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Bradford’s National Media Museum offers a collection of galleries spread across eight floors, each covering an aspect of photography, TV, film, television, computers and internet technology. We visited for an afternoon but you really do need to allow longer than that if you want to see everything on offer. At times I was conscious of having to hurry through the exhibits, when I would have preferred a more leisurely wander.
What is great about this museum is that there is no entrance fee, so you really have an incentive to return if you want to expand your knowledge. I learned so much during my visit but I am sure I could learn more. In addition to the permanent galleries, there are temporary exhibitions, so it is worth checking the website to see what is coming up.
Our first port of call was the Kodak Gallery which is a must for anyone with an interest in photography. For my part, it is the social history of photography that intrigues me rather than the complicated science behind it, but the museum will teach you about both these things. If you want to learn about the famous pioneers of photography and the many different makes of camera through the ages, the Kodak Gallery will not disappoint you. I think perhaps you need to be a serious camera enthusiast to retain an interest when confronted with so many different cameras in display cases and reading about their different functions. After a while it went over my head somewhat. However, you don’t need a technological brain to appreciate just how much photography has touched people’s lives in a variety of ways. I enjoyed looking at an exhibit devoted to seaside photography, including some rather quaint ‘What the Butler Saw’ machines and plenty of mannequins in jolly, period costumes. This gallery tells the story of Kodak and makes you appreciate how the advent of the Kodak camera transformed photography. Cameras had been so large and cumbersome, but the Kodak model was portable and light. I had not appreciated Kodak’s role in helping photography evolve into a hobby for ordinary people, not just something for professionals, even if this didn’t happen straightaway as the cameras were staggeringly expensive when first introduced!
If you want to learn about the history of the internet, Life Online provides plenty of information. If, like me, you tend to think of the internet as a very modern thing, it may surprise you to learn that the first email communication was back in 1971, the year before I started school! What I particularly liked in this section is the historical archive that has been created, so that visitors can record their personal experiences of internet usage and of what life was like before the internet. We had to answer some questions and were invited to type in our responses, which were saved and became part of the archive. Life Online also teaches you about internet security and about the many viruses that are lurking out there. There are games and simulations which explain this in an entertaining way. For instance, you can take part in a game that requires you to attempt to crash the network. It is quite reassuring to realise that this is far from easy and perhaps our computers are more resilient than we sometimes give them credit for. This gallery will make you realise just how much the internet has revolutionised many aspects of life. Perhaps the most striking example of this was a ‘prayer companion’ which was designed so that nuns can receive news updates when they are at prayer, so that they can be informed immediately of any new developments which might require a prayer. (It sounds like the sort of gag you might encounter in an episode of Father Ted, but it is quite a clever idea, I think.)
In Experience TV we had lots of interactive fun. We got the chance to be filmed in a virtual studio. There are several locations you can choose to be filmed in. The Bollywood option was particularly popular with my daughters but you may prefer to appear in Downing Street. I noticed that Teletubby Land was one of the options. Do young children still watch Teletubbies today? It occurred to me that perhaps some of the locations need to be updated to whatever youngsters are watching these days. In this gallery you can also make your debut as a newsreader and see how you get on with the autocue. One thing I hadn’t realised before my visit is that the ‘Playschool’ toys that I remember so clearly from my childhood, have been residing at the Media Museum since the ‘Playschool’ TV programme came to an end. It was rather nice to see them again.
The Animation Gallery taught me a lot about famous animators, some of whom I had heard of, such as Ray Harryhausen of Jason and the Argonauts fame, but others I knew little about. As big Wallace & Gromit fans, my daughters were intrigued to see an interior set from The Wrong Trousers, which was astonishingly detailed. It was also quite interesting to look back at some of the predecessors of modern day animation. We saw a range of strange devices, such as the magic lantern and Zoetrope which do help you to understand the basic principles behind animation.
A particularly child-friendly section of the museum is The Magic Factory which provides lots of hands-on exhibits in a vibrant, colourful setting, all designed to explain scientific concepts in a meaningful way. Visitors are invited to investigate the role of mirrors, lighting and lenses in the photographic process.
The Games Lounge will appeal to those with a nostalgic fondness for the video games of the past, such as Space Invaders and Defender. Unfortunately a few of the games were out of order at the time of our visit, so we did not linger long in this section.
The museum’s café was being refurbished when we visited, so we had a coffee and cake in the quite pleasant and stylish Pictureville cinema bar on the ground floor instead.
The museum’s gift shop offers a good range of film and media-themed goods. I bought a Cottingley Fairies postcard, because I had enjoyed finding out about this famous photographic hoax in the Kodak Gallery and the sepia tinted postcard looks rather pretty.
The National Media Museum is definitely worth visiting. For a free attraction it is simply superb in the depth of information it provides. It isn’t presented in a dry, stuffy way either. The museum has a modern, spacious feel and there are lots of striking exhibits to draw your attention. There is a lot of reading involved, but the many interactive exhibits and bright, visual props stop the learning experience being too heavy. I am not the most scientific or technological person in the world but this museum really captured my imagination and at times I was emotionally affected when confronted with some aspect of media history that brought back significant memories for me, such as footage of an old TV show I used to watch, or coverage of a historical media event, or even just recognising the TV set or camera we had when I was a child.
There are three cinemas (including an IMAX) on the premises also. The Media museum is open every day from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. and a car park is conveniently situated right next to the museum.