Arrangements in Black and Grey – an exhibition at the Fox Talbot Museum

Is Black and White photography still relevant today?

Untitled, by Mark Voce, who prefers to work at night capturing empty city scenes.

Untitled, by Mark Voce, who prefers to work at night capturing empty city scenes.

The question is being posed by the National Trust in a new exhibition at the Fox Talbot Museum in Lacock which features six present day photographers who still use black and white.

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Quenching your thirst for Lacock Abbey’s history

A new room has been opened for the first time for visitors to Lacock Abbey along with extra information revealing more of the history of the medieval cloisters through new information panels and discovery maps.

(c) National Trust / SWNS

The National Trust has opened the old wine cellar of Lacock Abbey, a room which was originally part of the medieval cloisters and which still shows traces of earlier history.

The team at Lacock believe that this room was created by partitioning off the adjacent Servant’s Hall in the early 1800s. There is also evidence that this bigger room would have served as accommodation to ‘lower class’ visitors of the abbey, in the more class conscious medieval times, while ‘superior visitors’ would have resided on the upper floor near the Abbess’s suite of rooms.

Sonia Jones, House and Collection Manager of Lacock Abbey: “It’s wonderful to be able to open this room to the public for the first time; not only will it enhance the experience of visitors to the furnished Abbey Rooms, but the wine cellar is also another part of the abbey where it’s possible to see the layers of architectural history that subtly reminds us how the use of the building has changed over the last 800 years.”

(c) National Trust / SWNS

House Manager Sonia Jones putting the final touches to the wine cellar at Lacock Abbey which has just been opened to the public for the first time.

In the early eighteenth century the residents of the abbey decided to turn this room into a wine cellar. The room is partly underground and the lack of natural light makes it humid, cool and dark, ideal conditions to store wine. However, the installation of heating pipes in 1876 meant that the temperature rose in the room – nice and cosy for the occupants but not ideal for wine.

More evidence of the Talbot family and their life has been discovered by the Conservation team last winter as they were cataloguing family heirlooms and an exhibition of children’s toys and clothes has gone on display in the abbey for the first time, bringing visitors closer to the former residents and life in the early twentieth century.

Another new addition for history hungry visitors will was unveiled on Wednesday. New information panels and discovery maps are installed in the medieval cloisters and will help quench their thirst for knowledge as they find out about the life of the nuns and its connection to the local history of Wiltshire.

“Visitors often ask about the day to day life of the nuns at Lacock and want to know where the original abbey once stood. We wanted to come up with a way to make it more interesting for both young and old audiences to find out about the medieval history of our special place. We have created two different maps, one for adults and one for children, which they can take around the cloisters on a discovery walk.” explains Karen Bolger, Visitor Services Manager at Lacock. The maps are available on the entrance to the cloisters, with key facts, and fun and fascinating highlights. But that’s not all; more in-depth information panels are installed in the rooms and near important sites, such as the tombstone of Ela, Countess of Salisbury, who founded Lacock Abbey in 1232, for all those that just can’t get enough of Lacock’s history.

The wine cellar will be open to the public from Saturday 23 March (as per Abbey opening hours) and the new information panels will be on display from Wednesday 20 March 2013.

 For opening times please visit nationaltrust.org.uk/lacock or call 01249 730 459.

Community art group’s flags to cover the lawns at Lacock Abbey

Batik Flags (c) National Trust

A display of up to 90 colourful six foot high flags, decorated with batik designs, will be on show on the South Lawn at Lacock Abbey, near Chippenham, from Saturday 8 to Sunday 16 September.

The impressive banners have been created by women living in the villages and Army bases around Salisbury Plain.

The unique project, called ‘Anything But Plain, Darling! has focused on civilian-Army relations in the area.

Organiser, Alex Grant from Salisbury-based charity Circular Arts said: “This has been a wonderful opportunity for women from the forces community to come together with those from the rural area around the Plain, and take part in a high-profile arts event.”

Susi, a forces wife living in Shrewton, felt that Anything But Plain, Darling! was something worth being part of. She said: “I don’t get much of a chance to do anything just for me at the moment, with George away and the kids always around, but I found space to get involved in this.”

Circular Arts have recently organised some stunning displays of batik flags in front of Salisbury Cathedral and at Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire.

National Trust staff at Lacock Abbey are looking forward to seeing their immaculate lawn transformed by the flags.

‘This is going to be a wonderful sight’, said Rachael Holtom, Visitor Experience Officer, ‘The flags will light up the front of the Abbey and provide a marvellous opportunity for interaction, as you wonder in and around the flags and admire the artwork. It should be a great photo opportunity.

‘We are especially pleased to be hosting a community arts project and that Circular Arts invited one of our local clubs, the Lacock Evergreens to take part’.

The installation coincides with Heritage Open Day on 8 September, when Lacock Abbey participates in the free admission scheme to many fascinating properties.  At other times, normal admission fees apply with free entry for NT members and under fives.

For more information please call 01249 730459 or www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lacock

Travels with Michael Palin – Photographs by Basil Pao

Michael Palin takes a break on a visit to Machu Picchu © Basil Pao

The photographer who has captured Michael Palin’s many travels since 1988 is bringing an exhibition of his work to the National Trust’s Fox Talbot Museum in Lacock, Wiltshire.

Michael Palin takes a break on a visit to Machu Picchu © Basil Pao

Michael Palin takes a break on a visit to Machu Picchu © Basil Pao

Many who have the books of Palin’s globe trotting adventures will recognise the work of Basil Pao who has accompanied the former Python on trips for almost 25 years.

Basil Pao had worked with Monty Python in the late 1970s on the book for Life of Brian. In 1988 when Michael was beginning his first journey ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, he asked Basil if he would be his guide around Hong Kong andChina. His still photographs worked so well with that portion of the journey that Michael invited him to continue the trip with him.

Michael remarked: ‘In addition to showing me round Basil displayed two, no sorry, three advantages that have made him indispensable on all my journeys since then. He loves good food and drink, takes lots of amazing photographs and wears straw hats everywhere, ensuring that I never lose sight of the film crew.’

Since that first journey Michael and Basil have been around the world, over the poles, across the Himalayas and through theSahara.

Basil’s photographs have been used as the illustrations for the books encompassing all eight of these journeys with a ninth in the works. Currently the pair are working their way along the Amazon, with visits to Rio, Brasilia and other cities, to bring us their deeper and idiosyncratic view of Brazil.

Like still photographers on all sorts of film adventures, Basil’s images are better known than the photographer behind the camera. The exhibition at the National Trust’s Fox Talbot Museum contains 30 images of people and places encountered on all of those around the world journeys.

”Basil’s large, rich, colourful images bring you up close and personal with people and places throughout the far flung corners of the world”, said Roger Watson, National Trust Curator at the Fox Talbot Museum. “Most of us suffer from travel envy when it comes to Michael Palin. He’s gone to places we can only dream of. His friend and travelling companion, Basil Pao, unseen on screen, is a world class photographer with an eye for finding the people and places they visit and bring them to life.”

The Rebirth of Handmade Photographs

At a time when digital photography is king and analogue photography seems to have fallen into the dustbin of history, the Fox Talbot Museum is looking to the past to find the future of photographic art.

The latest museum exhibition, Handmade Pictures, is the work of Jesseca Ferguson who uses a pinhole camera and prints her images on paper made using a 100 year old technique.

From its earliest days, photography became an art by combining the aesthetic eye common to all artists in selecting the scene to shoot and a command of the technical skills necessary in creating the final print.

Tome-XXIV-Argyrotype Fox Talbot“As good as digital photography is, many photographic artists miss the hands-on feel of analogue photography” said Roger Watson, Curator of the Fox Talbot Museum. “The ease of making pictures using digital cameras and a computer printer goes against the grain of artists who are used to working with both their eyes and hands to create art.”

Jesseca is a Boston artist who chooses to continue working outside the technological mainstream. She uses basic pinhole cameras to create negatives and then prints them on fine artists paper using hand coated 19th century processes, in particular the cyanotype and salted paper prints.

Jesseca Ferguson said: “The poetic aspects of pinhole photography are what draw me to it.  Although the pinhole camera is ‘blind,’ because it has no viewfinder or lens, I find that it ‘sees’ in mysterious ways.  The pinhole camera’s ‘sight’ grants infinite depth of field to the object and images before it, thus allowing us to see the camera’s pinhole vision, which is characterized by the odd clarity of dreams or memory. Working without a viewfinder, I can’t know exactly what my pinhole camera will give me, thus my camera becomes my silent and enigmatic collaborator.

“Usually I work in my own studio, setting up arrangements of images and objects culled from my “museum of memory,” which is my personal collection of oddments, books, and artefacts.  Using only natural light, my exposures often take several hours.  I then contact print my images using 19th century techniques (or modern versions of antique processes) requiring ultra-violet light.  My work is slow, hand-built, and cumulative, rather like the layering of dust or memories over time. “

Roger Watson explained that, 100 years ago as photography became available to a much wider range of people thanks to hand-held cameras with film which could be easily processed, some photographers turned back to older techniques and processes in a bid to make photography an art form.

“We appear to be at another of these turning points where digital printmaking has become, on the one hand, so easy that anyone can make a basic image or on the other hand, so complex and expensive that it must be printed by an expert. In order to separate themselves from the crowds, some photographers have once again turned to the art of hand printmaking. For them, the final object must contain both the art and the craft of photography.”

More information on the exhibition is available on www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lacock