30 September, 2009

Your chance to take part in one of our exhibitions

South Downs Way, West Sussex, 8th October 2007. Simon Roberts

We're doing something special for one of our 2010 exhibitions -- and we want you to help us make it happen.

In March next year, we'll be opening a new exhibition based around the work of British photographer Simon Roberts. Simon has travelled up and down the country, photographing the English at leisure for his series We English -- covered a few weeks ago in an article in the Guardian's Weekend magazine.

Our Simon Roberts: We English exhibition will be featuring many of those photographs -- but the Museum is also commissioning him to come to Bradford and produce a brand new work.

This is where you come in. Simon is looking for suggestions about events to photograph. As Simon himself tells us, the events can be "anything from Sunday league football and religious festivals to family traditions and bizarre rituals; from the ordinary and everyday, to the unique and extra-ordinary." But they must be outdoors, in the Bradford District, and taking place between now and January 2010.

We've set up a special Simon Roberts online form so you can tell us about the interesting, funny, strange or spectacular Bradford events you think would make a great photograph. You can also see the suggestions as they come in -- ideas so far include fell races and floodlit canoe sessions.

28 September, 2009

Goodbye Don McCullin, goodbye Animalism

You would not believe how fast the exhibitions get dismantled. First thing Monday morning and barely awake, I stumbled bleary-eyed into Gallery Two -- and found an army of Museum staff already frantically swarming the Don McCullin: In England exhibition, carting off the framed photographs and removing captions.

One of the less thrilling jobs is peeling text off the walls. For Don McCullin: In England, we used vinyl stencils, which work much the same way as an old Letraset sheet. To remove them, you take Content Developer Anna Ward (pictured below), hand her a simple paint scraper, and watch the magic happen.

Meanwhile, Martyn Lenton and Colin Harding -- who I'm more used to seeing quietly going about their studious curatorial business -- rolled up their sleeves and revved up the electric drill for unscrewing the photographs from the walls. It's a hypnotically quick business -- and no sooner are the pictures free, they're grabbed by the Collections team and wheeled off for de-framing and condition checking.

Before long -- and it really was no more than an hour or so from start to finish -- all that's left is a hauntingly empty Gallery Two. And our poor friends still dutifully scraping letters of the alphabet off the walls.

I haven't forgotten Animalism, which Exhibition Organizers Sharon Scarmazzo and Ruth Haycock were dismantling at the same time -- that's coming tomorrow. In the meantime, take a look at the brand new banners for the two exhibitions that'll be filling the galleries by October.

25 September, 2009

The making of an exhibition: part four

Back to the upcoming Drawings That Move: The Art Of Joanna Quinn for a new instalment in our Making Of An Exhibition series.

This video, shot by our camera-wielding Media Developer Emma Shaw, lets you in on our condition checking process. It basically involves poring over the various drawings, sketches and animation cels we'll be exhibiting, and recording any imperfections -- but I'll stop there and let Exhibition Organiser Martyn Lenton explain things much more expertly in the video itself. You also get a sneak glimpse at some of the Joanna Quinn-related gems we'll have on display in October.

24 September, 2009

Behind the scenes with Neeta Madahar

We're three weeks away from our Neeta Madahar exhibition opening on 16 Oct, so here's a peek behind the scenes at the making of the portrait series we'll be exhibiting -- 'Flora'.

Flora is a series of carefully and painstakingly arranged portraits, picturing Neeta's female friends alongside plants and flowers. We'll have several new Flora pictures on display in the exhibition -- and in the video above, Jen Anyan, the stylist for the series, travels around the studio with a camcorder to give us an intimate look at the hard work that goes into each shoot.

Don't forget that this Sunday is your last chance to catch the current exhibitions, Animalism and Don McCullin: In England -- because on Monday, we start dismantling them piece by piece. I'll be there with the camera, make no mistake.

23 September, 2009

The Pencil Of Nature: history's first commercial book of photography -- reborn

On the left: our Curator of Photographic Technology, Colin Harding. On the right: Daniel Kirkpatrick of Chicago/London book publishers KWS. Two men with one very special plan: bring back to life one of the the world's most historically important photographically-illustrated books.

The Pencil Of Nature was published in six instalments between June 1844 and April 1846 by William Henry Fox Talbot. It was a real milestone: the first ever commercially-published book to be illustrated with photographs, coming just a few years after Talbot himself invented the calotype process -- the foundation of modern photography.

Photography was so new in the 1840s that the book was very much an explanation of, and manifesto for, the whole idea of photography. Talbot had to explain things we take for granted today -- such as the fact that, unlike a hand-painted portrait, putting more people in the frame doesn't increase the time it takes to create the picture.

Most copies of The Pencil Of Nature around the world -- and only around 400 copies were ever actually sold -- are deteroriating. But thanks to our Museum's unrivalled collection of both Talbot's original prints and copies of the instalments themselves, Harding and Kirkpatrick are recreating The Pencil Of Nature page by page. It's been republished before as an expensive collector's edition, but this is a new opportunity for libraries, schools and photography enthusiasts to own a piece of history, affordably. (You can register your interest now at KWS's website.)

It's a painstaking process. There are two kinds of pages in The Pencil Of Nature: the photographs themselves (which were physically bound into the book), and printed text. The text pages don't need any work done -- we can use them straight. For the photographic plates, Harding and Curator of Collections Access Brian Liddy (above) select the best prints from the many original Talbot calotypes we have in our collection. These are the actual 1840s prints that were destined to be placed into copies of the original book.

In some cases, the images vary across different editions of The Pencil Of Nature. There's scaffolding in one photo from an early edition; in a later edition, the scaffolding's gone. So it's not always a simple choice.

Once the calotypes are chosen, Paul Thompson, our Collections Photographer, takes charge of the scanning process. We have a bank of LED lights that we shine on the prints to illuminate them; the heat and ultra-violet light from normal lighting setups would damage those ever-fragile calotypes. It's a quick process, and we don't wade in with Photoshop afterwards -- the idea is to recreate the original perfectly without touching up imperfections.

The Pencil Of Nature should be on sale soon. Paul's scanning the final batch of photographs on Friday -- check back here next week and I'll hopefully have some video for you, and some more Talbot-related collection gems.

17 September, 2009

New photos from Animal Farm

You've seen the cast of Animal Farm rehearsing in their everyday clothes; now, over at our Flickr page, you can see them all dirtied up for the play proper. (The photos are from the final dress rehearsal -- each actual performance sees just 30 people gather in Gallery One and sit a whisker away from the actors, making things far too intimate for me to barge in with my camera.)

We've had one successful performance so far, and as I write Paper Zoo are getting in touch with their animal sides for tonight's second show. Tickets are unfortunately sold out for all three shows -- but I'm hoping to bring you a video Q&A with the cast in a week or two's time, and the company will be taking Animal Farm on tour around West Yorkshire in October and November.

More about Animal Farm

11 September, 2009

The making of an exhibition: part three

We're switching exhibitions for this part of our series on how events at the Museum blossom from concept to reality.

Our Gallery One exhibition starting 16 October is Neeta Madahar: Bradford Fellowship in Photography 2008-09, bringing you beautiful photography and dreamlike video from this extremely creative British artist. You can find out more from the video above -- our Curator of Photography Greg Hobson is in front of the camera this time, explaining some of the thinking behind the exhibition.

You also get to watch Neeta browsing photographs in our Print Store, and go behind-the-scenes on a shoot for her Madame Yevonde-inspired portrait series, 'Flora'.

More Making Of to come: yesterday I was down in Insight to see the condition check process for the prints, drawings and animation cels that make up the Joanna Quinn exhibition -- photos and hopefully video of that coming soon.

07 September, 2009

What's on this week: 7 - 13 Sep 2009

Three fantastic films for you this week, all starting Friday 11 September. Fish Tank features an outstanding performance by 15-year-old newcomer Katie Jarvis; Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One concludes the explosive two-part biopic of Jacques Mesrine; and the exceptional The Hurt Locker (above) is a must-see, multi-award-winning drama following bomb disposal experts in Iraq. Film page

On Thursday 10 September, Paper Zoo's production of George Orwell's Animal Farm comes to the Museum. Tickets have sold out -- but you can read a rehearsal report and see pictures elsewhere on the blog, and I'll report back from the event on Thursday.

Our Introduction To Screenwriting Saturday school starts on Saturday 12 September, with Joe Hepworth -- Screenwriter and Visiting Lecturer at the Northern Film School -- bringing a brainful of information about the theory and practice of writing for the screen. No experience is required: whether you're an expert, a beginner or just curious, we'd love to see you there.

05 September, 2009

Photocamp Bradford 2009

Photocamp is underway as I write!

What is Photocamp? As Event Manager Jon Eland put it in his introductory talk, it's simply "A group of people who enjoy getting together to share photography". Around 150 people are here at this sold-out event, to talk, teach and learn about all things photography. More info at the Photocamp site itself.

Day one, chock-full of talks and workshops on everything from male portraiture to making your own camera (in 45 minutes!), is here at the Museum today; tomorrow, there's a similarly packed day at Bradford's Impressions Gallery.

Stick with this blog post today and I'll keep you updated with photos and news from as many of the sessions as my little legs can get me around.

11.17am: Just come out of the keynote talk from Natalie Dybisz, aka Miss Aniela, who became a celebrated -- and exhibited -- photographer after posting her self-portraits on Flickr, most famously her 'clone' shots with multiple Miss Anielas in one image. Natalie kept the audience rapt with a rolling slideshow of her beautiful work, and questioned how such images -- and the output of other 'untrained' artists -- fits into the traditional definitions of photography. She's back later today to run a workshop on compositing.

12:19pm It's not often you walk through a door and find a room filled with grown-ups doing colouring-in. But that's exactly what happened to me when I stumbled upon the 'Make A Camera In 45 Minutes' session, run by Mike Wallis. Mike's 20-or-so attendees were up to step 4 of his 16-step guide to making a pinhole camera: using a marker pen to black out the inside of the matchbox camera casing, preventing light bouncing around inside. The group should be around and about the Museum later, snapping away with their finished products -- the result (judging by the pre-prepared examples Mike showed me) should be some wonderfully dreamy, light-drenched photographs.

Alex Wolf was busy next door with her talk about Project 365 -- the aim of which is to get Flickr users to take one photograph every day for a year. I walked in just as Alex was introducing the group to one Project 365er's photos of the bizarrely exciting social life of a plush toy (not pictured, sadly.)

And I burst into Gallery Two just as our Curator Of Photographic Technology, Colin Harding, was finishing his guided tour of our Don McCullin exhibition. Here he is after a job well done.

1.45pm: Brian Liddy -- who you'll remember from previous blog posts -- had laid on the photographic equivalent of a king's banquet in Insight. Photocampers were invited to gaze rapt at tables replete with fashion-related Museum material: pre-war pictures from our enormous Daily Herald archive (pdf link), early copies of Vogue magazine, and iconic pictures of original supermodel Twiggy.

Meanwhile, our very own Peer Lawther was describing our successes on Flickr Commons, particularly the World War I photographs of Frank Hurley, which prompted lively discussions among bloggers about the practice of doctoring photographs of war.

I was ambushed when I walked in on 'How To Make Your Model Look Good', hosted by Anne Akers. She was showing how to test colours on models using a range of fabrics -- and I had the cameras turned on me for a change as Anne decorated me with bright green material. The session blossomed into one of the busiest and friendliest sessions of the day, a free-for-all of rainbow-decorated models and snapping cameras.

3.44pm: While practically every single attendee was busy picking up tips from Natalie Dybisz's composition masterclass, Peer, Fozia and I were next door judging 'Printswap' -- the gallery of prints brought in by the Photocampers. It wasn't easy picking just three photos from a range that included black-and-white, colour, panoramic, posed, landscapes, HDR, and an impossibly cute kitten. But we hopefully made four people (we added one Highly Commended award) very happy. Worried about the reaction of the other 70-or-so, I ran off to...

... Colin Harding's guided tour of our Don Selects... collection. Don McCullin visited Insight earlier in the year to personally select photographs from our collections, showing how 19th Century photographers collected images of Mediterranean archaeological sites. You can browse the photos he selected on Flickr -- but this was a rare chance for our Photocamp attendees to see the selection in real life and up close.

5:17pm: 'Play At Photocamp' always sounded like it was going to be good. Led by Kristy Noble and Amy Lord, this session was inspired by Andy Lock's Lost Horizons -- a strangely forlorn set of images where tiny figurines are dwarfed by their environment. Within minutes, Kristy and Amy had everyone scooching down on the floor to snap away at plastic soldiers guarding coffee cups and toy dinosaurs looming over toy cars. An appropriately playful end to the day.

17:58pm That's it for the day! Thanks to everyone who came along. And talking of everyone -- here they are. (See what the audience saw with dakegra's Flickr photo)

04 September, 2009

The making of an exhibition: part two

So earlier this week you saw a little of the work that's going into creating the graphics for our upcoming exhibition, Drawings That Move: The Art Of Joanna Quinn. Today, I've got some photos from the grand unboxing and unpacking procedure -- where the actual objects we'll be using in the gallery are ceremonially lifted from the boxes they arrived in.

Actually, I'm cheating a bit.

First, because as I write, the objects are still actually tucked away in their packaging. The pictures here are from a cursory initial check, prior to the actual full-on unboxing taking place later this month.

Second, because finding out what's in the boxes isn't that surprising -- after all, it was Museum staff (specifically Curator Of Cinematography Michael Harvey and Content Developer Dan Jackson) who travelled to Joanna's house in August to choose the objects and parcel them all up.

But we still got excited cutting open the boxes and unravelling the bubble wrap all the same.

Exhibition Organiser Martyn Lenton and one of Joanna's sketchbooks. We'll be exhibiting several of these in October, and scanning some of the pages for you to browse on the website.

Original sketches from Joanna's 1993 film, Britannia, a BAFTA-nominated satire of the British Empire.

Exhibitions Organiser Lucy Davison performs The Unwrapping Of The BAFTA. Joanna won this award for her short film The Wife Of Bath.

An actual real-life Emmy Award. The woman's wings represent art; the atom she's holding represents science; and it's a very heavy award (but not quite as heavy as the BAFTA, Lucy tells me). This is one of two Emmys that Joanna won for The Wife Of Bath.

02 September, 2009

The making of an exhibition: part one

If you've ever wanted to sneak into our offices, hide behind a potted plant, and spy on how we plan, develop and build one of our exhibitions -- it's your lucky day.

Starting today, I'll be bringing you a series of videos that take you behind the scenes of the making of Drawings That Move: The Art Of Joanna Quinn, one of two new National Media Museum exhibitions opening on October 16th. These little films build towards a longer making-of video that's being organised by our Cultural Events Organiser, Fozia Bano, and shown at the opening night party (and, eventually, on the web).

Just a quick film to start with: Rob Derbyshire, our Graphic Designer, takes delivery of the graphics we're using for the big titles in the gallery -- graphics hand-created by Joanna Quinn herself.

Much more to come: I'll show you the unboxing of some of the exhibits later this week, then things start getting really busy as the gallery floorplan is finalised, the opening night event takes shape, and we prepare for the flurry of activity that goes into dismantling the old exhibitions and constructing the new ones.

01 September, 2009

What's on this week: 31 Aug - 6 Sep 2009

Two new films – the intriguing Fermat's Room, and a digital restoration of Joseph Losey's 1967 classic Accident – start in our cinemas on Friday 4th September. And we've also got a new film up on our colossal IMAX screen: the spectacular Journey To Mecca (above), which follows Ibn Battuta's epic 14th century journey across West Africa, Spain, India, China and the Maldives. Film page

It's the first weekend of the month, which means the must-see This Is Cinerama returns to the Museum on Saturday 5th September. We're one of only three public Cinerama theatres in the whole world, so don't miss the experience that led one recent visitor to say that his "heart exploded". This Is Cinerama page

And our Iranian Life On Film season – part of our Bite The Mango world cinema strand – continues this week with Shirin, Ten and The Apple. Bite The Mango page