Getting to know a volunteer photographer role

Clive James and Rod Stowell

Clive James and Rod Stowell - affectionately known as ‘Clod’ by the house staff and volunteers at Lacock Abbey - are very experienced amateur photographers. They volunteer at a number of our places: Dyrham, Lacock, Newark, Avebury and Stourhead.

Clive and Rod have a combined total of 52 years’ experience between them and an impressive list of photographic qualifications, not to mention their own equipment that produces exhibition grade photographs. To date, they've photographed over 12,000 items.

Photographic skills 

Much of Clive and Rod’s time is spent handling and arranging very delicate items. They had to acquire a broad range of handling skills before they were allowed to work on their own. Clothing is particularly difficult. 

" Photographing a dress laid on a table gives no idea of form, hanging it on a dummy gives a far better image of its style."
- Clive James and Rod Stowell

Knowing how the image will be used is a key skill used to select the photographic method. Often a simple JPEG image will be fine for identifying an item on the collection website. However, a painting may be photographed for fine art printing, where colour and texture are vitally important, and Clod will use RAW format for precise control.

Working conditions can be a challenge too. 

It’s not all studio work; sometimes they work high up on scaffolding photographing cracks in buildings. Space can be so tight they cannot see the camera’s viewfinder but they connect the camera to a computer on a long cable and use its screen as a remote viewfinder.

Photographing the Queen Anne bed at Dyrham Park 

The bed was as shown to the public, the main frame being complete with the canopy in place, but some of the hangings had been removed from display and were in storage, so not photographed.

‘Each part of the Queen Anne bed at Dyrham Park had to be photographed individually in high resolution.
Queen Anne bed

However, the Conservation team at Dyrham Park had specific requirements:

  • Each part of the bed needed to be photographed individually and labelled to correspond with its collections website number.
  • The upper surface of the canopy was to be photographed in detail. This could only be done from above using scaffolding. 
  • Photographs of the hangings were needed in the highest resolution to act as a benchmark for future decay assessment.

Initially, Clod took 64 photographs. The valences were shot in ‘close up’ sections and joined together to get the full length without losing resolution; and resulted in 42 images.

Clod are rightly proud of the work they do and the thrill of not knowing what will turn up next.