Photographing our collections

If you have visited the National Museum of Scotland recently you may have noticed that some of the galleries are closed to the public. This is due to the next stage of on-going redevelopment of the museum.

For the last five months, two thirds of the photography team have been based at Chambers Street as we remove objects from display in preparation for our project to create ten new galleries in the National Museum of Scotland. Of the many objects removed from the galleries over 20 weeks, around half needed to be photographed.

The photography team worked closely with project assistants Ann-Marie, Katherine and Kirsty, who delivered the objects to be photographed to us. It was a truly collaborative effort to deliver the project on schedule, from the project assistants, art handling technicians, the security team, and the curators to the photography team.

A.1921.44 - Cabinet of pine and oak with brass mounts, painted with pseudo-Chinese scenes on a red lacquer ground: English, c. 1685 – 1695.
A.1921.44 – Cabinet of pine and oak with brass mounts, painted with pseudo-Chinese scenes on a red lacquer ground: English, c. 1685 – 1695.

Many of the objects, such as this cabinet, were large and very heavy. We required the help of the art handling technicians Campbell, Colin, Joe, Paul and Zara to move the objects onto our photography sets and then position them to be photographed at the most appropriate angle.

There was a huge variety of objects that ranged from miniature Japanese Netsuke carvings:

A.1946.740 - Netsuke of carved wood, a monkey crouching with hands on head, signed: Japan, by Nansui.
A.1946.740 – Netsuke of carved wood, a monkey crouching with hands on head, signed: Japan, by Nansui.

To motorcars:

T.1990.28 - Morris Mini-Minor motor car, registration LS7717, blue with original black and grey seats and fleck trim, designed by Alex Issigonis, built 12th - 13th August 1959 at Cowley, England and registered in Galashiels, Scotland.
T.1990.28 – Morris Mini-Minor motor car, registration LS7717, blue with original black and grey seats and fleck trim, designed by Alex Issigonis, built 12th – 13th August 1959 at Cowley, England and registered in Galashiels, Scotland.

And everything in between.

M.1990.177.1 - Aluminium message container for carrier pigeons.
M.1990.177.1 – Aluminium message container for carrier pigeons.

The galleries were:

Looking East

A.1973.8 - Longpao (dragon robe) of blue and aubergine silk, with horse-hoof cuffs showing Manchu influence, part of a man's court outfit: China, Qing Dynasty, late 19th century AD.
A.1973.8 – Longpao (dragon robe) of blue and aubergine silk, with horse-hoof cuffs showing Manchu influence, part of a man’s court outfit: China, Qing Dynasty, late 19th century AD.

European Styles

A.1974.169 - Half-length statue of the prophet Elijah in gilded and painted wood: Spanish, possibly Valladolid, early 17th century.
A.1974.169 – Half-length statue of the prophet Elijah in gilded and painted wood: Spanish, possibly Valladolid, early 17th century.

Shaping Our World

D.2011.5 - Molecular model for adrenaline, Miramodus Ltd, Edinburgh, Scotland 2009.
D.2011.5 – Molecular model for adrenaline, Miramodus Ltd, Edinburgh, Scotland 2009.

Ancient Egypt

A.1951.346 - Statue head in fine green arkose of a king wearing the afnet headdress with uraeus, possibly Amenhotep II: Ancient Egyptian, 18th Dynasty.
A.1951.346 – Statue head in fine green arkose of a king wearing the afnet headdress with uraeus, possibly Amenhotep II: Ancient Egyptian, 18th Dynasty.

Ship Shape

T.1926.22 - Waterline model of the four-masted barque Star of India, with sails made of sheet steel, scale 1:96
T.1926.22 – Waterline model of the four-masted barque Star of India, with sails made of sheet steel, scale 1:96

The Sound of Music

T.1998.142 - Discassette DC70 portable 7 inch single and compact cassette player, powered by internal batteries or external transformer, by Discatron Ltd, member of the Rank Organisation, England, c. 1970.
T.1998.142 – Discassette DC70 portable 7 inch single and compact cassette player, powered by internal batteries or external transformer, by Discatron Ltd, member of the Rank Organisation, England, c. 1970.

Old Sports New Sports

T.1998.80 - Silver polo trophy or badge with marks of Cameron of Kilmarnock and J. Ramsay of Dundee, hallmarked Glasgow, 1904 - 1905, mounted on wood.
T.1998.80 – Silver polo trophy or badge with marks of Cameron of Kilmarnock and J. Ramsay of Dundee, hallmarked Glasgow, 1904 – 1905, mounted on wood.

Communicate

T.2003.168 - Telephone type 332 CB, green in colour, with cable and connector box.
T.2003.168 – Telephone type 332 CB, green in colour, with cable and connector box.

Art and Industry

A.1990.1299 - Figure of an ostrich with head between legs, of clear glass with yellow beak and white tail and wings: probably Italian, Venice, Murano, 1950s -1960s.
A.1990.1299 – Figure of an ostrich with head between legs, of clear glass with yellow beak and white tail and wings: probably Italian, Venice, Murano, 1950s -1960s.

Many of the objects presented specific technical challenges photographically. For example, how do you photograph a seven foot ancient Egyptian papyrus scroll and still be able to show the text and illustrations in great detail?

Egyptian papyrus scroll

Egyptian papyrus scroll

Egyptian papyrus scroll

Egyptian papyrus scroll

Egyptian papyrus scroll

If you were thinking photographing it in five sections and then using Photoshop to seamlessly stitch them together to create a two gigabyte file, you would be right. Working with World Cultures curator Margaret Maitland and assistant curator Ross Irving we were able to achieve this easily with minimal movement of a very fragile object.

Egyptian papyrus scroll

A.1956.314 - Funerary papyrus of Tabai, wife of Montsaf written in demotic and hieratic scripts on a roll of papyrus and illustrated with coloured vignettes: Ancient Egyptian, found by A.H. Rhind in the tomb of Montsaf at Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, Thebes, Roman Period, 30 BC-395 AD.
A.1956.314 – Funerary papyrus of Tabai, wife of Montsaf written in demotic and hieratic scripts on a roll of papyrus and illustrated with coloured vignettes: Ancient Egyptian, found by A.H. Rhind in the tomb of Montsaf at Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, Thebes, Roman Period, 30 BC-395 AD.

Working with the Senior Curator of East and Central Asia, Dr Rosina Buckland, we were able to photograph the Samurai swords from the Looking East gallery to make them look both beautiful and deadly.

A.1905.461 - Sword, with curved steel blade half double-edged and hilt of sharkskin-covered wood, and tsuba: Japan, 1828.
A.1905.461 – Sword, with curved steel blade half double-edged and hilt of sharkskin-covered wood, and tsuba: Japan, 1828.

Aside from using specific lighting for the hilt and the blade it was important for Rosina to be able to see the Hamon (tempering pattern) marking on the blade. The Hamon shows the style of sword making used to produce the blade and was sometimes used as signature or makers mark of the smith who made the sword.

A.1942.7 - Tachi or court sword, with curved pointed tempered single-edged steel blade, a ray skin hilt bound with silk cords, two gilt menuki, and a tsuba of dark alloy: Japan, 17th century.
A.1942.7 – Tachi or court sword, with curved pointed tempered single-edged steel blade, a ray skin hilt bound with silk cords, two gilt menuki, and a tsuba of dark alloy: Japan, 17th century.

Although the project was hard work it was also incredibly enjoyable working with members of all the different departments. It was particularly fascinating working with the various curators whilst taking the photographs as they were very generous with their knowledge so you felt that you were getting to know each object as you photographed it. Hopefully this shows in the images and will make these photographs an important resource while the objects are not on display and in the years to come.

Here are some of our favourites:

A.1885.135 - Canopic jar in white limestone, oviform in shape with a flat base: Ancient Egyptian, New Kingdom
A.1885.135 – Canopic jar in white limestone, oviform in shape with a flat base: Ancient Egyptian, New Kingdom
A.1083 – Detail of an Ivory tankard carved with 'The Lion Hunt', after Rubens, in high relief: German, mid-19th century.
A.1083 – Detail of an Ivory tankard carved with ‘The Lion Hunt’, after Rubens, in high relief: German, mid-19th century.
A.1873.27.2 - Tall goblet of opal glass with winged stem, flowers in relief and spirally ribbed bowl: Italian, Venetian, 19th century.
A.1873.27.2 – Tall goblet of opal glass with winged stem, flowers in relief and spirally ribbed bowl: Italian, Venetian, 19th century.
A.1990.1313 - Ornament in form of a plastic dome containing a display of pink plastic flowers and two birds,  one pink and one green, made in Hong Kong.
A.1990.1313 – Ornament in form of a plastic dome containing a display of pink plastic flowers and two birds,
one pink and one green, made in Hong Kong.
K.2009.328 – Detail of a Parian porcelain figure of a lady throwing knuckle bones, probably deriving from a Hellenistic marble 'Nymph with a shell' now in the Louvre, Paris: German, Saxony, Meissen, modelled by Christian Gottfried Jűchtzer, c. 1798.
K.2009.328 – Detail of a Parian porcelain figure of a lady throwing knuckle bones, probably deriving from a Hellenistic marble ‘Nymph with a shell’ now in the Louvre, Paris: German, Saxony, Meissen, modelled by Christian Gottfried Jűchtzer, c. 1798.

All of the images can soon be found on the Search Our Collections section of our website.

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