The most immediately striking thing about the Sammallahti photographs is how small they are. Thirty or so frames comfortably occupy a space about the size of a large domestic room. Even the signature panoramic images are only about 14 inches by 6 inches, which is, by contemporary exhibition standards, tiny. But the tonal quality and control are exquisite, even behind reflective glass and some rather uneven illumination. It's an opportunity to look and learn.
Talking of looking and learning, while I was in town I dropped in on the recently refurbished Natural History Museum, and the resolutely unrefurbished Pitt Rivers Museum. While I was there, I made this postcard for you:
On the way to an old friend's house for lunch, I made the obligatory stop at the Ashmolean. There, I made another postcard:
The contrast of the old and the new philosophies of museum display comes across pretty clearly, I think. Though there's something quite contemporary, in an eco-friendly way, about the Natural History Museum's extensive use of natural light.
The contrast would have been starker if I could have been bothered to photograph in the Pitt Rivers Museum, but it's simply too dark in there. The collection -- a large proportion of which is indistinguishable from mouldering touristic bric-a-brac -- sits in a permanent gloom, presumably to stop the stuff fading away any more than it already has. What a very strange place it is; a cross between a museum, a junk shop, and a department store. "Charms against the evil eye? Certainly, sir -- ground floor, third cabinet on aisle three. Assorted throwing sticks and boomerangs? That'll be on the first-floor balcony, over towards the far side, opposite the bows and arrows. Have you brought a torch, sir? It's a touch dark over there between the taller cabinets..."
It seems to be very popular for group visits from the sort of school that still wears caps and blazers. Jennings and his chums couldn't get enough of a case of sub-machine guns and rifles, I noticed. Shades of Lindsay Anderson's film If..., if anyone remembers that now. I had thought I would still love the place, too, but -- like the curators of the Ashmolean -- my views on museums have changed since my last visit (in 1974!) and I found its taxonomic, pile-em-high approach a relic of an anthropological worldview that is as much a curio, now, as the unplayable instruments, faded costumes and blunt weapons arrayed in its glazed mahogany cabinets.
Give me a squid bottled in formaldehyde any time...
fast and bulbous...