Tomorrow, 19 Princelet Street in Spitalfields opens for a few hours - and if you're in London, I'd recommend a visit. From the exterior, this is just one of a terrace of rather nice houses, but there is much to discover inside. Indeed, a clue to the start of its story still hangs above the front door - a metal bobbin, sign of a silkweaver.
The building has passed from being the home of an affluent Huguenot silk weaver to its current role as a museum of immigration via a number of transformations. Its original owners in 1719, the Ogiers, were French protestants who prospered in the silk trade. As the wealthier Huguenots left the area, however, the street declined and the house was subdivided. Its occupants reflected different waves of immigration; the most obvious change to the building's fabric was the 1870 building of a synagogue in the back garden by a Polish Jewish congregation. The building underwent major repairs in 1893.
The synagogue closed in the 1960s although study groups continued to meet there for another decade. The house's last resident, David Rodinsky lived reclusively in an upper room until he disappeared in 1969; his room, and the mystery of his life were the subject of a book by artist Rachel Lichtenstein. The building entered a decline from which the current owners, The Spitalfields Centre, are trying to rescue it. Until they are able to repair and stabilise this delicate building, it can open only occasionally.
The interior is very atmospheric and frustratingly photogenic: photography is not allowed. (This seems to be in order to safeguard postcard sales; I would suggest camera permits as an additional source of revenue.) As well as the traces of the house's past, there are two exhibitions: Suitcases and Sanctuary on immigration, and Leave to Remain by three refugee artists.
Practical information: 19 Princelet Street, just off Brick Lane, is open from 2-4pm; expect queues. Admission is free but donations are appreciated. No photography allowed.
For more information and future opening dates, click here.
I agree that bans on photography are "frustrating", though I would use a stronger word (several, in fact). Many museums and galleries freely allow photography and I therefore suspect that those who ban it do so, not for any well thought-out reason but as a knee-jerk reaction.
Some sit in the middle, allowing photography "for personal use", i.e. you can look at your photos yourself but not post them on your blog.
I think what we dearly need is a photographers' association or union by which we could collectively negotiate a more sensible policy. I would be prepared to pay a small fee (equal, say, to the cost of half a dozen postcards or the museum booklet) to be allowed to take photos and post some on my blog.
I think that photos on blogs encourage people to visit museums and galleries without hurting their revenue and are therefore beneficial. Perhaps those museums and galleries that allow photography have realized this.
I was tempted to stronger language, too! Especially as I have bought their postcards anyway, so they certainly wouldn't have lost money from me.
Where 'personal use' is allowed, it's often worth asking - they sometimes don't mind the pictures appearing on a non-commercial blog.
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