Case study: photographer

Les Golding
Tyne and Wear Museums Service

'I am 47 years old and have worked for Tyne and Wear Museums for the past 32 years. I began studying photography at the age of 14 while at comprehensive school in my home town of Sunderland as it was one of the options available for art.

'I was employed initially by Sunderland Museum and Art Gallery as a technician and as the museum had a darkroom but no dedicated member of staff to undertake photographic work I asked the then curator if he would consider allowing me to train at the School of Printing and Technology - then part of Newcastle Polytechnic for the City & Guilds Certificate in Professional Photography. I was enthusiastically encouraged to do this and passed my final exams in the summer of 1976.

'In 1994 I returned to higher education and began a five year part-time BA (Honours) degree at the University of Sunderland in Photography, Video & Digital Imaging, which involved attending lectures and seminars mostly in the evenings and producing written and practical work over weekends. My wife and daughter are gradually learning to recognise me again!

'Photography has changed almost beyond recognition in the past few years and as the photographer for Tyne and Wear Museums I made the decision three years ago to go digital: it was the obvious progression.

'This was met initially with a high degree of scepticism by many members of the curatorial staff who held grave reservations about image quality and colour fidelity, but with the continued support of our registrar and advances in technology they have come round to appreciating the benefits.

'In July 2002 work started on a £360,000 documentation project funded by the New Opportunities Fund with the objective of digitising 5,000 objects from the collection and generating 10,000 still images and a small amount of video and audio clips to give wider public access to the collections of Tyne and Wear Museums via a website. A NOF Digitisation Photographer was employed to help me with this work.

'My initial involvement was to research the equipment available and to decide what was most appropriate for the project. As we were one of the first museums services to undertake a project on this scale at the time - only Glasgow among regional museums was at a similar stage - there was no one I could turn to for advice, so it took some time to begin the photography process.

'As well as deciding on the best equipment for the purpose we also had to decide on matters of best practice both in terms of image capture and subsequent storage - which is never enough.

'I was very aware, especially after one or two teething problems that images sent to our server for storage needed to be backed up on a daily basis but also that several copies needed to be stored on CD and kept off-site so that in the event of fire we would have another copy.

'Once images are captured they need to be 'image managed' on desk-top Apple Mac and PC computers in the photographic studio using Adobe Photoshop which is very time consuming but essential.

'We achieved the 10,000 image target six months ahead of schedule and are still in the process of capturing more objects. I am now frequently asked to advise other institutions in the process of investing in digital equipment on procedure.

'It is vitally important that anyone coming in to Photography enters with an open mind and is flexible in their attitudes to working practice.

'Our department is now actively looking at ways of offering our expertise to smaller regional museums, especially those looking to provide some kind of web presence for their collections.'

To find out more about museum jobs, click here