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Commercial Photography students archive collections at The Box

Students from BA (Hons) Commercial Photography for Fashion, Advertising and Editorial have recently completed an exciting collaboration with expert curators from The Box, Plymouth to photograph items from the collections of the £40+ million cultural development which is set to open in spring 2020.

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Guided by Curator of Art, Terah Walkup and Media Archivist, Stacey Anderson, the students were invited to a number of offsite locations to photograph over 200 museum and archival objects, resulting in the creation of more than 400 new high-resolution images. Many of them will be used in the Box’s graphic interpretation and interactive digital displays.

Many of the objects had never been photographed before and included archaeological finds, historic books, prints, paintings, ceramics, costumes, photographs, archival documents, cameras and film equipment.

Due to the challenging nature of some of the pieces, the commercial photography students had to be flexible and creative in setting up cameras, tripods and lights. Some of the objects couldn’t be physically handled or were tricky to photograph, such as artworks behind glass.

One student commented on the difficult nature of some of the objects: “One parchment was particularly challenging because it was folded and couldn’t be forced open. We had to slowly unfold the deed, as it would get damaged if handled too quickly. Every ten minutes, we would unfold it slightly more and weigh it down using archival weights.”

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Curator of Art Terah Walkup said: “I looked forward to seeing the students each day and enjoyed their enthusiasm. They were able to capture highly detailed images of our rare books collection, which are challenging to photograph. Quality photography of collections is very important. Not only does it document an object for research and posterity, but a truly beautiful image also captures the spirit of an artwork. The students are now a part of those objects’ stories, in addition to how visitors engage with and encounter our collections.”

Alice Conway, one of the students who took part in the project last year said: “I’d never really looked into museum photography before, so working with The Box was an amazing opportunity to inform this period of my studies. Some of the artefacts were difficult to work with, but despite this technical challenge, myself and the team were always ready to make adjustments. Through this, I was able to find an aspect of photography that I really enjoy, expanding my photographic knowledge and experience.”

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Subject Leader & Senior Lecturer Tim Gundry, said: “The collaboration with The Box has been a fantastic opportunity for our students. Guided by their curatorial team, the students were able to apply their skills in an exciting and culturally significant live project, providing them with invaluable professional experience. This is a highly specialised area of photography, requiring sophisticated skills in lighting, colour management and digital workflow, and the skills that the students have developed will become invaluable to them in their careers.”

“The project also provided an exciting opportunity for collaboration between our undergraduate and postgraduate students. Last year one of our MA Photography students, Nick Matthews, was exploring conservation and archival photography as part of his degree study and documented the conservation and restoration of the Royal Naval figureheads. We’re delighted to have played a part in this project with The Box and can’t wait to see how our student’s work will be used to encourage public engagement with the collections.”

The Box will be the biggest cultural and heritage centre in the South West and is also set to be the largest museum and art gallery space opening in the UK in 2020.

Article by Naomi Girdler, Plymouth College of Art

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