Sarjeant Gallery: New photographer documents vast collection
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Sarjeant Gallery: New photographer documents vast collection

Sarjeant Gallery: New photographer documents vast collection

By Jaki Arthur.

One of the most satisfying aspects of the job says Michael McKeagg, is enabling contemporary artists work to be seen widely.

A year into the job, Sarjeant Gallery photographer Michael McKeagg is enjoying both his work and the Whanganui lifestyle.

McKeagg, went straight from Palmerston North High School to Massey University in Wellington where he studied for a bachelor in design, majoring in photography. The degree, which was art focused and research intensive provided exactly the right kind of background for his role at the Sarjeant.

Documenting the Sarjeant’s vast collection, which numbers more than 8300 items, is an important aspect of the Sarjeant photographer’s work. Already after a year, McKeagg has made excellent progress and many of his photographs can be seen on Explore the Collection the Sarjeant’s prize winning digital portal accessible via the website

McKeagg has taken over the task of documenting the Sarjeant Collection from Richard Wotton who retired after 30 years in the photographer’s role last year. Since 1985 80 per cent of the Sarjeant Collection has been photographed with the bulk of the work having been done in the last decade. Ultimately every item will be documented and if the artist or estate is amenable, available for the public to view online on Explore the Collection with supporting information.

“I am very happy to be working in the art world, in a public gallery and with such an eclectic and significant collection which contains many works which I have actually studied,” he says. “I have learnt a lot here, and applied my skills and knowledge to carry on the work photographing the Sarjeant’s permanent collection in the most accurate way possible” Part of his job is also to document the Gallery’s installations and exhibitions. McKeagg is also a talented designer and creates many of the Sarjeant ads, posters and flyers. It’s a varied role.

Updating photographic records is an ongoing task also, as when comparing old photos with new it’s possible to see how works have changed, and for some works, there may be three or four photographic recordings each taken at points ten years apart. “Condition reporting” is an integral part of maintaining a large collection over a long period.

McKeagg says digital cameras have caught up with large format film photographs that can capture previously unmatched detail. Yvonne Todd’s photo Alice Bayke 2002 in the current exhibition Turn of a Century is produced with a large format camera and gives a perfect example of the hyper-realistic detail older cameras were capable of.

“It’s excellent to apply such detail using digital technology to my day to day work”

McKeagg said he enjoys working in a smaller public gallery where the team works together closely and there is opportunity to be involved in a range of gallery processes.

“Being part of a small team I’ve learnt about the wider operations of the gallery and see the processes unfold before me. In a bigger institution roles are probably more defined. You would see less of the daily operations which is why the Sarjeant is a continually interesting place for me to work.”

One of the most satisfying aspects of the job says McKeagg, is enabling contemporary artists work to be seen widely – through the publication of photographic images in catalogues, advertisements, art magazine features and the like – and by providing records of their work on display at the Gallery. “I have been working closely with the Tylee Cottage artists-in-residence and I find it really satisfying being able to document their new work for the first time.”

He also enjoys living in Whanganui. “It’s great, I love it. It’s quieter and slower then Wellington and has such a great identity, fascinating history and untouched beauty”

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