There are many reasons to photograph our works of art, and there are many uses for the images produced. The main photographic projects here at The Wallace Collection revolve around the publication of our academic catalogues, and our current project is Oriental Arms and Armour. This collection has never really been photographed, but as it contains some of our most beautiful objects I have been looking forward to photographing it for years!
There are some amazing objects in our Oriental Armoury, but many of them are so small that you would be forgiven for walking straight past them. One of the best things about my job as Wallace Collection Photographer is getting to see these objects up-close, under powerful lights. It’s my job to create images that not only show works of art in their best light, but also show details that may otherwise go unseen.
Some of my favourite things to photograph are (unsurprisingly!) some the most impressive. Details are really taken to record interesting or unusual aspects of an object, but they can be used for many things. This tiny character is rather quirky, so we could use this image for advertising and merchandise. It would certainly make an impressive full page image in the future catalogue, but in addition to the less academic uses it is also useful for research as it is a clear depiction of the materials used to make it.
I take some details just to show the object off. Up-close you can really appreciate the time and skill it must have taken to make these objects.
Sometimes an object warrants a detail purely because it’s pretty! If you saw this dagger in the armoury you wouldn’t be able to clearly see the sides or interior of the hilt as it would be straight on. I fell in love with the little animals on it, so we have quite a few details!
It’s not unusual to find objects hidden within other objects. The pommel of this knife pops open to reveal a combined Ivory (folding) toothpick and ear wax scoop, along with a combined steel nail file and tweezers. Each part of a set is given its own part number (.1-4 in this case) so it’s important to know when an object has hidden parts!
There are hundreds of inscriptions on our Oriental Arms and Armour and it is extremely important to clearly photograph every one of them. Obviously inscriptions are an integral part of an object and are often quite beautiful, but clear pictures are required in order to be studied so that the text can be translated.
Some Objects even have dates on their inscriptions, which come in very handy as you can imagine!
Something else I keep an eye out for are stamps & marks. These are often so small that even my Macro lens struggles to get close enough, but it is important to photograph them. To most people these are nondescript indentations in the metal, but to an expert they’re French import marks. This kind of information is used to piece together the history of the object.
Above are the images of OA1409 that we have been using for years – scans from transparencies. This 16th century Dagger of a Mughal Prince is an important piece, and I’ve always been sad to see these old images representing it. I finally got my hands on it this year….
The most obvious difference here is the velvet scabbard. Unlike the old image which looks black, you can now see the velvet is green. Accurate colours are important when photographing works of art, particularly if the images are being used for research which is one of the many reasons it’s so important to re-photograph objects that have outdated images.
We finally have a collection of images that do this stunning dagger justice. To see more images of OA1409 you can visit our website here.
Photography projects require a huge amount of support from Conservation. Above is a pretty powder flask, photographed before our Metalwork conservator worked on it.
The difference is astonishing! I genuinely didn’t realise this was the same object until I saw the number. Cleaning Arms and Armour before Photography is an essential part of the process, as made clear in these images.
If you would like to keep up-to-date with photography at the Wallace Collection you can visit our Flickr site.