Visit to Bradford Media Museum.

The Royal Photographic Society Collection © National Media Museum, Bradford / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

I sent a request to view a selection of hybrid photography to the Bradford Media Museum and was struck by this sense of discovery and intimacy. It was as though I was discovering these objects for the first time, I felt almost compelled to call strangers over to the table to experience this deep interaction themselves, however at the same time not wanting anyone else to interrupt this private moment. . Each object was wrapped and labeled, some boxed in such broad categories as ‘contains human remains’, and others merely covered in tissue with a tag and inventory number. The mnemonic nature of these objects is all the more evident when one holds them in ones own hands. I was overwhelmed with a desire to touch these intricately made memento moris, which in Latin means ‘remember that you will die’.

Viewing these objects raised the issue of access and displacement of them as artifacts. On one hand, it is vital that we preserve and archive authentic objects such as these, however there seems to be good reasons to allow these objects to function in the way there were originally intended to by their creator, so that they may be fully and properly experienced. I hope to partially address this conflict with the second part of my project: an exhibition of images as objects in place.

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Locket with 12 portraits of the performers Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren, c. 1864, The Royal Photographic Society Collection © National Media Museum, Bradford / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

During my time in the store at the Bradford Media Museum, I came across a very small, carefully wrapped item. The envelope read ‘Locket containing portraits of …’, poignantly; I was unable to read the last word. I took the object out of the envelope and unfolded the white tissue paper, revealing a small

guilt locket about one Inch Square. On the front the words ‘Somebody’s Luggage’ are inscribed into it,, there is a clasp on the side, inviting me to open the locket and discover what the portraits show inside. By this time my obvious excitement and intrigue had got the attention of the collections assistant, who, seemingly, was

eagerly awaiting my discovery. To my astonishment, a total of twelve framed photographs unfolded from the box in a concertina. Each one a documentation of, what I now understand, is the writing on the envelope, to read ‘Locket containing portraits of dwarfs’. With no other information at this point I am left to fanaticise about the journey this pendant has taken and to wonder who made

this tiny memento, the lives they have documented and the thoughts of those who have handled it. It is the physical act of opening and unfolding this compact object that creates intimacy through its functionality. This is an authentic hybrid photo object; something that cannot be replicated with digital technology. I later received an email from Rebecca Smith the research assistant at the Bradford Media Museum telling me she has been doing some research about the locket as a result of my curiosity during my visit .This precious item has now been revealed as a mass-produced money making commodity, one that was centered around the infamous ‘Fairy wedding’ of ‘General’ Tom Thumb and his fellow performer Lavinia Warren, both part of showman P. T. Barnum’s troupe of performers.

http://nationalmediamuseumblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/21/tiny-19th-century-photographic-souvenir-of-tom-thumbs-wedding/

 

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