Association for Historical and Fine Art Photography Conference

The Digital Imaging Unit attended the “Association for Historical and Fine Art Photography” conference for the first time in November at the end of last year. The conference was hosted in Starr Auditorium at Tate Modern and was opened by Sir Nicholas Serota the Director of Tate. Marvelous venue aside it was an engaging conference. Serious joke of the morning went to the Preservation Advisory Centre Imaging Group who highlighted that often at the end of digitisation planning the final step is usually outlined as, ” Just put it online“. This really diminishes the enormity of that task. However it is interesting to see so many national institutions grappling with the same digital problems and discussing digitising for access verses digitising for preservation and issues like high value low volume workflow verses mass digitisation workflow.

Sarah Saunders of Electric Lane who has been involved with IPTC embedded metadata standards introduced ,The new SCREM (SChema for Rich Embedded Metadata for Heritage Media Files) project. Plans are afoot to cater for heritage imaging metadata within IPTC fields. Sarah also made a strong case for this in the example that when we download music files by right clicking and saving to our desktops we now expect at a minimum to see a title, author and probably a creation date. So why has this not happened for images? and can IPTC embedded metadata remedy that situation?

It was cool to find out from Maureen Pennock that the British Library not only backs their truly massive amount of data up, but stores that data backup in four geographically distant separate locations across the UK. Maureen also warned against the perils of BIT FLIP which degrades image quality in a variety of ways and the need to manage stored data for its preservation. Her view on cloud storage was an outright DON’T DO IT! which is a strong message from someone with her experience.

Dani Tagen’s talk was controversial as she described ” how we at the Horniman Museum & Gardens have managed to take 15,000 photos of about 8,000 objects in 10 months with one photographer and a small team of collection assistants.” she lost three kilos in weight teaching collections assistants how to take photographs. In my opinion the results were high volume poor quality by professional standards and the assistants themselves admitted that more training and time would be required to come up to professional standards. However the images were a marked improvement over previous efforts and were not for public consumption they were for internal use as documentary images of the collection. Dani was however playing to a tough audience. When viewing her own photographs alongside the assistants the quality of Dani’s work was far greater.

The highlight for me was English Heritage’s short film by Alan Bull covering the last hat mould makers in UK. The film described that the poisonous materials that hat mould makers worked with actually accounted for previous generations going insane hence the phrase “Mad As A Hatter”.

Conference abstracts can be found on the AFHAP website.

Malcolm Brown

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