Mike Seaborne - Curator of photography at The Museum of London, London, EC2Y

Interview by Sally Kindberg for Cityguide Magazine

Mike Seaborne, dark-haired, modest, in his fifties, is passionate about photography, especially the social-landscape kind, and his job at the Museum of London – he started there in 1979 - gives him the opportunity to put his passion into practice. “Is there a photographic team?” I asked him.  He smiled and said “No. Just me.”  We met for cups of tea outside the Museum’s café, on the north-west edge of the City, with occasional traffic roaring away along London Wall beneath us.

Mike is Curator of Photography at the Museum, in charge of its collection of hundreds of thousands of photos (from the 1830s onwards), photographic exhibitions and the continuing photography of London and its inhabitants.  He’s also a practising photographer who exhibits at RIBA among other venues. There are more photographers at MoL of course, but their job is to record some of the museum’s 2 million artefacts, or work with MOLAS on their archeological investigations.

Mike, who spends about 40% of his time out and about taking pictures, records the impact of change in London.  When I met him earlier this year he was documenting how local people’s lives are being altered by the building of the 2012 Olympics site in east London, taking pictures of them, their homes and businesses and the changing landscape, and working with an oral historian who was interviewing a cross-section of the community. His big MoL project at the moment is to digitise more than 2,000 images from the collection and get them online in time for the opening of the museum’s new Capital City Gallery in early 2010. 

He is a self-taught photographer whose interest started when he was about 13, using his father’s Kodak Retina 1C camera, and later, in Leicester, he was influenced by evening-class tutor Colin Garrett who travelled all over the world taking pictures of steam trains.  Apparently Mike was a bit of a railway buff himself, though he didn’t mention it when we met, and didn’t really look like a train-spotter, but you can’t always tell.  After studying Philosophy and Science at university, he trained as a museum curator specialising in science and technology.  During his work experience at the Fox Talbot Museum of Early Photography at Lacock, he was, he said “completely hooked”.  He uses a twin-lensed Rolleiflex for portraiture and is keen on cameras of a traditional design – 5X4 field cameras of polished metal and wood.

One of Mike’s special interests is recording the evolution of social housing since philanthropic projects such as the 19th century Peabody buildings appeared in London, and how housing affects people’s lifestyles and aspirations.  He’s fascinated by tower blocks and the possibilities of zero-energy developments. I asked him where he lived, and when he seemed a little reticent, I sort of hoped for somewhere exotic and out of keeping, but he lives in a small terraced house built between the wars. “Very suburban” he smiled


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