Digital Treasure Trove: Photographing works of art

Contributed by HoJun Yu, Project Museum Collections Assistant

My first glimpse of museum collection photography began when I was employed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At the Met, I worked on a similar grant funded project that gave me the opportunity to see how works of art were photographed by collection staff. I was thrilled about the possibility of doing such work myself when I was hired by PAFA.

As PAFA’s collection photographer, Adrian Cubillas has provided me guidance, supervision, and support in learning the intricate processes for photographing works of art. The first phase of the project would focus on photographing works on paper. During the first few photographing sessions we photographed unframed and unmatted prints.

It was great working with another photographer who brought his perspective and experience in collection photograph. He walked me through all the basics of photographing an artwork and once I learned the essentials, we were able to speed through the work as he and I are both photographers. Even though I have been a photographer for quite some time now, I have been learning about new techniques as most of my photographic work involves people, rather than objects.

Using studio lights to photograph works of art can take much meticulousness, as we need to accurately capture the brightness and colors. The most challenging part has been troubleshooting the glares we come across every now and then, especially with prints that have more reflective surfaces. Once again, as Adrian and I are both photographers, combining our knowledge and efforts has been helping significantly. To troubleshoot such problems regarding the glare, we adjusted the angles of the strobe lights. Rather than lighting up the artwork directly, we decided to turn the strobes around to bounce them off the walls. By doing so, we were able to reduce the glares that kept appearing especially on photographic prints.

Another obstacle that we encountered was the condition of some of the prints themselves. While most of the prints we have been photographing have been relatively flat, the rest have seemed to retain a slight curl from being previously rolled up. The curl posed a minor problem as certain parts of the print will not be not be completely sharp. To solve this, we simply went with a slightly deeper, wider depth of field to make sure all parts of the print were in focus. While convenient, changing the depth of field requires subtlety and care. If the depth of field is too deep, the ISO will have to be increased, which will consequently produce a photograph with more noise. The changes in the depth of field need to be conservative and as small as possible.

For the first month of photographing, we managed to photograph 85 works on paper.

About the Institute of Museum and Library Services

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. Our vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities. To learn more, visit https://www.imls.gov/and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

New Digital Collections

Contributed by Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

The Archives is happy to announce that staff have recently completed organizing and uploading two new digital collections.

The first digital collection of 627 photographs are part of the Alumni Gallery photographs. The photographs document the exhibition openings for 10 alumni gallery exhibitions from 2011-2014. The Alumni Gallery exhibits works by alumni from all of PAFA’s matriculating programs. Located within the Historic Landmark Building, the Alumni Gallery offers a contemporary view of PAFA’s longstanding traditions in art-making and is always free and open to the public.

Inaugural exhibition opening reception for PAFA’s Alumni Gallery, 2011.

The second digital collection is the Annual Student Exhibition and Graduation photographs which consists of 9498 photographs. The collection documents various year end events for students, specifically the Annual Student Exhibition; Preview Party; public opening; award and prize ceremony; luncheon; graduation and commencement ceremony; as well as alumni reunion party.

Graduating class of 2016
Family and friends attending 104th Annual Student Exhibition after graduation ceremony, 2005.

More information about PAFA’s Alumni Gallery and Annual Student Exhibition can be found in the online resources section (School History).

Digital Treasure Trove: Project Update

Contributed by Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

We are excited to announce the official launch of the IMLS grant funded project to photograph all works in PAFA’s permanent collection up to 2018. In addition, there will be a large scale data cleanup of the collection catalog records.

PAFA is happy to introduce HoJun Yu who will serve as the Project Museum Collections Assistant. HoJun is not your traditional museum professional. His educational background was actually in chemistry which may seem odd but there are definitely overlapping skills, particularly when it comes to critical thinking and analytical skills. For instance, these skills will be invaluable for his work reviewing, updating, and creating better catalog records for PAFA’s entire permanent art collection data.

The other portion of his duties is supporting PAFA’s efforts to photograph its permanent collection. HoJun has a passion for photography which is demonstrated by his work as a photographer during his undergraduate studies as well as freelance work (https://www.hojunyu.com/).

HoJun with camera

Please check back here regularly for updates on the project. 

About the Institute of Museum and Library Services

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. Our vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities. To learn more, visit https://www.imls.gov/and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Archives News

The archives has resumed its operating hours as of November 17, 2021. The archives is now open 9am-5pm Monday to Friday. Please note that the archives is still operating in a hybrid work schedule which specifically means staff are working remotely Monday to Wednesday and onsite Thursday to Friday. The best way to contact the archives is via email: archives@pafa.org.

If you wish to visit the archives for in-person research, please schedule your visits for Thursdays and Fridays. Don’t forget that PAFA’s Digital Archives has many digital resources online as well: https://pafaarchives.org/.

As the holidays quickly approach, we also want to take a moment to outline closures.

The archives will closed the follow days:

  • Thursday-Friday November 25 & 26, 2021
  • Thursday-Friday December 9 & 10, 2021 (private event)
  • December 24, 2021
  • December 27, 2021
  • December 31, 2021

Welcome back!

Two weeks ago, the Center for the Study of the American Artist welcomed its first class visit since its closure due to COVID-19. Professor Renee Foulks scheduled an appointment for her Low-Residency MFA class.

PAFA’s Low-Res MFA Class visit, August 2021.

The students selected a number of works from PAFA’s permanent collection for closer examination and discussion. Works included:

Thomas Anshutz – [Lady standing at window, with cat]

[Lady standing at window, with cat]
1971.8.69
Gift of Mrs. Edward R. Anshutz

Bruce Samuelson – Untitled

Untitled
2002.9.22
Gift of Benjamin D. Bernstein and Robin J. Bernstein

Mickalene Thomas – Interior: Blue Couch and Green Owl

Interior: Blue Couch and Green Owl
2017.31.1
© Mickalene Thomas / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

More information about the Center for the Study of the American Artist can be found here.

Archives Summer Hours

The archives will be closed from June 9th to 22nd.

For the rest of the summer (June 21, 2021 – August 3, 2021) , the archives will be operating on a limited schedule:

Monday-Wednesday: Closed

Thursday-Friday: 9am-5pm

Don’t forget to visit PAFA’s Digital Archives for digitized records and additional online resources.

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