23rd April 2013
Nine students and Rob Bloomfield visited the V & A on Friday 19th April. Meeting at 11-00 am at the Cromwell Street entrance we were early for our allotted space in the Print Room so Rob suggested we take a quick look at the exhibition ‘Island Stories: Fifty Years of Photography in Britain’. Although we were only there about fifteen minutes it was enough to make me want to re-visit after our session in the Print Room.
Moving up to the fourth floor we entered into a room, correct title ‘The Prints & Drawings Study Room’, with two long benches where about a dozen large document boxes had been arranged and where a few other visitors were already quietly studying prints that they’d had brought from the archive. Quite how many photographic prints they have there isn’t listed anywhere, but there are 750,000 objects that can be classified within the sphere of this study room.
One of the librarians proceeded to explain how we were to handle the prints, study them and then return them to their boxes in the order they were removed, i.e. no dirty hands, no flicking through them like a pack of cards, no dragging print mounts across the surface of another print, don’t have tow prints open simultaneously and on top of one another etc., pretty common sense stuff really. We distributed ourselves around the table opposite the boxes and began to delve into what they contained, we had two hours booked, which initially I though was a long time, how wrong I was.
There were at least three boxes containing ‘The History of Photography’, one showing Daguerrotypes, one showing processes (albumen prints, platinum prints, salt paper prints etc), one with contemporary prints and about seven others with subjects I can’t remember.
Opening the box I had, which was one of the History of Photography containers, I was thrilled to find ORIGINAL prints by Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Eggleston, Eugene Smith, Roy De Carava. Other boxes had Weegee, Ansel Adams, Edward Steichen, Bill Brandt, Gary Winogrand, Paul Strand, Man Ray and hosts of other greats. To be able to see the details that are lost when these images are reproduced is amazing in itself and it gave me a very dfferent perspective on images I’d though of as ‘so what?’ when seeing them in books, they take on a new life when seen for real.
As a student tool this resource has a great benefit because you learn first hand how difficult it was for some of these images to be made with the equipment available at the time, it gives a different appreciation of the artists talents. The other things it allows you to do is see a much wider range of of any one artists work, not just the most commonly reproduced images, which provided me with ideas of what I’d like to see appear in images I make. You also get a different perspective on how and why the photographer chose the angle and framing and in some cases how much work has been done to some to make them legible when reproduced, thus detracting from the original intention of the artists.
I’d like to think I’ll be using that resource more in the future, but like a lot of other things you make a promise to yourself to do I have a feeling it won’t be as often as I’d like it to be and will probably only be a once a year treat because of all the other things one has to accomplish toward the end goal of a degree, shame.