Print, Project, Collect is a new venture by the Pitt Rivers Museum which aims to give members of the public a taste of the museum's extensive photographic collection and an insight into how photographs can influence research.
At the Print session last Saturday, we were reminded of a time when a photograph was not just an image, but a physical object.
The first exercise involved examining a selection of ethnographic prints to see what we could deduce from both the images and the objects. Did this Norwegian Sami man have his picture taken to show his social status or could it have been a gift for a prospective bride? Are these Maoris being photographed as celebrities or as a particular ethnic type and why is there a Greek urn in the background? Another exercise saw the group sorting a collection of photographs of similar subjects into date order.
Finally, we were taken up to the research area where we were given the opportunity to look through a large selection of pictures. These included some of the earlier ethnographic portraits in the context of wider collections as well as photographs taken by travellers in the Pacific and Central America, including some stereographic pictures. We also saw examples of ways in which the Museum's collection had been made more widely available through books and, more recently, through digitisation.
This was a superb workshop – Kathy Clough, Assistant Curator of Photographs and Manuscripts, and her team had clearly put a lot of thought into selecting the material and designing the activities. I'm looking forward to the next two workshops in the series and would recommend them wholeheartedly to anyone who is interested in finding out more about the Pitt Rivers collection or who, like me, is just fascinated by old photographs.