

It's important to make sure the background is completely clear of even the tiniest specks.

Some of these instruments were extremely heavy and required specialist handling to get them in and out of the studio without damage.

It's not just a case of taking one shot; Dani takes multiple frames and later stitches them together to get the most detailed and true-to-life image. It's a lot of hard work, but the end result is a beautiful set of photographs showing each instrument from multiple angles.

Including some close-ups of the details.

And even some shots of the inner-workings.

These images will go into our object and image databases and will be available to anyone wishing to study the instruments in the future, as well as providing a valuable resource to the museum.

At Home With Music will be open from the end of Janurary 2014. Be sure to visit the Music Gallery and see some of these amazing instruments for yourself.

A Day in the Life of the CPS Team


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