Update from the Garstang: some glass-free photography

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These last couple of weeks, I’ve been outside of the photographic suite and doing some glass-free photography (hooray!).

The two subjects I’ve photographed are:

  • a small, gold plaque with a hieroglyphic inscription – Spell 30 (I think) from the Book of the Dead. The plaque comes from a tomb at Abydos, belonging to Hetep-rehu, and dates to around the Late Middle Kingdom/Second Intermediate period;
  • a page from the Book of the Dead belonging to Bakenkhons. I don’t have any provenance details right now, but the style of the vignettes and colour on the papyrus would make me hazard a guess at New Kingdom in date.

Gold heart plaque

The tiny plaque is on display in the museum. It’s no more than a couple of inches in size, so I wanted to get at it with my macro lens.

I came in on a Tuesday, when the museum’s not open to the public, and the staff very kindly took the front off the glass display case for me.

It took four of them …

Four people in a museum gallery removing the glass from the front of a display case
Four people in a museum gallery removing the glass from the front of a display case
Four people in a museum gallery removing the glass from the front of a display case
Leaving the glass panel under the supervision of the Garstang Mummy

Because of the diminutive stature of the plaque, I wanted to blow it up big on screen. So, instead of getting the whole plaque into shot, I got closer so half the plaque was in shot – top half first, then the bottom. I then pulled the two halves back together in Photoshop later.

However, when you get that close with a macro lens, your depth-of-field becomes very shallow (only a very small portion of the photo is in focus). To get around this, I photographed both halves several times, adjusting the focus ever so slightly each time. I later stacked the images in Photoshop, where the software will pull the sharpest part of each photo to merge into one image.

It took around twenty images to get one nice, large, sharp image.

The detail is amazing. The image below is optimised for using online, so it’s smaller than the original. But you can still see so much detail, including the impression of a scarab beetle in the centre. I’d love to get this piece into the imaging suite one time to photograph under more controlled conditions.

A small, gold ancient Egyptian plaque inscribed with hieroglyphs

The Bakenkhons papyrus

Meet Bakenkhons. He was an Egyptian fortunate enough to have sufficient wealth to provide for his afterlife by having things like the Book of the Dead in his tomb. Those hieroglyphs above his head write out his name: bAk-n-xnsw (‘Servant of Khonsu’).

A close-up of an ancient Egyptian person painted on papyrus
Bakenkhons, with his name written above him

Bakenkhons lives in another part of the university these days. Many years ago, some bright spark decided to stick the papyrus to card instead of putting it in glass (a now out-of-date practice not unique to Bakenkhons). He also suffered some considerable water damage many years back, so, he’s not in a great state, and isn’t allowed out to play any more. (Of course, one major advantage of the papyrus not being in glass is that I didn’t have reflections to deal with. This meant a brighter light and a faster shutter speed, making my workflow much quicker.)

So, off to the stores I went.

I was also lucky enough to have my very own assistant for the session. John, one of the museum interns, came along and did the all-important moving of the papyrus for me:

A man getting a piece of papyrus out of a storage drawer

He also helped me get my equipment set up and steadied the papyrus while I was photographing it:

A man holding a piece of papyrus while it's being photographed

I’ve not had my own assistant before; it was great having someone to help out and keep me company while I was working. So, a big shout out and thanks to John for his patience and assistance.

In fact, I want to send out a huge thank you to everyone at the Garstang who’ve been helping me get my photography sorted over the last couple of weeks. You’ve all been fab. And thanks in particular to curatorial assistant Victoria, who’s organised the glass removals and my access to Bakenkhons with the utmost patience and willingness.

What's next?

I’ve pretty much photographed everything I need for the Book of the Dead exhibition. I won’t be at the museum for a couple of weeks now; I’ll be concentrating on processing the photos ready to send over to Gina in April. I’m really excited about the exhibition, so I want to do it justice with my photographs.

I’ll keep you updated with the processing in another week or so.

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Unless otherwise stated, all content and photos on this site are © Julia Thorne. It’s a common misconception that images online are free from copyright. Copyright laws still stand. Please feel free to share online, but only with a link back here or to the relevant social media account. If you’d like to use any of my photos, please email me at julia@tetisheri.co.uk. Thank you.

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