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 walls 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.



OK, so I’m not starting off so well here, as I have a complete lack of photos to share for January. Apart from a visit to the Animal Mummies Revealed exhibition at the World Museum, January was quite Egyptology free, and I don’t have any favourite Egypt-themed photos to share. I did, however, agree to do the photography for the Book of the Dead exhibition that the Garstang was planning.

Because I got the work mainly off the back of the photos I took of the Hathor sculpture in the museum, I thought I’d put a photo of this lovely lady in as my January favourite.

The sculpture is of a cow's head with a sun disk and ostrich feathers on her head. Behind her head are hieroglyphic inscriptions
Hathor, my photos of which got me the photography work for the Book of the Dead exhibition



February was when I first started working on photographing the pages from the Book of the Dead. As these pieces of papyrus are encased in glass, my first job was to work out how to photograph them well, minimising the reflective surface of the glass and lighting the pages to bring an atmospheric, otherworldly feel to them.

My favourite photo for this month is this one from an early session, experimenting with lighting. I was using my mobile phone as additional light, and accidentally created a light painting on the glass

An ancient Egyptian papyrus held in between two sheets of glass. There's a bright, swirly pattern on the left-hand side from where a mobile phone light has been shone and moved around during a long exposure
Accidental light painting



March was a month of much papyrus photography. One of my favourite pieces is the page containing the twelfth hour of the Amduat, from which I captured one of the foremost images used in the exhibition: Re in his ram-headed form, in his barque, encircled by the protective serpent Mehen. This is one of my favourite photos that I’ve taken. The page is beautifully constructed, and I’ve long loved the cursive illustration used in this and other funerary texts. Re, Mehen and the hieroglyphs above fit beautifully into the frame. The texture of the papyrus comes through wonderfully, and I just feel wholly satisfied when I look at this photo.

Re is a man with a ram's head. He's holding a serpent in one hand. He's standing on his barque, with Mehen around him. Above him are hieroglyphs.
Re in his barque encircled by the protective serpent Mehen



April was a month of image processing, rather than image taking. But, the newly refurbished Egyptian galleries at the World Museum opened and I went on down with my camera. I got a fantastic set of photos from my visit, including the ones I used in my post on improving your museum photography. My favourite photo from the morning, however, was one of my documentary photos, of a daddy with his young son. They were in the dress-up corner, the boy dressed in a pharaoh’s costume that was way too big for him. His daddy was doing a sand dance, saying to his slightly bemused son, “Walk like an Egyptian!”. It was such a fun moment.

In the gallery, the man and boy are mostly in silhouette, with a large photo of the temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel on the wall behind them.
“Walk like an Egyptian”



May was an exciting month, as it was the month of Liverpool Light Night and the opening of the Book of the Dead exhibition at the Garstang. The museum was open from 5pm, and had its busiest day to date. To see my photos up on the wall alongside all those beautiful artefacts was just wonderful; I’d never seen my photos printed so large.

One of my favourite photos from the night was one I snapped of my eldest playing with the Lake of Fire lights at the end of the room. The lights had sheets of sheer fabric, with fans blowing air up through them to make them look like flames. And, for the children there, this was one of the highlights of the exhibition.

A young girl sitting on the floor playing with a pretend flame made out of fabric with a fan blowing it up into the air and light shining through it.
Playing in the Lake of Fire



I spent some time in June photographing amulets and predynastic pieces. However, one of my favourite memories of the month was when the museum had a group visiting from the USA. I’d offered to come up from photographing amulets in the basement to get some photos of the group. When they arrived, I immediately recognised the group leader as the wonderful Bob Mr Mummy Brier. Bob is a lovely man and was more than happy for me to hang around with my camera. I have a few favourite photos from the day, but this one is probably just about my most favourite.

Bob is standing with his arms crossed over his chest like a royal mummy, and a big grin on his face.
Bob talking about mummification and arm positions of mummies



July was a month of beavering away in the imaging suite with amulets and predynastic bits and pieces. My favourite photo from this month was that of a small alabaster vessel. I took advantage of the semi-translucence of alabaster and lit the vessel from behind using the light on my phone. The lighting transformed this vessel from a slightly cold-feeling plain piece into one of warmth and beauty. Another of my firm favourites.

A small alabaster vessel, round with a longish neck. The square handle goes from the rim of the neck down to the top of the round body.
The semi-translucence of alabaster makes it a great material for lighting from behind



August was another fairly quiet month, it being the month of the children’s summer holidays.

I did, however, take the opportunity to come in on a day the museum was closed to get photos of the exhibition to record it for posterity. My favourite photo from that session was, again, one I took of the Lake of Fire lights. I took the exposure right down on the camera so that only the flames themselves could be seen, the rest of the photo dropping into darkness. The photo captured the movement of the flames and, although not terribly Egyptological, they do make a lovely, artistic image.

The two flames are pink and purple in colour, and the shutter speed of the camera was quick enough to freeze the rippling movement of the flames caused by the fan blowing air through them.
Flames in the Lake of Fire



September was the month the Book of the Dead exhibition closed at the Garstang. As it was moving over to the Victoria Gallery and Museum to be on display for a whole year, we decided to get more artefacts from the exhibition photographed. I photographed amulets, shabtis and the coffin boards of Ipi. There’s several images from these sessions that I really do love. However, the one that really stands out for me is the one I took of a small, green, heart scarab.

The green colour on the scarab is just beautiful, which is one of the stand-out aspects. The other is how I chose to light it.

I lit the piece from the front only, to emulate the imagery of Re in his form as the morning sun; as the scarab beetle, Khepri, who rolled the sun disk across the sky. At the very end of the twelfth hour of the Amduat, you see Re as a scarab beetle about to emerge from the darkness of the underworld into the light of the dawn.

This is what I’ve recreated in this image.

The scarab is very typical of ancient Egyptian design. It's oval in shape, with a stylised head and lines across its back representing the wings of the beetle.
The sun god Re in his morning manifestation as Khepri, the scarab beetle, emerging into the light of dawn



I continued my photography of the exhibition artefacts into October, working hard to get as much done as I could before the artefacts moved over to the VGM. My standout image for this month is the one I took of the wooden coffin lid.

The lady depicted on the lid looks enigmatic, and I wanted to give her a feeling of mystery and beauty. I lit her from one side only, letting the nearside fall away into shadow, to bring focus to her face. I put this image into monochrome, to highlight the texture in the wood, and add to that feeling of mystery.

I wonder what she’s thinking right now …

Three-quarter view of a wooden coffin lid - just the head and shoulders. It's lit from the other side so there's lots of shadows.
International woman of mystery



November was a quiet month, photography-wise, as we were all preparing for the Tate Exchange workshop in December. There was one event of note, however. The Garstang received a donation of artefacts from a collector, who’d acquired a box of goodies from John Garstang’s excavations via a garage sale. I came in to get some photos for the museum, and ended up spending most of the morning there as the museum staff went through all the little boxes of treasures he’d brought in.

John and Elle sitting at a table with collections of beads and other small artefacts in front of them.
The collection contained, quite literally, thousands of mummy beads



December was a great way to finish off the year. We had the Exchange workshop for a week at the Tate Liverpool, which included ten of my images. It really was so exciting to see my photos on the wall of the Tate. I did two photography workshops during the week, in which I talked about my photography and expanded upon my museum photography blog post from earlier this year.

This photo is one my favourites from the week. It shows many of my images on the wall in a busy room with a host of visitors drawing their own underworld spells.

The exchange area with my photos on the wall. There are tables with students sitting around them, drawing.


What’s next?

So, there you go; that was my year in photos. Off the back of such a great year, I want to hit the ground running in 2018. My immediate to-do is to get my online print shop up-and-running to help fund my photography in the longer-term. However, I’m also hoping to start work on other projects during 2018, including:

  • Launching a series of workshops to help people get the most out of their cameras during museum visits. The plan is to include a practical session at the Garstang
  • Expanding the workshop into an online course so that anyone anywhere can learn
  • Designing and publishing a companion book to the Book of the Dead exhibition
  • Keeping on going up to the Garstang and photographing more of their collection
  • Developing a business model that makes me self-sustaining, but in a way that also benefits smaller museums. Museum finances are stretched right now. I’d like to be able to offer my photography to museums who couldn’t otherwise afford professional photography. I have some thinking and working out to do

Hopefully, I can make 2018 as exciting as 2017 has been, and build upon the foundations laid over the last twelve months. I hope you’ll come along on the ride with me.


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