Back to the Basement/Unfocused

With the cataloguing of the Weights and Measures collection completed it was back to the basement for a further adventure. This time I had been given a far greater responsibility, my own exhibit! Worcester Camera Club has been an institution in Worcester since 1890; an organisation dedicated to pictorially charting the county. This summer, in conjunction with the Commandery they ran a competition open to the public to artistically capture the Commandery building, and as part of this they were keen to have an exhibit on photography to coincide with this.  

An important part of a photography exhibit was inevitably to be photographs; fortuitously the museum has a large and fascinating collection of them.  It was an eyrie experience, searching through the boxes; finding many unnamed faces of people now lost to time, unknowably frozen. The negatives in the collection were almost more extraordinary, one box revealed what seemed to be shots of the set of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Arc, a desert army camp dominated in the foreground by a swastika emblazoned air craft, rows and rows of uniformed men and horses pulling guns. It took a lot of discipline to keep myself on task, despite the curiosity of these items, they were not Worcester! Further investigation revealed more relevant things; a series of posed portraits in cardboard frames were found in an envelope, each frame had the address of a Worcester photography shop from the 1800’s printed on it and within the same box I found a photo of the St. Georges football team from the 1920’s. The museums glass negatives collection also proved vital, turning up spectral images of the Victorian institute, the Cathedral and it’s delightfully moustachioed Dean of the time. But my favourite piece of Worcester photography was concealed within onion-like layers of tissue paper, a large leather bound photo album of the Mayor’s Fancy Dress Ball of 1919, featuring page after page of hilariously morose looking children dressed in fantastic costumes (from a Samurai to Dutch national dress!).

Conveniently the museum holds a number of items from Worcester Camera Club’s past, many of these were co-opted for the display including the Club’s Challenge Shield, the trophy won by club members until the early 1950’s. The boxes of cameras yielded a treasure trove of pieces, from large leather covered boxes with fold out lenses, enormous wooden frames for cameras of an even older period, little Box Brownies, tiny spy cameras and flimsy throw away ones. Choosing specific ones was difficult but fortuitously facts helped make my choice. Kodak had begun in the 1890’s at the same time as the Camera Club, so I felt a series of Kodak’s products showing their evolution made a useful companion to the Camera Club pieces.  Labels for each piece were typed up, along with interpretation panels and my chosen pieces were put aside for transfer to the Commandery.  

The day for installation finally arrived. The pieces were delivered, along with the labels and panels that had had foam put on the back of them ready for display. The display case the pieces were to go in was cleared out, leaving the canvas bare. To give the exhibit an interesting aesthetic we experimented with Perspex platforms, shifting them about the space, then, with the guidance of museum staff the actual objects were installed; through careful balancing, leaning and placing the case filled up. It was hard to step away from, but at the point when contentment was reached, the case was locked up and it was time to step away. 

This blog entry is the second written by Collections Volunteer, Oliver Carey. He graduated in Classical Studies from the University of Exeter in July 2010 where he was nominated for a student Guardian Media award for his writing in the Campus Paper. In January 2011 he featured on the cover of ‘i’ and has been published in ‘Total Film’.

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