Photographing Glass

Photographing a diverse range of studio glass objects posed many challenges, not least how to capture layers of molten glass, blown and hot-styled into a myriad of highly reflective and often colourful forms, writes Collections Photographer Jennifer Carol

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

Text and photographs by Jennifer Carol

VaseAuckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

I was fortunate recently to be given the opportunity to photograph a very diverse range of studio glass that represents both local and international blown-glass artists, many of whom are still working today.

FormAuckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

There is a tenacious flare about this collection, a charm and wit that showcases the true wizardry of these artists, who turn the everyday into works of art.

VaseAuckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

Photographically, there were many challenges. These objects were made of layers of molten glass fabric, blown and hot-styled into a myriad of highly reflective and often colourful forms.

VaseAuckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

The broad range of artists and the many complex shapes and sizes meant there was no 'one size fits all' approach. They needed an equal measure of expertise when it came to lighting.

Bowl, FootedAuckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

Composition and Light

Composition and light can change the way we feel about an object, such as this footed votive bowl by John Croucher. 

The Importance of Light

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The position of light, whether it is from the sun or from a studio light source has the same impact. As it moves across a landscape or object, light shifts highlights and shadows, essentially transforming what we see.

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Light can really transform how an object is seen, as evidenced by these photos of a vase by Peter Raos.

A beautiful example of how transformative light can be is the effect it has on ice. Imagine the underbelly of an antarctic landscape where diaphanous layers of ice let light penetrate the darkness below weaving patterns of light and shadow that transform the underwater landscape.

VaseAuckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

A close-up of a Garry Nash glass vase in transparent orange

For me this is not dissimilar to how light passes through layers of glass at different densities. Studio lighting gives you the control to do a similar thing, as shown in these photos. You can specify where you want the light to fall, to reveal everything or draw attention to just one part.

This Jekyll-and-Hyde approach illustrates the two ways I approached this collection, often at odds with each other. Archival photography requires a level of uniformity. As professional photographers, we're responsible for providing an accurate depiction (or "digital surrogate") of the physical object. This means the final image should have even exposure, true colour, and accurate perspective.

Hot Lips Trilogy (sculpture), From the collection of: Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira
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Hot Lips Trilogy (sculpture), From the collection of: Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira
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The problem with this method is it restricted how I could illustrate the unique and beautiful ways some pieces reacted to light under different conditions. Accurately measuring everything created limitations on how I could use light. Some of these pieces completely transformed under more targeted and often experimental lighting conditions, creating a unique perspective that one would not often see.

PaperweightAuckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

An example is this bullet-shaped glass paperweight, produced by the artist Tony Kuepfer in 1988. There is an opaque orange formation in the interior, like a mushroom cloud inside a clear bubble.

Paperweight, From the collection of: Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira
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Paperweight, From the collection of: Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira
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The object is accurately exposed on the right and more targeted on the left. By making slight adjustments to the background and position of light, I was able to highlight the many internal layers of contoured glass within the object. This gave me the freedom to show something a little more fantastical about this particular piece that you would unlikely see under normal lighting conditions.  

I’ve always had an innate curiosity to look beyond what is in front of me, to strip layers of conformity back in order to gain a deeper understanding of what I see.

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A spherical globular glass vase by John Abbott. Studio lighting allows you to control where you want the light to fall, to reveal everything or draw attention to just one part. 

The transformation from one lighting setup to another was incredible and a great example of how both are equally important in illustrating the beauty and workmanship that has gone into its production.

Hot Lips Trilogy (sculpture), From the collection of: Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira
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Hot Lips Trilogy (sculpture), From the collection of: Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira
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What this collection taught me was the importance of an open-minded approach. Get yourself set up in way that allows you to interchange, expand and experiment with your setup while being as efficient as possible.

BottlesAuckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

Perfume bottles by Elizabeth McClure

Bottles, From the collection of: Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira
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Bottles, From the collection of: Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira
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Bottles, From the collection of: Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira
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Bottles, From the collection of: Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira
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Bottles, From the collection of: Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira
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Bottles, From the collection of: Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira
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Some of these pieces completely transformed under more targeted and often experimental lighting conditions, creating a unique perspective that one would not often see.

Free up your time to discover all the nuances that make objects like these so unique. You can’t inspire others if you're not inspired yourself.

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Discover more

Since 1852, Auckland Museum has been amassing a world-class, encyclopaedic collection, one that now comprises some three million objects and counting—each telling a story that helps interpret, understand, and illuminate the history of Aotearoa and its people.

Discover more stories and objects on our Google Arts and Culture Partner page.

Credits: Story

Text and photographs by Jennifer Carol, Collections Photographer, Auckland Museum.
Adapted from the version on the Auckland Museum website.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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