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The art of photographing art


Museum staff introduce themselves. A glimpse of what’s happening as we prepare for the opening of the new museum. At home now, because the work doesn’t stop during the Corona era.

This interview first appeared in the summer issue of our museum magazine ZAAL Z.

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Portret van Madeleine ter Kuile
A self-portrait in lockdown times Madeleine ter Kuile

  • Who are you? Madeleine ter Kuile
  • What’s your job? Photography Manager
  • How long have you been at the museum? 12 years

What do you do?

‘As Photography Manager, it’s my job to coordinate photo sessions and to manage and provide access to photographs. Besides the physical art collection, the KMSKA manages over 540,000 digital images: digitized artworks, restoration, conservation and research photographs, and photographs documenting the museum’s operations. Those can include pictures of permanent and temporary exhibition displays, the museum building and events.’

What’s changed in the Corona era?

‘We’re working from home right now. It’s going pretty well, thanks to the hard work of the ICT department. The biggest change for me personally is that instead of a 90-minute commute to Antwerp, I can go straight from the breakfast table to my desk.

How does a photographer come to be working in a museum?

‘Photographing works of art is an art in itself. You have to let the object speak on its own terms and keep yourself, as photographer, in the background. Within museum photography, there’s been an increased focus in recent years on drawing up and applying international agreements on digital imagery. They’re needed in order to produce an objective image: the technical quality of a photograph has to be predictable and replicable.’

Photographing works of art is an art in itself. You have to let the object speak on its own terms and keep yourself, as photographer, in the background.

Madeleine ter Kuile

What’s the most interesting thing about your job?

‘I actually find every aspect of my job really interesting. Because it consists of a chain of tasks: from organizing photo sessions, contact with the photographer, registering the pictures, image requests from colleagues and clients, through to delivering photographs and the finished product. Which might be a scholarly publication, a banner outside the building or a social media post. In each case, we try to do the greatest possible justice to the work of art.’

What was the most special moment since you joined KMSKA?

‘The development of our digital asset management system has been a real milestone. It came into operation in early 2020 and is an important step towards the sustainable, automated management of our collection of digital images. The system lets you find, open, compare and view media files quickly using the advanced zoom function.'

What are you looking forward to most in the next few years?

‘Further expanding and using our photo management system and, obviously, the reopening of the museum! All of us miss the works of art and our beautiful building.’

What’s your favourite work of art?

‘I’ve always been very impressed by the De Keyser gallery, with the museum’s monumental staircase. It’s a true Gesamtkunstwerk with its marble stairs and the big paintings with artist’s portraits.’

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