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28 Jun 2018

Photography students visit Culzean Castle

Written by Alastair Fenn – Photographer, Team South-West
Students from New College Lanarkshire visit Culzean Castle
Students from New College Lanarkshire visit Culzean Castle
It all started with a rather innocuous comment to my manager, which led to a group of photography students coming to Culzean to find out more about Project Reveal.

After my last article on the ghosts of Culzean was published, one of my former photography lecturers from college commented how much the current batch of students were enjoying my updates on working with the Trust.

‘Maybe we should invite them down to see what goes on here’, I said to my manager John.

‘That’s not a bad idea’ was the reply.

So, on 23 February Project Reveal’s South-West team welcomed 40 first year photography students from New College Lanarkshire to Culzean Castle for a presentation on real world photography and a workshop on collections photography.

The day started with problems. The talk was to take place in Culzean’s lecture hall, but with John and me being complete neophytes when it comes to some aspects of technology, we couldn’t get the projector to work. Thankfully, someone who knows a lot more about projectors was kind enough to hold our hands, locate the correct cable and got my PowerPoint presentation projected onto the screen above the stage. We were all set with 15 minutes to spare before the students arrived.

John, our project manager, gave a brief introduction to Project Reveal, what we do and why we need to do it. Then it was my turn to address the students.

My talk centred on my role within the project, drawing on everything I’d learned during my time at college, so the students could see that what they’re learning about has a practical application. My first three months at college were spent learning about aperture, focal length, ISO, depth of field and wavelengths of light, without even being allowed to think about touching a camera. So why do we have to learn all this when we just want to take photos? Because we need to know about these things to take effective images. I showed some of my images from Project Reveal to highlight different aspects of my work, from using a studio set-up to photographing objects in situ, including some of the challenges I face, such as dealing with hundreds upon hundreds of plates and how best to photograph carpet rods!

Students from New College Lanarkshire visit Culzean Castle

I also talked about how to find work in photography – not an easy task. Using the quote ‘knowledge without mileage is worthless’, I encouraged the students to do any work they could to build up their real world experience. I did this, which definitely aided me in securing work with the Trust. To close, I discussed my own photographic work, showing the group how I’m using the knowledge I picked up at college and the creative process that was nurtured by my lecturers.

After lunch the students walked from Home Farm to the castle, giving them ample opportunity to take photographs. At the castle the class was split into two groups. Group A were taken on a guided tour of the castle by Collections Care Officer Gordon Nelson, who knows more about the castle than anyone.

Students from New College Lanarkshire visit Culzean Castle

Volunteers were called for from Group B. Two brave souls stepped forward, without knowing exactly what they were signing up for – both were issued with a pair of Project Reveal’s famous purple gloves and inducted into the ‘Purple Glove Club’.

Students from New College Lanarkshire visit Culzean Castle

The rest of my team were in the entrance hall of the castle, as at the time we were working our way through Culzean’s extensive armoury. So it was a perfect opportunity for the students to try their hand at object handling and marking using a sword (I should point out that it was a plastic sword bought at the gift shop).

Students from New College Lanarkshire visit Culzean Castle

After the volunteers had practised the fine art of object marking, it was through to the armoury itself, which was set up for photography. Here was the real test for our volunteers: I knew they had learned at college how to set up studio lights but could they do it in a real life situation? With very little help, both were able to set up the lights and take an archival-quality image – maybe I should be worried for my job!

Students from New College Lanarkshire visit Culzean Castle

The students then switched round, with Group B going on a tour of the castle and volunteers from Group A joining the ‘Glove Club’, getting hands-on with object handling and object photography. I’m pleased to report they were just as capable as the first group.

Students from New College Lanarkshire visit Culzean Castle
Students from New College Lanarkshire visit Culzean Castle

As we left the castle a group photo was taken and the students walked back to the bus. My biggest goal for the day had been to offer the students a light at the end of the tunnel, that all the seemingly never-ending streams of information they were getting at college have a practical use. I also hoped that they would leave inspired to look at photography differently, realising that there are other options career-wise, and with a renewed vigour to carry on their studies.

A huge thank you is due to Fiona Thomson and Elizabeth Morton, lecturers at New College Lanarkshire, for helping put the day together. Also a massive thank you to student photographers Craig Murray and Margaret Ann McKenna for taking the photographs that accompany this article.

Project Reveal is a Trust-wide collections digitisation project. It 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 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.

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