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Reframing Vivien Leigh
Reframing Vivien Leigh

Shooting Dresses at RAMM

Transporting photography equipment to RAMM

Transporting our equipment to RAMM

Photographing difficult fabrics

Pondering how to photograph broadtail

Adjusting the mounting of the broadtail dress

Adjusting the mount

Photographing the 'Harald of Mayfair' dress

Lighting the 'Harald of Mayfair' dress

Photographing the broadtail dress

Shooting the broadtail dress

Photogrammetry for the 'Harald of Mayfair' dress

Capturing different angles

Photographing Suzanne Farrington's letters

Photographing donation letters

In mid-May 2019 project PI Lisa Stead and project Research Assistant Becky Rae set off to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM), a short walk away from the University of Exeter. We were joined by Graham Fereday, part of the Digital Humanities Lab team from the University, who brought with him his expertise in and equipment for digital photography and 3D modelling.

We were headed for the rooms and spaces that visitors to the Museum rarely see, entering a behind-the-scenes area where materials are stored, mounted and made ready for display. Here we were met by Assistant Curator Shelley Tobin and volunteer Vicky Haddock, who, with the help of a conservator, had mounted two dresses from the RAMM collections.

These were a petite black broadtail dress, and a glamorous evening dress in cream and green, both of which had been donated by Vivien Leigh’s daughter Suzanne Farrington. The broadtail dress was worn by Vivien Leigh in the 1950s whilst the evening dress had been passed on to Suzanne Farrington herself and taken out for her to wear. Both dresses were initially offered to Topsham Museum which was founded by Suzanne Farrington’s aunt and Vivien Leigh’s former sister-in-law, Dorothy Holman, in the 1960s. They were later passed on to RAMM. They are now held instore at RAMM’s off-site storage facility, the Ark.

Capturing these kinds of fabrics proved a fascinating challenge, as explored in the photographs included in this collection. Mounting and lighting such items is only one part of the challenge; capturing complex material like fur, silk and reflective embroidery on camera proved a difficult and complicated task.

Click on each image to find out more about the processes and fabrics we were working with.