As part of the Highland Threads project, Museums and Heritage Highland offered each participating museum conservation expertise, professional photography and promotion. Many smaller museums struggle to access these services, so contracting sector professionals to work across the project and individually with each participating museum is affordable and proves excellent value for our members. For this third blog in our series Jim Dunn, professional museum photographer, tells of his travels across the Highlands during a pandemic to capture all the beautiful costumes on camera for the online exhibition.
One of the delights for me working on the Highlands Threads project has been how organised each of the museums I visited have been. The West Highland Museum had even arranged with the traffic warden for me to be allowed to park in the pedestrian area outside the front door of their building, a trivial thing you might think, but when your car is bulging at the seams with all the paraphernalia required to set up a temporary studio for photography and video, small things like that bring a smile to my face.
Helen Avenell takes credit for arranging all my visits, the constantly changing situation due to Covid meant that access dates had to be moved or cancelled and as I type, we wait with bated breath hoping lockdown will allow us access to one final piece of costume – talk about drama!
Every visit that could be arranged went very smoothly. I was welcomed by staff or volunteers, safety precautions related to Covid were discussed and implemented where required, I was then shown to a space that in every case was suitable for me to set up my background and lights – perfect!
Talking of backgrounds, at an early stage of the project it was decided that a black background would be used for all the photography and video. Not a big challenge I thought, lots of light coloured outfits, maybe a couple of military uniforms that might be a bit tricker to light against the black. But no, a few wags thought it might be amusing to make things more interesting for me and give me more of a challenge! “lets look out that funeral dress, yes the ‘black’ one” – “what about a nice pullover, yes the one with the great story, the ‘navy blue’ one… “.
But all joking aside I do like a challenge and in the end I was pleased how all the outfits turned out, whether dark or light in tone.
Another person whose work made my job infinitely easier was conservator Rachael Thomas. I often arrived at a venue a day or two after Rachael to find a beautifully dressed mannequin ready for photography or that could be placed on my turntable for the 360deg videos.
This has been an interesting project for me, not just the logistics and the disparate venues, but the beautiful costumes and in particular meeting so many dedicated staff and enthusiastic volunteers.
Launching 1 April 2021, Highland Threads exhibition will be found at www.highlandthreads.co.uk, but until then you keep up to date with progress here (on the MHH site) and across social media using #HighlandThreads.
Our partner museums are: Glencoe Museum, Inverness Museum & Art Gallery, Gairloch Museum, Ullapool Museum, Grantown Museum, West Highland Museum, Highland Museum of Childhood, Castlehill Heritage Centre, Tain through Time, Wick Heritage Museum, Highland Folk Museum, Groam House Museum, Strathnaver Museum and Dornoch Historylinks.