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Thread: Fine art reproduction and museum archiving

  1. #1

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    Fine art reproduction and museum archiving

    Is film still used for fine art reproduction and museum archiving?

    No matter what the benefits of digital archiving are, I would imagine it would be foolhardy to depend solely on digital for archiving. Digital archiving, on the surface, offers many advantages, but CDís and DVDís are known to fail regularly and are complex technologies to reproduce. Whatever digital method is used for archiving seems to be problematic and needs to be re-archived every 10-20 years to keep up with the latest technology. Not being able to readily see the image without complex technology seems to be another problem, i.e., it could easily be discarded accidentally.

    A properly stored film negative offers extremely long life, is simple technology to reproduce, and is proven technology. Particularly with priceless art works, would not film still be used alongside digital storage - just to be sure?

    I am interested in finding out what museums and galleries want as far as archiving these days Ė whether it is mainly digital, still film, or do they want both? What does the industry expect from someone considering offering a photographic archiving service?

  2. #2

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    Re: Fine art reproduction and museum archiving

    Anthony,

    I would think that you could get some relevant information from the National Art Gallery in Melbourne.

    Isobel Crombie, who is a senior figure in those circles these days, would know pretty much what is happening in Australia.

    Isobel ran the first and only 100% photographic gallery in Australia, which was in Waverley, which is an Eastern Melbourne suburb.

    I, along with a camera club, had a guided tour behind the scenes with her about 12 or so years ago. The gallery had a very good archival system operating; I believe some of their practices were going to be adopted in some of the other galleries.

    I believe Isobel was one of, if not the driving force, behind the $1,000,000 acquisition when the National gallery in Melbourne, bought the Canadian made backlit Cibachrome late last year.

    Isobel has given talks on archiving, and the problems that all galleries have with material that is under their care.

    You could of course get outside suggestions but I know she is inside, is knowledgeable, and approachable.

    Mick.

  3. #3
    Ted Harris's Avatar
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    Re: Fine art reproduction and museum archiving

    Anthony, not sure what your question is. Museums and archives are not throwing away film and replacing it with digital archives. OTOH they are mostly using digital technology to produce high quality archive images of their existing film collections. They are also cataloguing their flat art collections using a combination of film and digital technologies. That is they will take a picture of an oil painting and then scan same or simply scan flat art such as pencil or pen and ink drawings. The scanners used are, for the most part, high end flat bed scanners such as Kodak/Creo IQSmart or Supreme II, Screen Cezanne Elite, Fuji Lanovia, etc. As for storage they will use triple redundancy and go through replacement and rotation every so often to insure images are not lost. Finally, remember that there is still very expensive but also very stable pure optical storage.

    If you are planning on offering archiving services then you would probably need a rather high investment in equipment. Of course, just offering the 'shooting' end of the service is the same as always.

    You can also take a look at the web site of Academic Imaging (http://www.academicimaging.com/) a company that offers both consulting services and turn key systems to universities and museums. I talk with them frequently and their average system runs around $100K to 150K US. Just to give you an idea.

  4. #4
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    Re: Fine art reproduction and museum archiving

    An Archive at a museum in Vancouver creates records of new works using a digital Hassy for copy work. It maintains its physical film and print records of past work and uses scans of the film and prints in a database. The database acts as an index into the archive. The database is not the archive as the archive is a physical entity (including the disks created from the digital work). I think standards for storage and maintenance of digital records is still in flux.

    A large Gallery in the Detroit area was shooting lf (4x5 and 8x10) copies of its inventory and drum scanning the film. I do not know how they were storing or maintaining their archive (or how strictly it followed archival practices – using appropriate materials and the physical storage is only a small part an archive) and lost contact with them a couple years back and so I have no idea what they are doing today.

  5. #5
    tim atherton's Avatar
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    Re: Fine art reproduction and museum archiving

    Anthony,

    I think you are getting your terms and concepts a little mixed up.

    Museums generally aren't "archiving" work. They have original work and then make copies for different reasons. Some things might only ever have a simple record copy made (in the "old" days this was soften just a polaroid). Some will have many copies made for different purposes. But all these uses are secondary. It's not primary material

    Not being able to readily see the image without complex technology seems to be another problem, i.e., it could easily be discarded accidentally
    Not really - that's what the original is for... (and if it's gone - well - it's gone...)

    Most of what they are doing is documenting their collections - this is fro a number of uses

    such as record keeping, reference for conservation/damage etc, publicity/promotion/eduction, for detailed research and reproductions for sale/profit.

    in most cases now nearly all of this is being done digitally. Everything from digital SLR for quick and dirty record shots to go with the records to hi-res images produced with things like a betterlight or similar back, to scans of flat artwork done on massive hi-res flatbed scanners designed specifically for that purpose (I forget the actual size - I've only seen one once - but they scan work a few feet across). Also 3D imaging of objectts

    various museums and archives organisations along with the likes of Getty Research Institute are setting standards for both digital imaging, archiving of digital records, backup etc etc.

    In a museum the object is still - well - the object. That's what's important. Any photograph or image is just a copy

    And again, going back to the old days - the photographs of objects in museums were often not kept in anything like the same conditions as an archive would keep photographs. 35mm slides, nice big 4x5 or 8x10 transparencies, strips of 35mm neg - they were often just kept stuffed into the paper file in a file cabinet, or if you were lucky, in their own filing cabinet, or if you weren't, in a paper bankers box in a distant storage room somewhere. Only institutional memory could help you if you needed to find it. More often than not, you just pulled the object out an took another picture.

    Simple Digital Asset Management usually allows you to find any image much more quickly

    Archives are slightly different, but still run on many of the above lines - most of copying their work digitally. They are of course not collecting original material and records which only exist in digital form. There are a whole separate set of standards for archiving digital records.

    Some museum still do use LF film (or a mixture of film and digital) but it's more often a simple cost measure as much as anything.

    Most Museum records will include a paper record, but most of the records, object tracking, conservation records etc etc is all done on databases.
    You'd be amazed how small the demand is for pictures of trees... - Fred Astaire to Audrey Hepburn

    www.photo-muse.blogspot.com blog

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    Whatever David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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    Re: Fine art reproduction and museum archiving

    Just to add to what Tim said, some of those images can become archives of interest in themselves. The Frick Collection in New York and the Getty Research Institute in L.A. collect things like study photographs (originally for students who couldn't travel to see original works) and slide libraries. Sometimes these are the only records of works that have been lost, stolen, or destroyed or they can be valuable to conservators who are restoring a work (not only the works reproduced in the archive, but also works by the same artists).

    The collections of reproductions can be interested in themselves as a record of the history of collection, patronage, or the provenance of art works. The Getty, for instance, has a collection of documentary photographs from the central collection point for the repatriation of art stolen by the Nazis during WWII. The Frick takes a particular interest in distinguished collectors and patrons of the arts.

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    tim atherton's Avatar
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    Re: Fine art reproduction and museum archiving

    Quote Originally Posted by David A. Goldfarb View Post
    Just to add to what Tim said, some of those images can become archives of interest in themselves. The Frick Collection in New York and the Getty Research Institute in L.A. collect things like study photographs (originally for students who couldn't travel to see original works) and slide libraries. Sometimes these are the only records of works that have been lost, stolen, or destroyed or they can be valuable to conservators who are restoring a work (not only the works reproduced in the archive, but also works by the same artists).

    The collections of reproductions can be interested in themselves as a record of the history of collection, patronage, or the provenance of art works. The Getty, for instance, has a collection of documentary photographs from the central collection point for the repatriation of art stolen by the Nazis during WWII. The Frick takes a particular interest in distinguished collectors and patrons of the arts.
    Absolutely - and that stuff is often quite fascinating to look at as well

    I guess my main point was that in the day to day running of a museum, these sort of things are usually seen in a fairly mundane utilitarian manner at the time they are produced.

    They are viewed as part of the Collections Management side of things not the actual curatorial/collections side of things
    You'd be amazed how small the demand is for pictures of trees... - Fred Astaire to Audrey Hepburn

    www.photo-muse.blogspot.com blog

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    tim atherton's Avatar
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    Re: Fine art reproduction and museum archiving

    Quote Originally Posted by David A. Goldfarb View Post
    The Frick Collection in New York and the Getty Research Institute in L.A. collect things like study photographs (originally for students who couldn't travel to see original works) and slide libraries..
    Hey - the latter even collects my work... So there's no end to what they'll collect
    You'd be amazed how small the demand is for pictures of trees... - Fred Astaire to Audrey Hepburn

    www.photo-muse.blogspot.com blog

  9. #9
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    Re: Fine art reproduction and museum archiving

    According to my in-house archivist Tim and David are correct. I've been informed that an archive is by its nature the original. Copy work is more of a library item (the difference between the manuscript which belongs in an archive and the published work which is found in a library). Original film (not copy work) and prints are what might make up an archive and copies can be finding aids, but generally are not considered an archival record. The exception is, as David points out, when there is an interest in preserving something that relates to the making of the copy or if the copy has survived and the original is lost.

    The Vancouver museum keeps an archive of its exhibitions and the work that was in the exhibitions. The copy work is not intended to replace or be an archive of the work itself.

  10. #10

    Re: Fine art reproduction and museum archiving

    I think you'll find most institutions are using digital all the way through for cataloging their collections. Its often used to put the collections on line for remote viewing. Simply documenting objects is another common use. This is often required for insurance or accounting purposes. As mentioned earlier, photography is also used for art reproductions for sale. Assuming an IT department that's on the ball, keeping all this stuff digitally is a snap compared to using, keeping and handling a huge film collection.

    In all cases I'm aware of film is pretty much going away for current and future work. I consulted with, trained and equipped our state museum when they started their cataloging project. In the 12 or so years since they've photographed over 100,000 items with a scanning camera. They are likely using newer gear now - I have not talked with them for a while. My point is that even that long ago the benefits of digital work flow made it the default.

    If you are thinking of offering this as a service look at smaller institutions - they may be your best clients once you get past the credential inspection showing that you are indeed trained in their field. I'd also suggest you land a job or two and buy only whatever gear you need to do that. Then re-figure what gear would benefit your new and brilliant methods going forward.

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