Behind the scenes at the MOA
Cross-posted from my personal blog:
In my previous life as a working photographer in Toronto, I had the wonderful job of photographing the permanent collection at the Textile Museum of Canada.
It was a huge project given that there are over ten thousand objects in their collection, and my responsibilities went beyond the task of studio set up and picture taking.
There was always plenty to do between cataloguing and sorting slides, maintaining lists, arranging for scanning, prepping final images and inputting these into the database, all in an effort to digitize the collection and make it more accessible to the public.
It was a project without much funding or support at the time, so I did all of this when I was at the museum once a week – and provided my own photography equipment.
I was reminded of all this when I had the pleasure of a behind-the-scenes tour at the Museum of Anthropology, and discovered the digitization project they currently have on the go.
Our wonderful host and tour guide was Elizabeth Johnson, Curator of Textiles, also known as Betsy.
She had graciously agreed to show myself and Mandy around at the request of her son, fellow photographer Ben (sockeyed) Johnson.
We started with an introduction to Jessica Bushey, Head of digital imaging, which led to an interesting discussion comparing notes about working on such a project.
We all agreed the best part about working as a museum photographer is the up close contact with amazing artifacts normally tucked away in storage or behind glass.
The MOA has a dream setup as far as camera equipment and studio set up, and I really had to admire how good a project, like I’d worked on, can be when properly funded.
After this initial exciting encounter, Betsy led us to one of the storage areas to fulfill the actual reason we were there, which was to look at the textile collection.
Mandy and I were like kids in a candy store as we walked down the aisles between shelving units, looking every which way because there was so much to see.
Betsy invited us to choose anything we’d like to see closer, and she would take it down for us to examine fine details like embroidery with a magnifier.
We mostly looked at items of clothing like Kimonos, Chinese dragon robes, an African hausa robe, Chinese opera costumes, and even a family of wooden dolls from Korea all dressed perfectly in traditional clothing.
It was an amazing experience seeing these beautiful objects, and appreciating how much incredible detail work once went into clothing, and it was all done by hand.
The excitment and enthusiasm between the three of us built up as we looked through the collection, admiring techniques and sharing a mutual appreciation of textiles.
All too soon the experience came to an end, as the museum’s 5pm closing time required all visitors to exit the building.
But before leaving, Betsy showed us one last spectacular thing – a kimono unusual for its random pattern of decoration, and remarkable for the finely embroidered scenes depicting nature.
It was a sight that left Mandy and I on a high note of excitement for the rest of the evening and neither of us can wait to take Betsy up on her invitation to a second visit.