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The Association For Historical And Fine Art Photography Conference 2016. “Photography delivers the curatorial message”.

This year’s conference was hosted by The Imperial War Museum London. Diane Lees Director-General of the Imperial War Museums opened this year’s conference with the idea that “Photography delivers the curatorial message”. The presentations that followed certainly backed that statement up and demonstrated the complexity of support that photography brings to the curatorial message. Of particular note during a varied day of talks an emphasis on photogrammetry emerged as opposed to 3D scanning. The presentations that left an impression on me are discussed below but abstracts of all the conference talks can be found here:

http://www.ahfap.org.uk/conferences/2016-conference/2016-abstracts/

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The Drexel Digital Museum: Interpreting the digital historic fashion object.

This was a very engaging presentation by Daniel Caufield-Sriklad. He highlighted that there needs to be a different approach to digital interpretation as opposed to physical museum interpretation. Within his presentation he demonstrated how the Drexel Digital museum web site pulled in many different sources of information relating to the one physical object in the collection. Each object entry online could contain still photographs of the object and dedicated detailed shots. The entry would also contain moving image sequences and sound recordings relating to that object. In addition the object entry would also contain Giga Pan Process capturing 720 images per object and stitched those together to give a detailed 360 degree view of the object. These images “can be displayed at 1:1 scale, rotated 360 degrees, and zoomed into details far beyond what can be perceived by the unaided human eye”. 3D Motion capture was also used to create a 3D model to demonstrate the garment during movement using digital draping technology. HTML 5 was used to deliver their site. The overall approach provides multiple layers of interpretation in one central space.

http://digimuse2.westphal.drexel.edu/publicdrexel/index.php

http://gigapan.com/

http://www.danielc-s.com/portfolio/drexel-digital-museum/

 

The Strines Journal: Practice-led research into Historic Photographic Processes

Tony Richards from John Rylands Library Manchester gave an illuminating talk on his journey of trying to reproduce historic photographic processing. This included a lot of research into early wet processing formulas and their execution in studio practice. It revealed that published practice was misleading at times and it took a lot of cross referencing of published early formulas to finally achieve any kind of results similar to the early photographic collections that we hold in our museums. This work has brought the early photographic process to life again through in depth practice and research. Definitely an expert view in relation to our early photographic collections.

Digitising, Geo referencing and Transcribing 1100 Tithe maps

Scott Waby from The National Library of Wales delivered an engaging and well-paced talk on the progress of the project. It is an ambitious project to layer the Welsh national historical collection of maps on top of current map data for Wales. Scott and his team built a large curved magnetic wall to facilitate pin sharp capture of large maps in the collection. They had noticed that focus was falling off towards the edges of the map capture and so devised the curved wall to maintain the same focal length across the entire map whilst keeping the camera in a fixed position.

 

Day Two Workshops

 Tate Britians move to Digital X-Ray
An opportunity to view Tate’s new digital x-ray system launched in January this year, replacing old x-ray set with a more powerful one and specially designed art table.

Fascinating insight into the digital x-ray world. At a cost of £93k Tate Britain have established a digital x-ray work flow. The results of which have uncovered the working process of artist like Picasso, Rene Magritte and Reynolds to name a few. This appeared labour intensive with all six staff having to vacate the studio each time an x-ray is triggered. The capture area is around A3 size so the larger works require multiple exposures which are then stitched together and for the medium sized Reynolds painting that was demonstrated final image was around 1.45 Gb. This in itself adds another cost in terms of processing images. The set up included a tripod to mount the X-Ray generator for use in the field. This also included guidelines and markers to calibrate safe distances before triggering the x-ray.

All round a challenge to implement requiring government inspectors to assure no health risk and a sizeable space away from people. Obviously the final images are a huge boon to conservators and people marketing and studying these historic processes.

 

Metamorfoze Preservation Imaging Guidelines and its daily use 

Hans van Dormolen & Tony Harris

This was a practical real world walk through of studio implementation of the Metamorphose   guidelines approved by unanimous vote at 2D + 3D Practices and Prophecies conference 2014 Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. Metamorphose guidelines are now law in the Netherlands if you are photographing national collections. The guidelines were written over a seven year period of research by Hans van Dormolen a researcher at UK Government Art Collection.

The walk through consisted of a standard copy stand set up with lights and camera in a static position photographing a large version x-rite colour chart. The main opening point driven home by Hans was “Gain Modulation”. Put simply the lights and camera and distance from object all have to remain static in order to maintain a consistent gain modulation. Readings are taken from the digital image of the chart using capture one sampling tool focussing on the reading shown in the green band. These readings are then checked against the Metamorphose guidelines and adjustments are made to the lights until the required readings are achieved. This took 6-7 adjustments to the lights. There is a small tolerance allowed within the guidelines. Once the initial target square patch E5 on the x-rite reads at 242 the setting is achieved and reading continues on J6, F5, I6, K6, G5 etc. following the guidelines.

Hans noted that each x-rite chart has a batch number and advised that more recent charts would aid accuracy. Also clean your chart from dust. After numerous studio tests Hans also noted that a black background was preferable for placing your chart on for optimum colour accuracy.

The walk through diverged at this point into discussion around uniform illumination and how one could check this by photographing a white sheet of paper and using Photoshop’s histogram palette, using the illumination drop down menu and referring those readings to the Metamorphose guidelines. Uniform illumination can also be checked using the threshold tool again in Photoshop and noting the values at the point where black begins to enter the image and the point where white almost leaves the image.

The workshop never completed the task of calibrating for colour accuracy in the two and a half hour slot allocated with it has to be said the experts driving. It’s a complicated task to image using the guidelines and would only be useful in a real world setting where lighting and object distance were static so that gain modulation was static. However this could be achieved on projects that have same size objects like our recent glass plate negative project.

 

The Imperial War Museum was an astonishing museum in many ways, it had very clever use of moving images that merged with physical collections in an immersive way. However I was struck by just how much energy and physical effort and ingenuity human beings put into killing each other. Tremendously sad.

 

Malcolm Brown Deputy Photographer Library & University Collections Digital Imaging Unit

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Wisdom is the Principal Thing

Last month I was asked to take some photos of the McEwan Hall which is currently undergoing a major redevelopment to bring it into the 21st century. Having previously photographed Rowand Anderson’s architectural drawings for the building, I have long been looking for excuse to see inside and was delighted to have this chance. This huge auditorium has a seating capacity of 2000 and was presented to the University in 1897 by the Brewer and Politician William McEwan.  We have a lovely illustration in the collections of a holly festooned McEwan giving the Graduation Hall to the University on a platter, with Old College’s golden boy in the background.

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The Anatomy of a Background

0067106d In the studio, with a very limited access to backdrops and props, it can be difficult to enliven the more creative shots of objects. We are well set up now for standard record images against a neutral grey background and it is easy when you need to close in on the details of objects, however, these can start to look a bit ‘samey’ when you have lots of images to do for a project. This is the position I found myself in recently when working on the MIMED collection of musical instruments (see http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/s/s4mynr). Thankfully, at the University we are blessed with some stunning locations to use instead, but with both of the obvious choices – St Cecilia’s Music Hall and the Reid Concert Hall – off limits for redevelopment, an alternative location required a bit of forethought and planning. Our colleagues at the Anatomy School very kindly agreed to let us use their beautiful Rowand Anderson designed building which provided sympathetic architectural details to arrange the instruments against and Malcolm and I decamped from the studio for 2 days to continue with the project.

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Instrumental Challenges

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Last week saw the start of a new project- photographing many of the University’s Musical Instruments while they are in storage at the Library during the re-development of St. Cecilia’s Music Hall. These images are planned for use in the new museum space, in printed materials, for social media and interactive Apps. The only guidance we have been given is ‘coffee-table book’ which gives the DIU team huge scope for interpretation and creativity. As the project progresses we hope to bring 3D photography into the mix, but for starters, this week the musical instruments team brought me 3 items for some studio shots.

The first was a Triple-fretted clavichord, possibly Flemish and c1620 (ref. 4486). Although this piece was quite simple and unadorned, it did have a bright red ribbon woven through the strings and the keys made a beautiful pattern, so I decide on a detail shot to highlight the mechanism.

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The second item was a Rahab from Western Malaysia, c1977 (ref. 2101). This was a far more ornate and colourful piece. In fact, I was torn- both the front and back of the instrument presented interesting features to photograph, but how to get both sides at once? While at the Rijksmuseum conference Malcolm and I were impressed by their use of a black reflective surface in the photography of fashion accessories (see https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/formats/accessoires/index.jsp?lang=en). Malcolm suggested that we might be able to get a similar effect using a piece of black velvet and some glass, so I set up the studio to try it out. In the end I chose an angle looking down on the instrument that allowed details of both the strings and the red woollen back to be seen, however, the reflection adds further interest to the shot.

The final piece presented quite a different challenge. It is very rare that an object comes to us that leaves me scratching my head, but the ‘Jingling Johnny’ or Chapeau (ref. 6110) certainly did. A large, top heavy shiny brass instrument covered with dangling bells and fragile metalwork set atop a stick- how to keep it upright and perfectly still? The many shiny surfaces indicate that we will need to build a light tent to minimise reflections. This was clearly going to require some thought and planning, so we reluctantly decided to return this one to the store to reconvene another day!

In the coming months we will keep you posted on the projects progress.

Susan Pettigrew, Photographer

2 and 3D Reflections

IMG_0334-2It is hard to believe that more than a month has passed since the fantastic “2 and 3D: Practice and Prophecies” Conference at the Rijksmuseum in April. So much was packed into those 2 short days: standardisation in colour and targets (who knew standards were so non-standard?), mass-digitisation and bespoke object specific photography techniques, panoramas, multispectral and 3D imaging, digital asset management and the role of photography in heritage institutions. This was a heritage photography event not to be missed, which is why I was delighted when the Association for Historical and Fine Art Photographers (AHFAP) offered me their competition bursary to attend. I gathered so much information in Amsterdam that I am still sifting through the notes and links and chasing up my post –conference ‘to do’ list! However, I would like to share a few of my highlights from the conference. Continue reading

Explore the Geology with LUNA

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Last week we were very excited to see a new LUNA collection go live- ‘Geology & Geologists’. This brings together images from the CRC’s Lyell collection (a wonderful mixture of correspondence and drawings), Arthur Holmes Geology medals, as well as recent images from The Cockburn Museum, School of GeoSciences. The Cockburn collection contains photographs of past Professors, and historic photos of the department as well as plates of fossilised fish.

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3 Additions to the LUNA Book Reader Collection

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We kick off 2015 with the addition of 3 new Book Readers added to LUNA. The first two are both music manuscripts that came down to the DIU as part of the Readers Orders trolley. It is not often that we receive volumes to be digitised in their entirety this way, so it seemed a good opportunity. As a result we spared a bit of time to do the additional work to prepare them for the book reader software after the High Resolution images had been delivered to the customers. Continue reading

Making the Most of the Intern(et)

Our wonderful Intern Gemma is leaving us today, but she has managed to squeeze in one more post before she goes. Gemma has done some really amazing work for us, after completing her cataloguing project of Oriental Manuscripts (her work can be seen here http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/UoEsha~4~4 ) in record time, she has helped out with Flickr, Walter Scott and a new project about not yet officially started too. I’d like to say a very big thank you to Gemma for all her hard work- we’re going to miss her! Over to Gemma…

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Since I finished my project with the Oriental Manuscripts Collection a few weeks ago (see my blog below for more info http://libraryblogs.is.ed.ac.uk/diu/2014/07/02/discovering-the-orient/#more-931 ), I’ve been working on a few other projects to make the most of my remaining time here at the CRC. Of these, one of my main tasks has been to update the department’s Flickr account (https://www.flickr.com/photos/crcedinburgh/).

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The Staff Portrait V’s the Selfie

Over the years the Digital Imaging Unit have grown into the role of photographing official Library staff portraits. These images are used by the Library online to identify teams and in publications like the Piper when there is a focus on a department. In general terms the prospect of a staged portrait sends most staff fleeing for the Pentland hills. Some staff point blank refuse using colorful metaphors to explain why they will not do it and certainly most staff are guaranteed to be unhappy with the resulting image. It is without a doubt the least popular aspect of the the work we do in DIU. However most staff accept the formal portrait as a necessary evil a bit like going to the dentist. There are also a minority who are comfortable with the concept. What I have come to realise in this role is that I almost always only have about three shots right at the beginning of the session to capture a reasonable portrait. After those first three clicks the sitters brain goes of to an unusual place and we end up with overly self conscious faces that are beginning to do weird things with their facial muscles resulting in contorted bizarre expressions ending with an uncomfortable grimace. In this dominant age of the selfie I feel there is still a role for an official staged portrait and we don’t need to look any farther than the University of Edinburgh’s historic collection of staff portraits to see why they are an important record of individuals at work. Maybe the staff selfie should replace the staff portrait? Lets discuss………..

Malcolm Brown, Deputy Photographer.

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Building History

Snow at Edinburgh University Library, January 2010.

As part of our role here, Malcolm and I have taken many photographs of the Main Library. Over the years this has built up an archive of born digital images that show the life of the Library. Before and after shots of the Main Library Redevelopment Project, seasonal shots of the building and campus environs, students using the facilities and CRC events- such as exhibition openings, have all been documented.

Occasionally, one of us has to play a cameo role in the photo’s on those days we just can’t seem to get a student in the right spot, Malcolm stars in this one…

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