In April 2019 I joined RAMM as Assistant Curator of Photographs. I will be at RAMM for six months as part of the V&A Photography Curators’ Training programme, which is funded by the Art Fund. The past few weeks I have spent reviewing the photographs and photographs related material in RAMM’s collections.

Image of Marie Blanck sitting in the V&A's Study Room examining a black-and-white photograph

Marie-Kathrin Blanck, photograph by Peter Kelleher ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

I started with the photographs in the Fine Art collection.  However, the museum has collected photographs in many different ways and they are part of different collections. For example, you can find lantern slides and glass plate negatives in the Antiquities collection, cartes de visite in the Costume and Textile collection and photographic albums in the Ethnography collection. Therefore, we decided to expand the remit of my review.

Photographs at RAMM

Most photographs are stored at the museum in the More in Store. As photographs are most often flat, paper-based objects they are stored at RAMM either in their own boxes or with other print-related material. Bigger photographic prints that are framed and glazed are stored at RAMM’s external store, the ARK.

A few photographs are also on display in the museum. Such as a photograph showing Czigane, one of the dogs that was part of the 1910-1913 British Antarctic Expedition to the South Pole, led by Captain R. F. Scott. Two crystoleum photographs by Exeter-based photographer Owen Angel and a photographic album of ‘The House That Moved’ are exhibited in the ‘Making History’ gallery.

Researching photographs

I started my review based on the object records in the museum’s database. Here, further information is stored, such as acquisition details and the location of objects. From there I started to physically examine each object. From my experience working with other photographic collections I can often determine the process by looking very closely at the photograph. For example, I examine the surface sheen. Is the photograph matt or glossy? I analyse if there are signs of deterioration and look closely at the paper support. However, sometimes it can be quite difficult to establish the technique and process. Especially, as certain processes are meant to emulate others. I do further research using helpful resources, such as the website graphicsatlas. Here, you can compare different processes and look up identifying characteristics of photographic and photo-mechanical processes.

I also research the photographers and subjects depicted in the photographs. I found that many photographs in RAMM’s collections were taken by local professional photographers and photographic studios, such as Owen Angel (active ca. 1852-1893) or James Frederick Long (1818-1903). Angel was one of the founding members of the Devon and Exeter Photographic Society in 1857.

A lot of RAMM’s photographs are portrait photographs that show local historic personalities, such as the crystoleum photographs of Owen Angel’s daughter Marian and a photogravure of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, who was born in Plymouth. Like an autograph, Scott actually signed the bottom right corner of this print.

Detail of signature 'R.F. Scott, Captain R.N.' underneath a black-and-white photograph showing Captain Robert Falcon Scott

Detail of photogravure with signature of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, by Maull & Fox, c. 1905

Collection Highlights

Some of the highlights I found in the collections are an early colour photograph by Frederick Gordon Tutton (1888-1930) and a photographic album of images from Mysore from 1906. I find it remarkable how meticulously Tutton signed his print, making sure that everyone knows that this is his creation. You can see his signature in detail. He signed with ‘F.G. Tutton F.R.P.S’. The latter stands for his Fellowship in the Royal Photographic Society, which he earned in 1923.

Detailed image of a colour photograph showing inscription of title 'A Domestic Affair' and the artist's signature

Detail of ‘A Domestic Affair’ by F.G. Tutton (1888-1930), c. 1925

Stay tuned for more as I continue my research over the next weeks and months.