Highland Threads…Photographer on the move

Jim Dunn photographing a gansey from Wick Heritage Centre

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… “. 

Photographing a Fisherman’s Gansey at Wick Heritage Centre

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 MuseumInverness Museum & Art GalleryGairloch Museum, Ullapool MuseumGrantown MuseumWest Highland MuseumHighland Museum of ChildhoodCastlehill Heritage CentreTain through TimeWick Heritage MuseumHighland Folk MuseumGroam House MuseumStrathnaver Museum and Dornoch Historylinks.

Highland Threads…It’s all about collaboration

Highland Museums project meeting on Zoom

Highland Threads was conceived during one of our regular Museums and Heritage Highland Heritage Café Zoom sessions, sometime back in June 2020. Back then, many of our conversations were around practical issues in responding to the Covid pandemic. How were our communities coping, what funding resources were out there… and how might it ever be possible to open our venues again?!

At some point during one of these chats, Dan Cottam, Manager at Grantown Museum, mentioned their costume collection, much of nestled safely away in archive boxes rather than on display. Wouldn’t it be great to work together on a way to showcase some of these amazing costumes? The conversation sparked an energy in everyone at the meeting. This was an opportunity to pause the stressful discussions around PPE, hand sanitisers and reopening toilets and to do what most of us do best… think creatively about our collections and how we can share them with our audiences!

MHH worked really quickly to put a project plan together responding to this creative call to action. This would be a digital exhibition centred around Highland costume, with a focus on finding creative ways to support museums both financially but also with practical outputs like conservation and photography advice that would have a lasting impact. We put a call out to all Highland museums to share their costumes and stories and to join us in a collaborative, co-curated project. Fourteen museums responded, from Castlehill Heritage Centre on the north Caithness coast, to Glencoe in the southern Highlands. 

We were really keen to take our lead from the museum partners and not set any boundaries on the choice of costume, other than it having a story to tell. The idea of having fourteen different museum voices shaping a project might have been seen as a risk, but the Heritage Cafes had already shown the strong collective voice of our Highland museums and their desire to work collaboratively. 

The energy of the project has been amazing. It has brought together the largest and smallest of our museums in an innovative project that showcases some of the most fascinating, intriguing and often previously unknown costume in Highland museums. Although tartan does feature on one object, most of our objects tell stories that audiences might not traditionally associate with the Highlands. Our programme of events and talks will also illuminate some of the hidden stories behind the costume. We hope audiences will be as excited to view the exhibition as we have been to develop it and we look forward to the possibilities of more innovative collaborative work between our Highland museums in the future.

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 MuseumInverness Museum & Art GalleryGairloch Museum, Ullapool MuseumGrantown MuseumWest Highland MuseumHighland Museum of ChildhoodCastlehill Heritage CentreTain through TimeWick Heritage MuseumHighland Folk MuseumGroam House MuseumStrathnaver Museum and Dornoch Historylinks.

Introducing…Highland Threads

Introducing…Highland Threads

Highland Threads was conceived at a Highland Heritage Cafe – a regular online meet-up for people working in heritage in the Highlands. We share ideas, discuss issues affecting our sector and find ways to support each other. This support could be as small as recommending a supplier or, like Highland Threads, an ambitious plan for an innovative digital partnership project. 

Unsurprisingly, recent discussions have focused on the effects of COVID-19 on our sector. How can we work together to support museums struggling with the financial implications of temporary closure, furloughed employees and a significant reduction in volunteer contribution? How can museums provide access to collections and generate income while the uncertainty of lockdown and travel restrictions made planning exhibitions and events almost impossible? 

Part of MHH’s remit is supporting museums to employ and develop digital technologies to allow access to collections, increase audiences, and generate income. So, it seemed fitting to nurture an idea using digital tools to address some of the issues our member museums are experiencing.

Through further discussion at the Heritage Cafe, it was agreed that plans for an online exhibition focusing on a costume from each museum’s collection would be developed and funding sought to support the work. 

A successful bid by Museums and Heritage Highlands to the National Lottery Heritage Fund Resilience Fund provided a green light and Highland Threads was go!

Our collective vision for the project is to use collections to support museums in these difficult times. Driving new and existing audiences to our museums whether they are open or closed; help museums find new ways of creating income streams; and open up access to collections in a manageable, sustainable and engaging way.

By employing innovative digital technologies and contracting sector professionals to produce an exceptional product, Highland Threads reflects the quality museums and diverse collections found across the Highlands. 

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.