Horniman Museum: Collections People Stories: Meet the Team

Recently I did some filming for a “Behind the Scenes” look at the Horniman‘s Collection People Stories project.

I was keen to do this as the project is very large and we have heard several times at events we were filming just how many people were working on the project but I think it can be difficult to grasp who they are and what they are doing, as well as to some extent why they are doing it from a distance. So we got up close but not too personal.

I was welcomed to the Museum’s store which is where all the objects not on display are held. As you walk in it feels quite cramped as the ceilings are fairly low in the stairwell and leading into the staffroom. I arrived in time to sit on (and film clips of) a catch up meeting for people involved in the project. This was very interesting as it let me get a bit of an insight into how they worked, communicated and kept links with the Forest Hill site where the curators etc are based.

When I was taken into the stores it was a very different environment to the offices and galleries in Forest Hill. There were cases for mummies, buddha statues and boxes beyond boxes of objects in large halls. Off the main halls were rooms with Victorian cabinet cases in them. In the middle of one of the halls a special office and photography studio had been set up and this was where I began my main filming.

Cases and cabinets and drawers...
Cases and cabinets and drawers…

I interview Kirsten Walker, Director of Collections Management & Special Projects, who is overseeing the whole project with Dr Sarah Byrne who appears in several of the CPS videos. She gave me an overview and then let me talk to (a different) Sarah and Rachel who were part of one team doing, what they called, The Physical Review.

The Physical Review, in many ways, could be seen as quite mundane and repetitive as they have to go through many boxes each day and review: look at, check and photograph many objects. Luckily these guys are precise, love objects and are working with a fascinating collection. I was only there briefly and saw a range of Hindu amulets and figures that were gorgeous but I wasn’t allowed to touch them as I didn’t have gloves on.

It is also these guys who are often responsible for many of the objects found on the very popular blog the review has on Tumblr. Do take a look!

Then I spoke to the Project Photographer, Dani, who explained all the various kinds of photography the project involves, she showed off her whizz Photoshop skills and I was fascinated watching her climb up and down the huge trolley which she has set up, surrounded by boxes of artifacts, to photograph large objects from above.

I filmed a conservator repairing a broken boar’s tusk charm, documentation managers and the collection manager, who I managed to track down and interview in the Armour store. While I was there I got some quick snaps of a Suit of Armour, poking out from under a dust sheet and the spears which were the backdrop to our interview.

A very traditionalyl museumy room
A very traditionally museumy room

I spoke to the Deputy Natural History curator, Paulo, who explained how he had assisted his colleagues on the anthropology review by identifying the skull of a vulture that was part of a Nigerian charm. I had actually seen the charm on the tumblr page already:

Click on the pic to read the posts on the tumblr page
Click on the pic to read the posts on the tumblr page

In person though I was really impressed by the size of it which I hadn’t really appreciated from the tumblr page. Paulo showed me a variety of skulls from Birds of Prey in a room full of deer heads and horns. This is him holding the charm and, for reference, he has big hands.

Click on pic to link to hear more from Paolo on theHorniman tumblr
Click on pic to link to hear more from Paolo on the Horniman tumblr

It was a great day full of some very interesting sights and passionate people.

* * *

There were more passionate people when Chris and I visited the Museum again the following week to interview the Anthropology curators who are heavily involved in the review.

They were all absolutely fascinating and clearly really enjoying the project and having the luxury of time and resources to re-evaluate the fantastic collection in their care. We got philosophical but also I wanted to try and eek out of them the practicalities of what being a curator is, which I hope I managed to some extent… I certainly felt that I left with a better impression of what that day-to-day role is.

We spent a lot of time walking up and down a warren of offices with piles of papers, folders and precariously balanced objects (ok, not so precariously balanced!) . Messages of respect for the objects’ cultures of origin were clear from everyone and as was a shared inquisitive character. A common sense of cultural exploration and a hope that anthropology and museums can really help people try to see the world in a new way seemed to be at the forefront of their minds.

It was fascinating and exciting to hear them talk about how this was possible and I fear if I say anymore I shall start to spoil the video which will be coming soon!


Hitchin along…

Last week Chris and I jumped on a train to Hitchin.

We had been asked to make a promo video by fantastic photographer Alexa Loy. We’d worked with Alexa before and loved her photographs so we were very happy to be invited to join her in her very cute home and go out on a pre-wedding shoot with her.

We immediately fell in love with the tiny bundle of fur that is her kitten. I have no natural affinity for cats but this little kitty stole my heart straight away.

The couple that Alexa was shooting were also lovely. Sam and Caroline had mixed approaches to being photographed. Sam was a total natural but Caroline was slightly more nervous. Alexa’s friendly approach soon had Caroline relaxed though and they had a great time in front of, and behind the camera.

acapmedia filming wedding photographer Alexa Loy
Aaron films Alexa, framed by an arch in the park

Caroline brought her bridesmaid Martha along for the day out too. As well as being a very dedicated Maid of (dis)Honour she also made a very good runner helping us lug our filming equipment as we all trailed round the park like a hippy band tying ribbons to goal posts and tying up Sam and Caroline in gold sequins. We also had an affinity due to our shared experience in the world of theatre. Martha runs http://www.littlesomethingtheatre.com and was telling us about her craft work and puppetry.

After all nearly losing our digits to the cold on the outdoors shoot we headed back to Alexa’s for some lunch, tea, cake and kitten time.

acapmedia filming Alexa Loy's pre wedding shoot
Alexa leads Sam and Caroline around the park whilst Aaron films

As it grew dark we said goodbye to Sam, Caroline and Martha and set up to interview Alexa in her bedroom come office where we were entertained by the antics of kitty some more. Even when she was naughty she was too cute to be grumpy with despite her occasionally holding proceedings up. Alexa was nervous, as most interviewees are, but she was really great on camera and gave us far more useful material than we could possible use in the promo.

acapmedia filming Alexa Loy with the Panasonic Lumix GH2
Alexa Loy doing a great job whilst being interviewed by acapmedia

I had such a great time editing down her sincere reflections on why she does what she does that I may include them as a separate post once we have completed and launched the video.

Suffice to say we all worked very hard but it was a fun, friendly and productive day but we certainly didn’t envy Alexa for having to shoot a wedding the next day! When I got home all I wanted to do was curl up on my bed just like kitty did as we left.

Sleeping cute kitten
Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur
Happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr purr purr

Keep your eyes peeled for Alexa’s promo video, coming soon…