Website technical difficulties
See all stories
27 Sept 2017

Mackintosh and the baby’s play pen

A photographer peers inside an illuminated play pen-like structure in a room in the Hill House. His camera is set up on a tripod nearby.
As the Reveal Team West’s operation at the Hill House draws to a close, it is an opportunity to reflect on how Project Reveal was implemented at our first property.

Arriving in Helensburgh to start our involvement with Project Reveal, we knew that it was not going to be a gentle ease into our new roles – we would have to hit the ground running. The Hill House, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, is the most popular visitor attraction in the seaside town and we were going to be there in August, peak holiday time.

As expected, the biggest problem I had to face as a photographer was space, or rather the lack of it. To produce the high-quality images required for the project we need lighting equipment, stands and tripods, all of which take up valuable room. In addition, there was the potential trip hazard of my lighting cables, so when I was working in spaces accessed by visitors it was essential that I carried out risk assessments for each location; I had to be continually vigilant with regard to the health and wellbeing of the public. I was acutely aware that I needed to minimise my presence in the property, reducing my footprint so as not to spoil the visitor experience.

The Hall at the Hill House, with a camera tripod on the rug. It is surrounded by black canvas screens and free-standing lights.
Objects that cannot be photographed without creating hazards must be shot while the property is closed.

Visitors have access to the Hill House from 11.30am, so each day I would take advantage of the time before this, photographing the larger pieces of furniture in the more exposed areas where safety may have been an issue later on. Being able to spread out my lighting kit and work in this tranquil property was fantastic, but as the Mackintosh-designed hall clock clanged its eleven deep chimes my reverie ended and I had to start upping sticks and shrinking into a corner somewhere.

A close-up of the Mackintosh-designed wall clock at the Hill House.
The Mackintosh-designed hall clock chimes on the hour.

The most practical space I was able to find was one of the corners of the dining room and it became my regular haunt when the property doors opened, especially when photographing the extensive collection of dinner sets and tea services. By using a pop-up light cube tent, I was able to reduce my space requirements to around 2 metres square. These cubes are used to bathe small objects with a soft, even light and they are essential pieces of kit for photographing highly reflective subjects such as silver objects. Since I was photographing a large number of plates, I decided to place my cube tent on the floor and set up my camera tripod so that I could shoot vertically down into the cube where I had positioned the object. The set-up seemed to work very well and, after photographing both sides of the plate, I would reach into the cube to retrieve the plate. On one such occasion I heard the surprised shriek of a visitor. As I turned to face her, plate in hand, she embarrassedly explained that she thought my cube was a play pen and I had been reaching in to take a baby!

A decorated china plate is displayed against a plain grey background. It has a pink and gold pattern around the outside, with heathers painted in the middle.
One of the many plates photographed in the pop-up light cube.

Over the weeks and under the watchful eye of Mr Walter Blackie, first owner of the Hill House, framed on the opposite wall, my cube tent piqued the interest of many visitors from all over the world. Everyone wanted to know what I was photographing in my ‘play pen’. It was a fantastic conversational ice breaker and a great opportunity to engage with the public and explain the amazing work of Project Reveal.

Project Reveal will result in an updated database with high quality images and unique object numbers for every item in the Trust material culture collections. Six regionally based project teams, supported by experienced project managers, will work across all of our properties with collections to complete the inventory in 18 months from July 2017 until December 2018.

Project Reveal

Find out more about this Trust-wide collections digitisation project.

Project Reveal >