Telling a story with photos: ceramics conservation for Before Egypt

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Artefact photography is just one aspect of what I do. Another, at the other end of the scale, is documentary photography.

Unlike my artefact photography, which is carefully controlled and thought out, documentary photography is about working with what you’ve got, and reacting to the moment. Your environment dictates the photography, rather than the photography dictating the environment.

What is focus stacking?

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Focus-stacking is a technique photographers use when they can’t get all of their subject in focus in a single shot. And it’s a technique that I use almost all the time for my artefact photography.

But, what do I mean by getting all your focus in one shot?I think everyone’s familiar with the idea of focus being about getting a sharp, not blurry, image.

However, various factors can affect how much of your photo is sharp.

Photographing Egyptian flint tools using a lightbox

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The photography I’ve been doing at the Garstang isn’t all amulets and papyrus. I’ve photographed a lot of pottery for the Before Egypt exhibition, which in itself has been a lot more fun than I thought it might be. However, I’ve also photographed another type of object for the first time for the exhibition: flint tools.

5 reasons you might be struggling with low-light photography

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When I asked people what they struggle with most when taking photographs in low light, the biggest issues are shaky/blurry photos, too much noise/grain and photos that are too dark. Sometimes, this is down to your hardware; other times, it’s just not quite knowing what to do with your camera. To improve your photography, the first step is to start understanding why your photos aren’t working so well in the first place.

Bristol Museum and Art Gallery: smartphone vs. camera

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At the start of the summer holidays 2018, we took the girls for our annual trip to Bath for them to spend some time with their grandparents. While we were there, I took the opportunity to have a trip to the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. It’d been a few years since my last trip and I wanted to get some photos to add to my collection.

Liverpool’s Egyptian-revival architecture: a photographer’s tour

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The month of May is Photo Month. As part of the month in 2018, I shared on Facebook and Twitter photos of Egyptian-revival architecture around Liverpool. The posts were popular, so I’ve put them all together here. For those interested in photographing them, I’ve included extra information on how I photographed them.

New toy time! The Fujifilm 80mm macro lens: first impressions

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Since its release in November 2017, I’ve been lusting after the Fujifilm 80mm macro lens. Touted as Fuji’s first ‘real’ macro lens (I explain why their other macro lens isn’t really considered a ‘proper’ macro below), it’s had some amazing reviews, and I’d been suffering lens envy until I was at last able to get mine in April 2018.

Travelling back to the time before the pharaohs: the Predynastic Period

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So, it’s a new year and I have a new project to get working on at the Garstang (hooray!). The museum’s next exhibition is planned for 2019 and shifts right back to the Predynastic Period; the time before the pharaohs. I don’t yet know what the detailed theme of the exhibition will be, though it is early days. What I do know, however, is that there’s a lot for me to be photographing, so my work’s already begun in earnest.

The goddess Isis: mother, magician, healer, wife

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The goddess Isis, along with Osiris, is probably one of the best known deities from ancient Egypt. The couple are synonymous with the seemingly mysterious, often-confusing religion. First attested in funerary texts from the pyramid of Unas (c. 2360 BC), Isis was the longest lived of the Egyptian pantheon. Her cult became dominant in the Greco-Roman period, with the goddess soaking up aspects of other goddesses including Hathor and Astarte until she became the ultimate, all-powerful deity. The last, and arguably most famous pharaoh, Cleopatra VII, often depicted herself as Isis.

Because her cult was adopted in Rome, it spread far outside of Egypt, sanctuaries being founded even as far north as London. Her temple at Philae was the last temple to close in Egypt in the 6th century AD after Christianity spread across the Roman Empire.

A year in photos: my top twelve photos of 2017

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This past year has been an amazing year for me and my photography. From humble beginnings, taking a few photos for fun at the Garstang Museum, I’ve ended up photographing lots of beautiful ancient Egyptian artefacts, providing photography for the Book of the Dead exhibition and having my images up on the wall of the Tate Liverpool.

As I think back over the last year, and look forward to what 2018 has to bring for me, I thought I’d share some of my favourite photos and moments with you from the past twelve months. So, here’s my year in photos, month by month, for 2017.

The Book of the Dead as a Tate Exchange Workshop

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While the Book of the Dead exhibition was on, the Garstang put in a successful bid for a week-long workshop at the Tate Liverpool. The workshop was based on the Book of the Dead exhibition, but was art-focused, without the artefacts. It featured my photography, prominently.

Update from the Garstang: two pots and the Festival of Archaeology

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My last session at the Garstang was another busy one. As well as getting on with more artefact photography, the museum was hosting a talk by Roland Enmarch on the Book of the Dead as part of the UK’s annual Festival of Archaeology.

Update from the Garstang: tiny amulets and a visit from Bob Brier

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Having had a bit of a break from photographing artefacts while the Book of the Dead exhibition was being put together, I started back at the Garstang a couple of weeks ago.

Whilst having a bit of an explore of the storerooms, I happened upon some boxes of amulets; I knew immediately these tiny little objects could be great fun to photograph.

Photography in museums: a few tips and tricks

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I’ve had a lot of fun over the last few years exploring galleries of Egyptian collections with my camera (as a visitor). A lot of it has been hit-and-miss, to say the least, usually because of glass reflections or low light (or a combination of both). But I’ve learnt (the long, hard way) a few things about photographing artefacts in museum galleries. So, for those of you who’d like to improve your photography skills for museum visits, I’d like to share a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years (if your photography’s up to scratch, then here’s a post with some pretty pictures to enjoy).

Light Night opening of the Book of the Dead exhibition

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After numerous hours in the photographic suite, many more vying with Photoshop, followed by several weeks of nail biting, hoping my photos would make the grade, finally, we got there. The Book of the Dead exhibition opened at the Garstang on 19 May 2017 as part of Liverpool Light Night.

The new Egyptian galleries at the World Museum

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On Friday, 28 April 2017 at 9.45 am, I was sitting outside the World Museum in Liverpool waiting impatiently for it to open. Why? It was the official opening of the newly refurbished and expanded Egyptian galleries we’d been waiting nearly two years to see.

I headed straight up to the third floor with my trusty camera in hand. Even before getting into the galleries, I was impressed.

Repairing papyri in Photoshop

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Repairing papyri that have sustained damage over the millennia using Photoshop is something I want to spend some time doing on this project. Whilst employing a conservationist to take the papyri out of their glass containers and reassemble them is a costly and time-consuming affair, using Photoshop to digitally reassemble pieces is much less so (and more fun for me, too).

The process of repairing papyri
So, what is it I’m doing when I’m repairing papyri? The purpose is to pull together and realign broken sections. The example I’m using here is from a copy of the Amduat from the Garstang Museum. The Amduat was a funerary text whose contents showed the nighttime journey of the sun-god through the underworld. This particular copy belonged to a lady called Tjaty from the 21st Dynasty of ancient Egypt (1077–943 BC).

At the Garstang: first session photographing the Book of the Dead

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Last week, I had my first proper session in the photographic suite. I spent the day in near darkness, photographing a couple of pages from the Book of the Dead.

But why were you in near darkness?, I hear you cry. Because of my arch-nemesis: reflections.

The papyri are encased in sheets of glass, which were cleaned beautifully by some of the museum interns before I photographed them. However, the now extra-clean glass was was extra shiny, and therefore extra reflective. Although the walls and ceiling in the suite are painted black, even low amounts of light were reflecting off the light fittings in the ceiling back down onto the glass.

At the Garstang: setting up photographic equipment and taking some test shots

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I had my first session at the Garstang on Wednesday. It wasn’t a proper session, per se, but one for reviewing logistics and taking a few test shots. My first project with the museum is to photograph some papyri for Gina, so I wanted to test out my photographic equipment on them. I also got to go down to the photographic suite and see how the equipment there could compliment/enhance what I already have.

Photographing Egyptology at the Garstang Museum

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The Garstang Museum of Archaeology is the departmental museum for the School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology at the University of Liverpool. The university’s where I studied Egyptology, so it’s a place close to my heart.

I’m so excited to share with you that I’m going to be getting my hands dirty at the Garstang with some photographic projects. The curator, Dr Gina Criscenzo Laycock, and I studied for our Masters together, so it’s been really great to catch up with an old friend and get the opportunity to start this project.

Google Noto: a typeface collection with hieroglyphs

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In a quest to try to harmonise the ever-disparate collection of technologies that we use to connect on the internet, Google have developed what may be the most comprehensive collection of typefaces yet. Under the umbrella name of Google Noto, the aim of the collection is to include every unicode symbol ever (for free).

They say:

‘Animal Mummies Revealed’ at the World Museum: behind the scenes

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Having completed its stint at Glasgow, the Animal Mummies Revealed exhibition opened on 14 October 2016 at the World Museum in Liverpool. I visited the exhibition when it was on at the Manchester Museum last year, and was really looking forward to following it up again at the World Museum and seeing how it looked in a different exhibition space.

Curator Ashley Cooke very kindly arranged for me to come in for a couple of hours while the exhibition was being set up to get a few behind-the-scenes photos to share with you all. It really was just a snapshot of a small part of a process that had taken several weeks, but what I saw was just fascinating.

‘Meroë: Africa’s Forgotten Empire’ exhibition at the Garstang Museum

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Friday, 13 May 2016 was Light Night in Liverpool; a night when the city of Liverpool comes to life with family events, late-opening museums, libraries and galleries, and a whole host of arts-based fun. For the past two years, the Garstang Museum of Archaeology taken part in Light Night. Last year, they welcomed the Garstang Mummy back to the museum after a sixty-year sojourn in the Department of Anatomy. This year, Light Night was the opening night of the exhibition, Meroë: Africa’s Forgotten Empire.

‘Animal Mummies’ at the Manchester Museum: a retrospective interview with Campbell Price

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On 15 April I hopped on the train to Manchester to see and photograph the ‘Animal Mummies: Gifts to the Gods’ exhibition at the Manchester Museum in its last few days. I also met up with Curator of Egypt and Sudan and my old university buddy Campbell Price to find out how the exhibition has worked out.

Dr Robert Connolly and the Garstang Mummy

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Dr Robert Connolly is an anatomist at the University of Liverpool who assisted with the anatomical work done on the mummy of Tutankhamun back in the 1960s as a grad student, and has carried out a significant amount of research on Egyptian mummies since then.

Back in May 2015, I went to listen to him speak about his research on mummies over the years, as part of the Liverpool Egyptology Seminars at the University of Liverpool. It was a fascinating talk, and he’s a wonderfully witty speaker to boot. He talked about Tutankhamun, in particular the conclusions he drew on the circumstances of his death, from an anatomical point-of-view (he concurs with the theory that Tutankhamun fell out of a chariot and was hit front-on in the chest by the following chariot).

The tomb of the gambler: a Liverpudlian legend

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At the church of St Andrew in Rodney Street, Liverpool, sits a rather noticeably large pyramid tomb.

The tomb belongs to one William Mackenzie and legend has it that he’s buried sitting on a chair inside the pyramid holding a winning poker hand, as a way of cheating Satan after having lost his soul to him in a game of cards.

Unfortunately, the truth isn’t quite so glamorous.

Girls’ day out to the new Egyptology gallery at the Atkinson, Southport

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Friday, 24 October 2014 – the opening of the new Egyptology gallery at The Atkinson in Southport, and a date which had been in my diary since it had been announced.

Southport is only a 25-minute ride on the local Merseyrail train service for me, so with my three-year-old in tow (my girls are beautifully enthusiastic about museum visits!) and camera with a full charge and a clean memory card, we hopped on the train then made the three-minute walk from Southport station to the Atkinson.

Flowering reed or reed leaf? A hieroglyphic puzzle

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As part of some research I was doing, I needed to find a picture of the plant represented in the j hieroglyph (see right), otherwise known as the ‘yod’ or ‘yode’ (M27 in Gardiner’s sign list). Unfortunately, I hit a snag. Some of my language books, such as Gardiner himself, describe it as a ‘flowering reed’. Other books, such as Collier and Manley in their How to read Egyptian Hieroglyphs and James P Allen in his Middle Egyptian tome refer to it as a ‘reed leaf’.

So, what was I to look up?

Egyptian transliteration: will it survive the digital era, or will it be replaced by Manuel de Codage?

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This is a question which has popped into my head recently, possibly as a result of the problems I had with transliteration fonts on one of my typesetting projects.

With the ever-increasing presence of digital media such as ebooks and the Internet, and with the inevitable growth of older publications being digitised, the ability to properly render transliteration and other specialist fonts will become more of an issue in Egyptology.

From the typesetter’s perspective: JD Ray, ‘Demotic Ostraca and Other Inscriptions from the Sacred Animal Necropolis, North Saqqara’

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Hot off the presses, the Egypt Exploration Society’s latest publication – JD Ray’s Demotic Ostraca and Other Inscriptions from the Sacred Animal Necropolis at North Saqqara – is also my most recent typesetting project. It’s the fourth book I’ve set for the Society, and the first from their Texts from Excavations series (the previous three I’ve done are Excavation Memoirs).

It’s also the first language book I’ve set, so I was really quite excited when the job came through.

The book was a really interesting project for me to put together – both the content itself, and from a typesetting point-of-view. So, I thought I’d share my experience here.

My top 5 Egyptology songs

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Egyptology is a serious academic discipline. Institutes across the globe are involved in research into this most wonderful of ancient cultures, looking at everything from pottery to temple architecture to the finer points of the language’s grammar.However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t have a bit of fun with it, as well. Fascination with the ancient Egyptians has spilled over into popular culture for a long time now. The decipherment of hieroglyphs in the 1820s and the discovery of Tutankhamun in the 1920s spawned all manner of Egyptomania, for instance.

Press release: Sean Mee, ‘The Rameses Pact’

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Sean Mee’s thriller, The Rameses Pact, was released in September 2013, and centres on the character Tristan Wylde, adventurer and academic, as he races to save the modern world from an ancient mystery.

Sean’s very kindly sent me the press release with more details of the book, so I thought I’d share it here with you.

Sekhmet at the World Museum

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When you first come into the World Museum in Liverpool, you find yourself in a large, airy foyer with some of the museum’s biggest items on display. This includes an unnervingly large spider-crab shell and a pterodactyl suspended from the ceiling. Here, flanking the entry to the main staircase is a pair of gorgeous Sekhmet statues. Although I was already a little familiar with the ancient Egyptian lioness, I wanted to know more. Who was this enigmatic goddess, seemingly so serene and regal-looking? And what role did she play for the ancient Egyptians? Well, here’s the low-down …

Belzoni’s watercolours of Seti I’s tomb at the Bristol Museum

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Born in Padua, Italy, in 1778, Giovanni Battista Belzoni led a colourful life. He studied hydraulic engineering in Rome when he was young, but then moved to the Netherlands and worked as a barber. He subsequently joined a circus in England, performing as a strongman, where he’d carry up to 12 people at a time across the circus floor (he stood in at 6′ 7″; impressive, even by today’s standards). An obvious career path, wouldn’t you agree!

Book review: ‘Imhotep’ by Jerry Dubs

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I’ve read my fair share of historical novels over the years, and a good number of these have been set in ancient Egypt. However, I hadn’t yet ventured very far into the world of self-published novels, so when a friend recommended Jerry Dubs’ Imhotep to me, I popped along to Amazon to check it out. Of course, one of the risks you take when buying self-published work is that you don’t know what you’re going to get: will the book be littered with typos and poorly constructed prose? Will the characters be well developed and believable, or will you be slapped in the face with the ramblings of someone who just hasn’t got what it takes to spin a good yarn?

Who was Tetisheri?

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Many years ago, I picked up a copy of a game called ‘Pharaoh’. It was a PC game based on strategic city building that enjoyed a great surge of popularity in the late nineties and early noughties (and still has a few dedicated disciples to this day).

You were given a choice of ancient Egyptian names to use for your character; I immediately fell in love with the name Tetisheri and spent many happy hours playing the game using this name.

I then started using Tetisheri as a username for online forums, games and, more recently, social networking, making her my firmly established online identity. When I put together my website, there was no way I could leave her behind. I’d done a little research into the real Tetisheri in the past, but I’ve decided it’s time to really bring her back to life. So, here she is.

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