23 October, 2009

Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the National Media Museum

His visit was a secret to all but a select few staff until he actually arrived. So there were more than a few double-takes and dropped jaws around here when Prime Minister Gordon Brown walked through the doors of our Museum yesterday.

The Prime Minister seemed happy and relaxed as he took a tour of our Experience TV gallery (accompanied by our Director Colin Philpott), had his photograph taken with local schoolchildren, and was interviewed twice: first by a journalist from the Bradford Telegraph & Argus, then by a specially-invited audience of Telegraph & Argus readers.

About ten minutes before the PM arrived, our designer Rob Derbyshire heard the rumour a Very Special Guest was due in the Museum.

"But no-one knew who it was. From there we started noticing police around the building and on the roads nearby. I turned on Radio Leeds and struggled to find a signal -- and caught the end of a story about the PM being in Bradford. I positioned myself on the 4th Floor balcony, and saw the motorcade snake its way to the front doors of the Museum. Out stepped Gordon Brown."

Museum Interpreter Beth Hughes was in the Experience TV gallery when:

"I saw the Prime Minster coming up the stairs. I was trying to keep out of the way -- so I stood to the side. He was led straight over to the exhibit I was standing in front of, so I turned to move out of the way: I didn't realise he was coming over to shake our hands until my colleague whispered to me to turn around. He took a look at the original John Logie Baird equipment and said 'Well, this is very impressive' -- I like to tell people he was talking about me!"

NMEM Director, Colin Philpott, said, "We were only aware of the visit the day before but at least we had the best part of 24 hours' notice. When Tony Blair came here in 2005, we had three hours' notice!"

"It’s the little incidents which will no doubt stick in the memory. When I took him to the lift it wouldn’t start because there were too many people in it with all his security officers and press aides. Some of them had to get out and walk up eight floors to my office which meant that I got about three minutes in my office with him pretty much alone -- giving me the opportunity to sing the praises of the Museum and Bradford."

"The PM seemed to like what he saw and seemed genuinely interested in the museum."

21 October, 2009

How Brian May found a lost 19th century village

If you've visited the Photography section of our main website recently, you'll have seen that we have an intriguing event coming up on 19 November. Colin Harding, our Curator of Photographic Technology, will be introducing an event with the two authors of A Village Lost And Found, a new book dedicated to the stereoscopic imagery of 19th century photographer T R Williams.

And those two authors, pictured above, are photo historian Elena Vidal -- and Brian May. Yes, that Brian May.

Brian has been fascinated with 3D images since childhood, and he's spent decades collecting and researching a particular series of Williams' photos, all of which were taken in the same village in the mid-1800s. The book is an exhaustive study of the both the pictures and the mystery village itself -- which Brian finally tracked down after years of fruitless searching.

Ahead of the event at the Museum, here's an interview with Brian about his work and research.

What kick-started your interest in stereoscopic photography?

"You used to get little 3D cards squeezed between the inner bag and the box of Weetabix packets. The first ones I ever remember were animals: groups of lions and tigers and hippos and things. it was the first time I'd ever seen a proper stereo image, and I was astounded. I thought it was really magic: two flat and fairly boring-looking pictures spring into something so real, you feel you could walk through the window and be there."

Why did T R Williams begin to interest you in particular?

Corn Into The Granary and Old Dancy, two of the T R Williams reproduced in the book.

"I was always aware of the mystery in the T R Williams images. They were very rare. I think I would find one T R Williams card in probably 500 cards or 1000 cards, if I was lucky."

"But what really interested me was the beauty of the images themselves. It's a very different matter to compose pictures in three dimensions rather than two. Some of Williams' pictures look actually quite odd it you just view them normally -- but once they're in the viewer, you're aware of the amazing compositional power Williams had, to invite you into the picture and make you feel you were almost a part of it."

"I was aware early on that there was a very big untold story here, because I couldn’t find any reference to T R Williams in the books at the time that told me anything that I wanted to know. So I resolved there and then that I would try to get the bottom of the mystery, and that if I could unravel it all I would have something great to share with the world."

So you set out to find the village pictured in his 59-card series, 'Scenes In Our Village'.

"There was talk of Scenes In Our Village series being a mirror, a kind of bringing to life of an ancient book called Our Village by Mary Russell Mitford. That was the word on the street when I started looking into this, that perhaps he’d taken his pictures in her village."

"The other thing that was normally said was that it was actually a number of different views from different villages throughout England. I realised this was wrong early on: the more you look, the more it becomes obvious that Williams isn't just showing you what village life is like, he’s talking about people’s interactions with each other -- their dreams, hopes, problems, hardships. He's talking about the village’s relationship with nature, with their God, and of course with the thing that keeps them alive: the land."

"I looked for the village for ages, I drove around looking for the church, which seemed to be the most obvious landmark and the one which might not have been destroyed. Whenever I was journeying I would be looking out for Norman towers and clocktowers. Never found it."

And then you had an idea...

"I published a picture of the church on my website. I just had this sudden flash of inspiration that somebody must live near this church and it might well be somebody who read my website. So I published the picture -- and within 36 hours, six different people in different parts of the world had come up with the right answer."

"They told me it was Hinton Waldrist in Oxfordshire. One of the reasons I’d missed is that Oxfordshire had moved in the meantime. Someone had moved the boundaries -- I think in the 1930s -- so the village now sits in Oxfordshire wheras it was in Berkshire in the 1850s."

"That really was a turning point. That's the point that Elena and I realised we really could write the book, because we could research the village in the present day and relate it to how it had been in T R Williams' day. Really do a proper job."

Why did the village stay 'lost' for so long?

"I don’t think it’s an accident. There’s no reference to the name of the village anywhere within the cards or any of the literature – not that there is much literature. I think we know why. I think it’s because Williams was rather revealing of the villages themselves, and not always complimentary. I think he was keeping the village safe, and perhaps keeping himself out of trouble by keeping it shrouded in mystery."

You worked with David Burder to develop the OWL -- the sterescopic viewer that's included with the book.

"David’s been my friend for many years. We were both members of the English Stereoscopic Society more than 30 years ago. He’s Mr 3D. if you want to know about 3D, he’s the man you call, the most knowledgeable person in the world."

"David put me in touch with a few people who were making stereoscopic viewers -- but nothing quite worked. Nobody could really come up with something that I felt would do the job properly. So I made a design in cardboard, the way I thought it could be done, and started talking to people about how they could be manufactured. David came to the rescue again and put me in touch with a wonderful injection-moulding company. And we set about adapting my design into a mass-produced form. And I've had a fantastic time doing it."

"The other interesting part of the story is that David said to me, 'Yes, you can do this, you can design a viewer that’s probably better than anything that’s ever been done, but it can’t be folding up and going in a book and still focus. You’ll never do it.' And there came a point when I took the scissors to one of my initial cardboard efforts and basically made the two halves slide into each other, and -- hey presto -- that was the focusing viewer and that was the basis for the final OWL design."

"So David’s very happy to have been proved wrong!"

You've resurrected the 1800s' London Stereoscopic Company with a website: are you planning to sell images and viewers just as they were doing over 100 years ago?

"You can’t do everything at once, and our first priority was to get the website up there and define our aims, and provide an information service. Second thing was to get the book done. And yes, now, we are definitely looking towards trying to publish some stereo pictures -- which will go very nicely with the viewer. So our motto will be 'An OWL In Every Home'."

16 October, 2009

Our new exhibitions are open

Update: See the bottom of this post for a new Making Of video.

We made it! As of today, Neeta Madahar: Bradford Fellowship in Photography 2008 - 09 is open to visitors in Gallery One, and Drawings That Move: The Art Of Joanna Quinn is ready for you in Gallery Two.

Having known these two exhibitions since they were glints in our curators' eyes, it's strange and exciting to see them there now as actual real-life galleries with actual real-life people inside them. They're both seriously fantastic exhibitions and I'd urge you to come along and see them.

And whether you get to visit or not, there's a ton of bonus material for you to get stuck into. It's all listed below.

Our official exhibition websites

Archive magazine with features about both artists
Archive page

Joanna Quinn resource page with video, sketchbooks and more
Joanna Quinn resources

This blog's 'Making of an Exhibition' series
Part one: Designer Rob Derbyshire talks graphics
Part two: Unboxing the Joanna Quinn objects
Part three: Behind the scenes at one of Neeta's Flora shoots
Part four: The condition checking process
Part five: Building the Joanna Quinn gallery
Part six: Building the Neeta Madahar gallery

NEW: Making Of video from opening night
Our media team created a brilliant Making Of video for the opening night party on Thursday -- you can take a look at it below. It takes you right through the process of creating an exhibition: you even get to see Neeta's reaction to the finished gallery.

15 October, 2009

Live from MediaFest09

MediaFest is back: the annual National Media Musuem conference that explores the media, inviting speakers from across web, print, radio and TV to discuss an aspect of the industry.

This year, the topic is Women in the Media. We're proud to welcome Emily Bell to the Museum to give the keynote address -- Emily is the Guardian group's Director of Digital Content. We also welcome Rachel Millward, CEO of charity Birds Eye View, academic and broadcaster Rosalind Gill, and many more -- including our exhibiting artists Neeta Madahar and Joanna Quinn.

If you can't make it, don't worry: Peer Lawther and I are your blogging brothers for the day, bringing you a snapshot of each session right here in this post. And our trusty media team are also filming the day's events, so we should be able to bring you video of the talks and panels shortly.

More details about the conference at our MediaFest page.

10:37am: Just come from Emily Bell's very passionate keynote address. She believes that we're on the brink of "a new age of feminised content creation, involvement and empowerment" -- largely on account of the web and social media creating a situation where "the barriers to [media] entry are nil".

She believes there's a long way to go: stories such as the Strictly Come Dancing furore get her quite angry (because of the gender angle: "the idea that there are four judges, and only one is a woman so they have to be swapped out"). She also pointed out that the current BBC organisation mainly has women in supporting roles: and that even the Guardian Media Group only has three women on its board of 12.

But Emily is still "optimistic", because "on the web, women are beginning to take over". They are the most active users of the social web, and because media -- traditional and new -- now has to engage with users, that gives women a great deal more power. She left us with the promise that "we're on the border of a really, really exciting age."

3:27pm The picture below is from the talk, The Sexualisation Of Culture?, in which Rosa Gill, Jessica Ringrose and others discussed how women are sexualised in the media.

Women In/And The News, hosted by Karen Ross (pictured below), explored how women are treated by (and in) the media. Karen herself was mainly interested in female parliamentarians -- she's spent 15 years studying the relationship between women, politics and the media. She made the point that there are different expectations for women in politics: "Whatever female MPs do, they can't get it right." Like Emily Bell, Karen highlighted that the problems aren't just in how women are presented when they appear in the media -- but also that they are often absent entirely.

The second Women In/And The News speaker was Sunny Hundal, the Guardian's Blogger of the Year in 2006. He rounded on what he called "bodyfat journalism" -- the increasing tendency of newspapers and magazines to report on female celebrities' weights and physical appearance. "Celebrity news is big business," he said, "and not just in terms of print magazines". According to Sunny, Newspapers not normally associated with stories about Amy Winehouse and Kerry Katona are now increasing their celebrity coverage for easy web traffic.

5.27pm The final talk was My Career In The Media, with an all-star panel of female artists, producers and critics. It was a hugely enjoyable session -- it overran by some margin as we were entertained by these talented women's funny, fascinating and shocking stories.

Joanna Quinn told us about how she went into labour at a crucial point in the making of a TV ad. Radio critic Gillian Reynolds -- a "one-woman museum of media" in her own words -- told us a story about "The Giblet Queen" that means none of us will ever look at Anne Robinson the same way again.

Vivian Fain-Binda -- who fought for the right to work flexibly at the BBC after having a child -- said that "trying to balance work and life was horrendous [in the 1970s]. It's not much easier now, but at least it's not a byword for leprosy."

All the panelists stressed that it's important to have a broad range of skills to be successful in the media as a woman. Liz Molyneux, Business Development Lead for BBC North, said that "adaptability is essential as we develop... I had a real passion to tell the stories I wanted to tell, but was persuaded to make light entertainment. It did teach me skills that I later used."

Kathryn Blacker, our Head of Public Programme, rounded off MediaFest09 by saying that two words had cropped up time and again: "anger" -- about women's treatment by the media and the industry -- but also "optimism" -- about women's future role as new media and new opportunities present themselves.

It's been a hugely successful day with great speakers and fascinating talks and discussions. And it doesn't end here: I'll be bringing you audio and video from the day's events very shortly.

13 October, 2009

The making of an exhibition: part six

Four days to go, and we're back to our Neeta Madahar exhibition.

This post is a companion piece to last week's step-by-step look at the building of the Joanna Quinn exhibition. The process for Neeta Madahar has been much the same: paint the walls, bring up and lay out the artworks, hang everything up, apply graphics.

But. Because Gallery One is bigger than Gallery Two, there's much more scope for the Exhibition Organisers to actually design the exhibition layout, putting in new walls to create corners and cubbyholes and rooms and spaces. So unlike with the Joanna Quinn gallery, you can walk in on the builders actually rolling walls around...

... and taking all manner of sharp and heavy instruments to bits of wood and metal.

The holes above won't be visible in the final gallery. They're where the screens go that'll display Neeta's beautiful Solstice, two 24-minute time-lapses of 36,000 stills that track the Summer and Winter solstices. One wall will be Summer; the other will be Winter. And instead of builders inside that room, it'll be you, watching the video.

You're already familiar with the process of artworks being brought up, carefully laid out on the gallery floor, then studied for possible changes. Sharon Scarmazzo and Ruth Haycock brought the artworks out of their hiding place this time, then Sharon and Greg Hobson paced the floor making their final decisions about placement.

Like Animalism previously, this exhibition has made the most of the expanse of wall outside Gallery One. The gigantic letters pictured below might not be furry, but, believe me, they're just as impressive to stand in front of.

To finish off, here's a side-by-side comparison of how the rear of the Neeta exhibition looked two weeks ago, and how it looks now. Things happen fast around here.

That's it from this Making Of series for now -- I don't want to spoil the final touches here, when you can come and see them with your own eyes from Friday. While you wait for the grand opening, you can browse through all the Making Of articles here, or find out more about both the Joanna Quinn and Neeta Madahar exhibitions at our exhibitions page.

09 October, 2009

The making of an exhibition: part five -- the build

One week to go. Our two new exhibitions open Friday 16 October -- and over the last week or two, I've been in and out of Gallery One and Gallery Two, watching them transform from eerily echoing chambers of nothingness to beautifully laid-out exhibitions of art.

So here's my five-step guide to building a Joanna Quinn exhibition.

1. Paint

First job is to freshen up the walls and paint everything according to the exhibition plan (as seen in the first photo below). There's a splash of red in the Joanna Quinn gallery -- which you can see if you skip forward to the 'Laying Out' section. And if you're wondering what that note is on the second picture below, it's a message from Exhibition Organiser Martyn Lenton to someone called 'Triple D'. That's the name of the company doing the painting, not a nickname.

2. Bring up the artworks

Up until now, all Joanna's artworks have been safely stored in our Insight collection centre, following the condition checking process you read about the other day. Now, they emerge from their store -- the sketches, the drawings, the animation cels -- to be stacked on trollies by a team that includes two Exhibition Organisers, a Content Developer and even a Senior Exhibitions Organiser. This take places in our Kodak Gallery, hence the strange green railings and beach scene in the background. Bringing up the artworks is a delicate process, and much careful direction of trollies through lift doors ensues.

3. Lay the artworks out

With the artworks inside the gallery, Martyn Lenton and Michael Harvey place them on the floor according to their final positions on the walls. There are paper plans sellotaped up to show where everything goes -- you can see Designer Rob Derbyshire preparing one such plan below. This is Michael and Martyn's final opportunity to spot where things don't quite work and make changes to the layout. And sure enough, several of Joanna's sketches get swapped around at this stage.

4. Hang the artworks

By the time I came in on Monday, the hanging of the artworks had already been done, and the gallery was looking near-complete (albeit a bit gloomy -- the hanging of the lamps comes later). By now, our Joanna Quinn 'interactive' -- a hands-on presentation running on a PC inside a metallic stand -- had also been installed by Assistant Gallery Developer Sven Shaw: he's the man fiddling with wires below.

5. Apply the graphics

Two things here. First: apply the 'vinyl' graphics, which work very much like car window stickers -- peel off backing, stick onto wall. Of course, much more care needs to be taken with our stickers, to make sure they're straight and don't develop pesky air bubbles. The text-based titles (see the little "Archive" sticker in the photo below) are created by "a very expensive machine" which cuts the individual letters out of a plain red sheet.

The second job is the big graphics. We've got two in the Joanna Quinn gallery: the cuddly Charmin bear, and 'Flamenco Beryl' from Dreams And Desires: Family Ties. They're essentially giant posters that go up on the gallery walls like wallpaper. Apply glue with brush; lift and place (it's a two-man job); and then all that's left is the final satisfying task of smoothing everything down.

And that's as much as I've seen so far. Step six is hanging the artworks on loan from other institutions -- we have a Goya, two Lautrecs, two Gillrays and a Degat: all examples of art that has influenced Joanna's own style. More on that later.

Then comes step seven: adding the artwork captions, fixing the lights, cleaning up -- and then opening the doors to you.

There's a palpable buzz in the air now that we're only a week away from the grand opening. As the big day approaches, I'll have more updates for you (including the building of other exhibition, Neeta Madahar: Bradford Fellowship in Photography 2008-09). In the meantime, all the photos above, plus many more I couldn't squeeze in, are available as a set on our Flickr page.

08 October, 2009

Co-Operative Young Film-Makers Festival 2009

Young people – everywhere! The Co-Operative Young Film-Makers Festival has come to the Museum, and we're overrun with people under 19, here for the packed schedule of workshops, special guests, filming, screenings, and everything else you need to encourage young people to express themselves in film. Even dancing. (You can download the full two-day diary as a PDF.)

I'll be updating this post through the day with updates. If you're reading this at the Festival itself and you see me scampering about taking photos -- say hi!

Thursday 10:49am: Matthew Lewis -- aka Neville Longbottom from the Harry Potter films -- has formally opened the Festival, amid a hail of bubbles from the Co-Operative stand outside. As I write, he's giving a talk in our Pictureville cinema. He's also hobbling a bit after twisting his ankle while playing badminton -- "the most violent sport", as Matthew is now wincingly referring to it.

Thurday 1:39pm: It's a bit of a shock when you walk into the foyer and find a table of young people apparently tending to major injuries. Learning about film isn't that dangerous, surely? Then you realise it's just the Special Effects Make-Up workshop, where gaping wounds and horrific scars are only a pot of red paint and a paintbrush away.

I also caught two groups studiously putting together their own videos in the Make A Film Trailer workshop, hosted by John McCormack. The students here were getting hands-on with every aspect of trailer creation, from storyboarding to filming -- and they also get to take home a DVD of their final work.

Friday 12.12pm: Breakdancing! Lloyd Thomspon from Tranquil Productions led this lesson in the art of the side step, the top rock and much more -- and it was incredible how fast his young pupils learnt helicopter their legs around in a camera-threatening fashion. This workshop took place in Level 5, our new activity and learning area for families: more on that soon.

Friday 3:24pm: The Create A Movie Soundtrack workshop, run in our Edit Suite by film composer and occasional National Media Museum employee Vanessa James, looked excellent. Vanessa has created TV ad music for companies such as Sony and Kinder, and scored movies that have been in contention at festivals like Cannes and Rotterdam. She gave her attendees a real-life film trailer to soundtrack -- and after half an hour's concentrated pointing and clicking in Apple's GarageBand, they'd all created something that'd make John Williams proud.

That's it from my coverage of the Co-Operative Young Film-Makers Festival -- it's been a hectic but fantastic couple of days. Thanks to everyone who came along. I've only scratched the surface of the many screenings, workshops, talks and events that took place: you can find out more at the Festival's homepage.

06 October, 2009

Animal Farm: the entire cast interviewed

Last month, I promised you an interview with the cast of Animal Farm -- three successful live performances of which took place against the backdrop of our Animalism exhibition in September. And here's the interview: eleven questions, conveniently answered by eleven different cast members.

What appealed to Paper Zoo about bringing Animal Farm to the stage?
Stuart Davies, Director and "Mr Whymper"
"I was very interested in working on a play with both a physical approach, and fairly simple technical requirements that would allow the acting to tell the story. The themes of social progress betrayed by the misuse of power, and radical ideas trampled underfoot, also seemed very relevant."

Does Animal Farm, like 1984, still resonate today?
Julia O'Keeffe, "Snowball" / "Clover"
"Yes! We live in a society where the best ways to get our opinions heard is to write a story, or a novel, or a song. All too often, if you voice strong beliefs that do not correspond to society's constraints, they are laughed off as conspiracy theories. Orwell knew this only too well. This is mirrored in the pigs, who start taking decisions on behalf of the animals, believing them to be inferior -- when actually they merely have different opinions and beliefs. If anything resonates today, it is the desperate need for people to be tolerant and understanding of each other's beliefs, to be non-judgmental and to meet others with an open heart rather than criticism and sarcasm."

How easy was is it to get into animal character?
Jodie Bloomer - "Mollie", "Hen", "Cow", "Sheep"
"At first I didn't find it easy because I was experimenting with facial expressions. But when I knew what look I was going for, it became easier -- I got used to my characters. You get so comfortable about it that you forget how embarrassing it actually is!"

How did the performances at our Museum come about?
Ben Eagle - "Napoleon"
"Fozia Bano, the Museum's Cultural Events Organiser, saw our 2008 production of Animal Farm and invited us to perform in Gallery One, following the enormous success of our performance of 1984 at the Museum in June. It didn't take us long to decide! However, having to don those long-johns and vests is not something I'll ever get used to..."

What had to change to squeeze the play into Gallery One?
Damien O'Keeffe - "Benjamin" / "Old Major"
"The main consideration was in condensing the action into a smaller space. We had to alter some of the blocking in the Battle of the Cowshed, and the scene where dogs chase Snowball from the farm. But the rest stayed pretty much as rehearsed. We had to be aware of the acoustics of the space too -- making sure that we could be heard clearly was important."

What were you most worried about prior to your first performance at the Museum?
Kate Shackleton - "Minimus, sheep, hen, cow"
"I was most worried about clucking in a sheep hat! There were also moments during rehearsal where we couldn't stop laughing, and I was concerned I would crack up on stage."

Did the audience react as you hoped?
Rachel Greiff - "sheep, cow, hen, cat, pig"
"I think that the most encouraging feedback that we've had was from members of the audience who told us that they hated the pigs and wanted to protect the other animals. I was really hoping that people would feel that empathy for the 'lower' animals, because I think that their sorry fate as the pigs gradually take over is central to Orwell's story."

Were there are any slip-ups?
Hayley Welsh - "sheep, cow, hen"
"From what I can remember there haven't been any major slip-ups. Things have happened in performance that we haven't covered in rehearsal, but we recover from these well. For instance, in a Saltaire performance in September, a pigeon gets thrown on from backstage -- and once it actually hit me really hard on the head. The audience laughed and if I'm honest it was really hard not to laugh. But I managed not to and just did a little improvisation, a shake of the head and a little baa/bleat."

What was most memorable about performing within Gallery One?
Martin Knowles - "Boxer"
"The challenge of performing in the gallery was fitting such a large cast into the confines of a small space. But it allowed us to have the audience in such close proximity that hopefully they felt part of the performance. We tried our best to be an extension of the Animalism exhibition and integrate the great exhibits into the production... although it's probably the first time you may have seen a monkey on a farm."

So who makes the best animal noises?
Beth Oswald - "Lamb"
"In my opinion Dave makes the best animal noises and he is very believable as a pig. However Kate also makes really good noises for each and every one of her characters -- whether she’s a pig, hen, sheep or cow. But all of the animal noises I think are very realistic."

Tell us more about where you're taking Animal Farm next.
David Peel - "Squealer"
"If it was up to me it would go through the roof and off to the West End! After Saltaire, it's off to Otley, Bradford, Hebden Bridge and Halifax. There are some fantastic venues to be had and great experiences to be gained. In the new year we take Animal Farm to The Carriage Works and then the Theatre Royal Wakefield - so exciting!"

"I love our version so much and the effort we've put in has been remarkable. Paper Zoo and associates alike have worked so hard. The shows we did at the Media Museum were brilliant for us and a great grounding for the tour launch. The people at the Museum were, as usual, their kind charming selves. The more work we do with the Museum, the better we like it."

Some cast pictures by Jim Moran