Before any object is photographed there are many things to consider, and these bags were no different.
Firstly, it's important to have an overview of the entire collection which the object is a part of to ensure its context is understood. It is not always possible to have the entire group of objects laid out prior to starting photographic work, due to the sheer size of many of the Museum's collections, so the Collection Managers help fill the gaps through explanation.
Once you have a good understanding, the following needs to be determined for each bag:
Physical space: How much space is required to photograph the object? Is it big or small? There are often five other photographers working in one room so space can be hard to come by.
Manoeuvrability and fragility: Is the bag easy to move? Does it have loose parts, broken threads or fragile fabric which mean you have to be extremely cautious with movement so as not to damage it further?
Type of material and colour: Is it shiny or metallic? Or is it transparent or very light in colour?
With this information the studio setup is planned. Variables such as what kind of light will be used, what surface the bag will be photographed on, what type of lense will be required, and what, if any, additional aids will be required to support and protect the bag during photography.
At the most basic level you want the image to be evenly exposed and to ensure it is colour accurate. You also want to highlight the textures such as whether it is gloss, matte or whether it has cracks or tears – everything that tells the story of the bag. Once this has been set up, a series of test shots are taken for approval.
As this collection of bags is particularly diverse, I established a lighting setup that was modular in design. There were three setups: catering for upright handbags; purses that need to be laid flat and; a change to black that served the more reflective materials really well.
Below are examples of three differernt lighting setups for three different bags.
Image: Ese (man’s ceremonial bag) (detail). Auckland Museum Collection: 2002.28.15