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Thread: Fine art reproduction and museum archiving

  1. #11

    Join Date
    Jan 2001
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    522

    Re: Fine art reproduction and museum archiving

    The museum I work for as a photographer, does in fact "archive" photographs that are/have been produced by the museum staff over the years. This mainly happened as a result of the earlier images being produced, and cataloged in as accessioned items to keep track of them--from the late 1800s to the 1970s it was this way. The various photo dept's since then, set up an archive of sorts, of the record shots on 4x5 having the same accession numbers as the artifacts, so in a sense these are "archived" as well. The other types of photos produced are kept as longterm records also, and are under the record retention type rules as well. These earlier photos run into the tens of thousands and are actually stored in the artifact storage rooms. They are legally accessioned as "artifacts".

    In archives--usually besides the paper items, the bulk of the holdings will actually be in the "reformatted"--copywork--materials. Either microfilm or sheet film. On a daily basis, this is where books, newspapers, photos etc are copied onto film and that is what is "archived". The same is true for libraries, where they look more at distribution of copies of the images over the one "artifact". An original in one of these three situations might be put in storage and/or displayed, it might be copied and then the original stored, or it might be copied & the original gotten rid of somehow.

    The choices we make for film or digital really come down to how the final thing will be used or reproduced. In some ways, it's still better to shoot 4x5 film, because with most digital cameras besides the high end scanning backs, you can't just shoot once & file it away. Interpolation becomes a real issue when you deal with having to output exhibit graphics at very large sizes. Sometimes all you get is a digital image to work with though--and you have to make do. I had to get a file printed 100% at 300 dpi once, and then shoot it on a 4x5 camera on chrome film--drum scan that and have a 4x6 foot lighjet made. The original file at 300 dpi was smaller than a 4x5 sheet. Not great to work with, but such is life with digital cameras being used in the real world to make images now. Recently we shot a 15th century map on 4x5 and had that drum scanned for a large graphic--the final file was over a gig in size. I also did some banners that were 12-16 feet tall, that required us to shoot copynegs & make prints for drum scans because the files were so large. We also had to make cibachromes off 35mm slides & drum scan those for this project as well. One reason for that was that the originals were all "archived" in that they couldn't leave the premises--the labs doing the output were outside, so some sort of either scan or hard copy had to be sent in lieu of the "artifacts". It's these "legacy" type files that are found in collections that are very hard to deal with.

    Another thing we shoot quite a bit of are large textiles like quilts and flags. The flags can be very large, 20 feet or more in length, and these really need to be shot on 4x5 or larger film. The flags are often shot either before conservation or after, or both. They're often very fragile--will be shot only once and then stored. So, this is an example of where you need to do the best you can right then, or else you'll have to live with whatever images you get for a very long time. I can see a similar parallel to shooting lower res digital images for record shots--this is something that happens with digitization projects, because if you shoot for access only, you can't use those files for reproduction. Or if you shoot a baseline resolution too small, you're restricted in final ouput size as well.

    The two approaches are to shoot a lot of images quickly, at lower resolutions for thumbnail access , or to shoot for a standardized baseline resolution as the master file, usually always an unsharpened TIFF. The access files then fall into different ranges under the master. When you shoot for the master files/access type project--takes a lot of file space. It's this type of digitization project that one would be able to market services probably to smaller museums without photographers. The other type of project would be that around digitization of a certain collection as a way to make it more accessible.

    An extreme example for me would be a project we worked on several years ago--the originals were these large paintings done on canvas that were very long and rolled up. they have a 3D element in puppetry and all sorts of weird little things like that. There are like 60-70 panels, in sizes of 6x13 feet or so, on rolls--they're so fragile right now, the conservators estimated they couldn't be tilted anymore than 10 degrees. So it became a massive overhead, copystand job. The museum made a structure to support and unroll these for a conservation assesment, that had a proposed scaffold built over the top with a 4x5 camera on it as well as grid of speedotrons. Underneath, was a bellyboard type system that would allow conservators to move out over the top to work on the paintings, without actually touching them. The whole project became very expensive--and as a result it never happened. There are only 2 other known examples of this type of artwork in the US--one other museum had used disposable cameras for theirs, by standing off to one side & shooting them. At our museum, we were charged with making 1:1 reproductions of these, so the minimum size we could use would have been 4x5. 8x10 would have been better. Now it's a moot point--but if we do this in the future, this will be a place where a scanning back might be applicable.

    That's probably an extreme example, but I wanted to share some of the different things museum photographers actually do. As to what they require--think of it in terms of commercial photography and labwork when it comes to physical exhibitry. If it's online only, then the requirements might actually be more in the realm of multimedia work to be honest. Immersive imaging, shooting objects in the round etc.

    Hope this makes some sense, good luck at any rate.

    K Thompson

    Opinions expressed in this message may not represent the policy of my agency.

  2. #12
    Daniel Geiger
    Guest

    Re: Fine art reproduction and museum archiving

    I come out of the Natural History Museum environment. Here "Archiving" may have many different meanings:

    - Storing objects so that they will minimally deterriorate with time.
    - Storing information securely.
    - Storing metadata (e.g., image of object, information about object).

    I think you are considering mainly the last one. Here there are also several components to it:
    - making the image (film, digitization, digital imaging).
    - Storing the image as well as metadata for image and object (i.e., data entry into existing database, or db development respecting discipline standards such as Darwin core in Natural History).
    - Storing the data securely (client server application, redundant storage etc.).
    - Making information available to outside users (i.e., web databases).

    It may be that art museums/galleries have funds to pay for external services. In natural history, though, most of it is done one at a time and either inhouse by regular staff, or by slave labor (aka, volunteers, interns [without Glock]). Occasionally there may be a grant coming in, but because of the educational requirements with NSF grants, one almost has to get mostly students involved. If you don't have good references from previous experience, I would imagine that most museums will not give any job to a neophyte, particulalry, because handling and care of the mostly unique objects is not just permitted to anybody (I've seen fellow curators go nuclear over very minor "transgressions"). Note that light is one of the main destroyers of artifacts.

    In terms of image capture, we use all digital imaging, ranging from Digital SLRs, to depth of field enhanced imaging from stereomicroscopes with Automontage, to straight digital capture from the SEM. We recently gave our 4x5 repro set-up to the local photoschool. If an existing image is on film, it is scanned and then distributed through LAN to the appropriate department. Film is a hindrance, with no upside for any of our applications.
    I use film for my personal work (35 mm and 4x5); and some of my personal work has been used at the museum for various purposes. But again, the digital file was used, not the actual outdated film.

    Re optics (flat field, corner resolution, ...), color workflow (controlled and calibrated digital work-flow), most people won't have a clue what you talk about. So the only way to convince people that you A) have a point, and B) that it makes a difference and C) you can deliver is by doing it. So we are back at building a track-record. In a sense, museum photography is even more difficult to justify than product photography, because there is no money coming in with the photo in hand. It's just money going out, so one tries to minimize that. So either it is the good-enough-approach, or you have someone in-house, which is cheaper than hiring outsiders if one has that kind of volume. And for that rare one-off, any pro-photographer will do.

    A few years back I did some film repro (prior to digital) for an friend, who owns an artgallery (price range $xxx to $xxx,xxx member IFPDA). There was no question to hire a pro. The other gallerists I got to know also did not hire pros to their photography. So specializing in art reprophotography outside service provider does not sound like a good business model. Possibly after working as the in-house photographer for an existing place, then you may be able to build a side-business and eventually go all independent.

    Good luck with it.

  3. #13

    Join Date
    Feb 2006
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    Mt. Victoria,The Land Down Under
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    Re: Fine art reproduction and museum archiving

    Thanks everyone one for your replies - they make a lot of sense. I do have good lighting gear - HMI's and floros, and macro lenses. But I feel I would need to save for a scanning back before and went down this route, and talk to industry professionals first. For me its been worthwhile thinking about, and getting everyones point of view who know more about how the indusry operates more than me. Thanks again

  4. #14

    Join Date
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    Re: Fine art reproduction and museum archiving

    Quote Originally Posted by Daniel Geiger View Post
    In a sense, museum photography is even more difficult to justify than product photography, because there is no money coming in with the photo in hand. It's just money going out, so one tries to minimize that. So either it is the good-enough-approach, or you have someone in-house, which is cheaper than hiring outsiders if one has that kind of volume. And for that rare one-off, any pro-photographer will do..
    This is how most museums actually operate. I work in a system that's fairly well established, back to the time when all cabinet level agencies had photo dept's. There are about 7 photographers total working for the museums and archives. There are a dozen or more lab techs, AV/Media techs etc. The photo dept's are relatively self contained as well, with color & b/w labs, automated & roller transport machines, studios, wide format inkjet printers etc. BUT--the Natural Science museum is in another dept and actually doesn't have a photographer....

    Not that many museums actually have photo dept's though. If you do find them, they're usually in the marketing & PR dept's, or they're in the exhibitry & repro graphics branches. I work mostly on exhibitry and publications. We used to do more catalog work, but with the advent of the digitization projects--a lot of the record shots are being done by collections people--registrars--who handle the data entry and mgmt of the collection itself. The conservators and curators do some of their own work as well for the database , so in terms of "professional photography"--it generally doesn't appear on the digitization project except in little bits & pieces. This is part of a portal used statewide to link all the public & private institutions together. Very few of the places involved actually employ photographers--most of the scanning & imaging is done by librarians, registrars, volunteers etc--much like Daniel has described.

    The way it's set up where I work--we're obligated by the governing laws to provide repro services at cost to the public. It's not really "money going out"--it would cost much, much more to farm the work out in the end, and also you would have to deal with potential copyright & ownership issues as well--whereas with a staff, it's work for hire and the institution owns everything. Also, because of the security and handling requirements for artifacts, it's better to handle them all within the care of the museum, than have to transport them off-site, or bring in outsiders.

    The photographers who work for museums that I've met, almost all came out of commercial backgrounds. I have met one or two that came from museum backgrounds though--and learned photography on the job. Almost all the museums & archives still shoot film & use darkrooms to some degree, even on the Federal level, but there are outside vendors used as well--National Archives here in the US, uses about 8 vendors to handle outside patron work. The Library of Congress, otoh, handles that in-house. NARA vendors almost all use digital imaging and output, LOC uses both digital & traditional. One area that might be worth looking at would be something similar--marketing copywork repro and output. The exhibit design & fabrication end is a very interesting field, but it's all locked up between design firms and turn-key shops. The photo work that is done here, is usually handled in-house or by labs.

    Good luck all the same

    K Thompson

    Opinions expressed in this message may not represent the policy of my agency.

  5. #15
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
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    Re: Fine art reproduction and museum archiving

    Quote Originally Posted by kthompson View Post
    Not that many museums actually have photo dept's though...
    that's funny, because i have a chronic problem of calling museums and asking for the dept of photography (to find out their portfolio review policies, etc.) and instead getting connected to the guy who takes the digital pics of the collection. the receptionists seem to have a hard time with that distinction!

  6. #16

    Join Date
    Jan 2001
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    522

    Re: Fine art reproduction and museum archiving

    yep--I have the same problem... people call & ask me questions as if I'm a curator. I can't tell you the number of times I've had to say "I'm only a photographer"....

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