Digital Treasure Trove: Post-Production Photography Editing

Contributed by PAFA Museum Collections

As part of our ongoing IMLS grant project to digitize portions of our collection, we are continuing to photograph works in our collection, but we are also beginning to process and edit some of these new images in preparation for their integration into PAFA’s databases.

If you have followed the Museum’s previous digitization initiatives, then you should know that these efforts are resource intensive. It is important that we take the time to digitally capture works of art that represent our collection as true-to-life as possible. To ensure we obtain high quality digital assets, there are two points in the digitization workflow that we focus on: 1. the moment we take the photo 2. the post-production work done after digital capture. For paintings and works on paper, this can be as simple as adjusting for the amount and color of the light, ensuring the work is square to the lens, and cropping as needed. For sculptures and 3-dimensional works, however, there are many additional variables that need addressing, including the consistency of the gradient background.

In a perfect world, the background would appear perfectly consistent across our hundreds of images, but this is not always the case. Often when shooting the images, the accuracy of the represented object must be prioritized over the look of the background, leaving artifacts in the image like folds in the paper or markings from other sculptures. To address this, we must correct these issues in post-production.

For every individual image that requires this correcting, we must break them down into three separate Photoshop layers: (1) an isolated background without the object (2) a copy of this isolated background without the object that has had a gaussian blur applied to it (3) a top layer that has only the isolated object. These layers are then carefully stitched together in such a way that the distractions of the “imperfect” background are fixed, while preserving all the necessary elements of the artwork (the object itself and its shadows) to create a clean, long-lasting, and useful image.

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.

Digital Treasure Trove: Post-Production / Image Cropping

Contributed by PAFA Museum Collections

An important step of the digitization workflow is post-production. This step always performed after the actual digital asset is created, hence the prefix “post”. This crucial process allows us to make minor adjustments for things like light and color, as well as cropping the dimensions to match the work being viewed. Sometimes, this is as simple as matching the rectangular edge of a TIFF file to the edge of a rectangular painting. Other times, this is more complicated, with works that are not perfectly square, are three-dimensional, or have other non-standard edges. In any case, it is our job to produce and maintain these cleaned up images—what we would call “access files” for broad dissemination to our audiences. These files are unique and distinct from our archival “master files,” which do not get the ‘post-production’ treatment and are kept for posterity.

It has been a slow task, with the need to go through and edit images one by one, but we are nearly finished. In fact, the Museum is almost ready to integrate these legacy files with the newly photographed works of art taken this year.

Evelyn Statsinger (1927-2016) – Forest Rythms, uncropped (1983), Oil on linen, 33 x 39 in. (83.82 x 99.06 cm.), Gift of the Evelyn Statsinger Cohen Trust, © Evelyn Statsinger Cohen Trust, 2018.36.35
Evelyn Statsinger (1927-2016) – Forest Rythms, cropped (1983), Oil on linen, 33 x 39 in. (83.82 x 99.06 cm.), Gift of the Evelyn Statsinger Cohen Trust, © Evelyn Statsinger Cohen Trust, 2018.36.35

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.

Digital Treasure Trove: Resolving Duplicate and Mystery Files

Contributed by PAFA Museum Collections

We are nearing the end of the weeks-long process of renaming the files in our digital collection. As mentioned before, this work was important for establishing a file naming convention/schema to improve its usefulness and accessibility both internally and externally. Doing so is one of many parts of our IMLS grant project, and so far, has included a combination of automated computer scripting via Python, and slowly combing through the filenames by hand.

With this combination of tools, we were able to confidently correct the names of approximately 16,000 files, which was a huge step forward for the project and PAFA’s collection team. During this process, however, we identified over 1,000 files that were either unnecessary duplicates or were files that did not carry with it enough information to adequately identify them in our database.

These duplicate and mystery files arose from the old folder structures that we are no longer using and have recently phased out as part of this file renaming process. Formerly, things could hide and get copied, moved, updated, and renamed without any meaningful way to ensure that outdated or unnecessary files are removed. In the process of migrating files to fewer sub-directories, which use only their unique accession number to identify them, it became immediately clear which files need review and correction, beyond a simple renaming.

Once the duplicates were double checked, they were easily discarded. The unknown files, however, we had no way of knowing how important any given file might be. Out of a commitment to thoroughness the collections team decided to work together to identify several hundred of these files, often by finding some physical works in our storage vault that could be related. Only after reasonable certainty could be reached would we know for sure how to rename (and then either keep or discard) these mystery files. This process alone took around two weeks but has resulted in a repaired digital archive that is ready for the introduction of our new high-resolution photography from this year.

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.

Digital Treasure Trove: Introducing the New Museum Collections Assistant

Contributed by PAFA Museum Collections

The Museum Collections Team is pleased to introduce L Autumn Gnadinger (they/them/theirs), who will be stepping into the role of the Museums Collections Assistant through the remainder of the IMLS grant project. L is an artist, writer, and educator with a background in museum work. They earned their MFA from Tyler School of Art and Architecture and have previously studied at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, IN and Transylvania University in Lexington, KY. L is a former Core Fellow of Penland School of Craft in Bakersville, NC, and an editor and co-founder of the journal Ruckus, which engages art in the American Midsouth and Midwest.

With a range of experience in photography, design, and file management stemming from their work with Ruckus, L will be helping PAFA with its core goals of photographing works of art in the permanent collection, updating the file management connected to the permanent collection, and finally testing out the new content management system for the new—forthcoming—online collection.

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.

Digital Treasure Trove: Photographing in the Sculpture Study Center

Contributed by IMLS Grant Project Team

Summer in Philadelphia may be winding down, but things at PAFA are just starting to ramp up as we begin the early fall season. There is a lot to catch up on from just the last several weeks: the moving of the outdoor sculpture Grumman Greenhouse by Jordan Griska after 11 years on Lenfest Plaza, installation and prep of our upcoming shows Evade or Ensnare and Making American Artists, as well as fall classes at the school starting back up this month. And things with the IMLS Project Team is just as busy. We’ve continued working all summer on the most challenging phase of the IMLS grant project, photographing the permanent art collection.  

We’ve changed course from photographing 2D works to taking photographs of the 3D works specifically in the Museum’s Sculpture Study Center (SSC). In this gallery, there is a wide array of objects in various mediums, each with their own set of challenges for documentation. Additionally, since the SSC is open to the public during Museum hours, we only have a limited number of days per week when things are closed to setup a temporary photography environment, work through as many objects as possible, and then break down again to make way for visitors.  

We soon realized photographing sculptures presented other challenges in our workflow. First, art handling works on paper compared to 3D sculpture was dramatically different. Some works were fragile, while others were solid and sturdy. Art handling for sculptures made from bronze, stone, plaster, terracotta, or wood all proved challenging and required us to be really careful as some works were hundreds of years old or some were very heavy. The material/color of each sculpture also required different backdrops and lighting. We ended up planning our days around dark and light colored sculptures so we didn’t need to change the backdrop often. And finally, since a single 2D image cannot fully represent all viewing angles of a 3D space, each sculpture is being photographed at least ten times: four side views, four quarter angle views, and two 1/8th angle views. The effect of this will be a very useful (approximate) 360-degree global view of each artwork.  

This workflow requires staff to move a—potentially very heavy—object, refocusing the camera by hand, adjusting the lighting, and finally, taking the image. Overall, it has been a slow but rewarding process, and we feel the finished images will provide a much more comprehensive set of digital assets—for future researchers and the general public—to view online.  

In fact, the usefulness of a more comprehensive set of viewing angles has been immediately clear as we have spent time with each object. A good example might be any of the several Abraham Lincoln life masks currently on view in SSC. Aside from being interesting objects by themselves, they—like many of the objects in PAFA’s collections—have a variety of notes, marking, and surprising armatures on their reverse sides, that might not always be visible to the public, but all contribute to the unique character and story of each work. 

We will soon be turning our attention to back to Works on Paper (WOP) and different aspects of the IMLS grant but we have enjoyed our time with the objects in SSC this summer and hope you will too the next time you are visiting the musem or browsing the new and forthcoming online collection.  

This blog post is part of an ongoing series about Digital Collections that we are able to undertake thanks to a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

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).

COVID-19 Updates

Next week will mark one year that the archives will be closed due to the pandemic. A majority of PAFA staff have continued working remotely, including the archives. Fortunately, we managed to remain productive during this time.

  1. The project team completed the Rediscovering John Rhoden grant project.
    • Completed the digitization right before closure.
    • Completed cataloging over 3900 items.
    • Completed the collection finding aid.
    • Completed the John Rhoden digital portal. We are currently doing a round of edits before we publicly promote and launch the digital portal and finding aid.
  2. Updated and created a number of online resources on PAFA’s history.

Goodbye from the John Rhoden papers team!

Contributed by the John Rhoden papers team, Kelin Baldridge and Jahna Auerbach

John and Richenda Rhoden, Christmas, 1984

This week, our journey with the John Rhoden collection comes to an end. A year of full immersion in the life of John and Richenda Rhoden has resulted in a project that will soon be open to the public, for researchers, the curious, and everyone in between. 

Anyone who works closely with a human subject – archivists, curators, historians, authors, researchers – can relate to the level of attachment that we, the John Rhoden papers team, feel towards John and Richenda Rhoden. 

As sad as we are that our journey with the Rhodens has come to an end, we are immensely grateful to have had the opportunity to work so closely with their remaining legacy. Working with their archives, we get a glimpse of how charming and interesting people they truly were. They both lived fascinating lives together.

The physical remnants of one’s life can be incredibly powerful. Though it will never be the case, we feel we knew them personally after connecting with the records they left behind. From the collection, we have been fortunate enough to learn that John Rhoden was a sharp businessman, resilient, joyful, and aware of how he could use his skills to help others. He created a path and a career for himself in an America that did not lend itself to his success. 

John Rhoden with Drago Trsar, Ljubljana, Slovenia, circa 1958-1959

The documents and the photographic materials come together in this collection to create a full picture of who John Rhoden was. The papers are deeply rooted in his professional life, but photographs of him smiling and of the way he interacted with those around him hint at the kind of man he was. Like many of us, John loved to document his travels by taking photographs. Browsing through the images, one not only gets transported back in time, but also gets to view the world through John’s lens and perspective–underexposed and all.

The records revealed how kind, joyful, and charismatic both John and Richenda were. They seemed to be the type of people who commanded the attention in a room, and whose presence lifted the mood. What seems to have struck people about the couple was their warmth, openness, and generosity. Both were successful artists and professionals, but what seems to have stuck with people most was their character. 

Another notable aspect of this collection is its expanse. Not only does it tell the stories of John and Richenda, it offers a full-color glimpse into the world in the 1950s, it tells the stories of many artists, lost and forgotten to time, it creates connections and networks among people, places, and things that might otherwise have nothing in common. In addition to telling the story of its primary subject, it contains seemingly infinite threads and tangents waiting to be fully explored.

John Rhoden drinking from a porron, France, 1952

As we now open the collection to public use, we wanted to thank the NEH and the incredible support system at PAFA that not only made our work possible, but downright enjoyable, through a global pandemic no less. Furthermore, we want to thank Hoang Tran and Dr. Brittany Webb for being the most incredible collaborators and leaders that two young professionals could ask for. 

Though our official work with the Rhodens is ending, we are looking forward to using Hoang’s Rhoden portal and visiting Brittany’s John Rhoden exhibition many times when it opens! 

John Rhoden and Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, 1991-1992

A note from Assistant Archivist, Jahna Auerbach:

The portion of the John Rhoden papers that has had the biggest impact on me is contained in just one box, Richenda Rhoden’s personal papers. From the beginning, I had a personal connection to Richenda because of all of the incredibly endearing photographs of her posing with her various cats. 

Richenda Rhoden, 1930s-1940s

As we started digitizing her records, we discovered that this one box of papers is connected to many different parts of history, as discussed in previous blog posts and on the Rhoden portal. Richenda’s parents met at the Carlisle Indian School and her father was the first Native American judge in the state of Washington. Her first husband, Lawrence Lew Kay, who was tragically killed in WWII, has a rich family history rooted in China, and the Chinese community in Seattle, WA.

Richenda was not just defined by the men in her life. She was an incredible person in her own right. She has been described as head-strong, wanting to do things on her own terms, chic, and striking in beauty. John and Richenda never had children, but they dedicated their lives to the community. They always welcomed people into their house whether it was for an annual Christmas party or for the public to see their studio and art that was constantly on display. 

Richenda Rhoden, circa 1951-1959

Richenda was an artist like her husband. She only showed a few times in her life, but she painted every day.

Richenda’s portion of the archive has made me question a lot about evidence in the archive. What is present, what is missing, and what does that mean? Richenda lived alone at 23 Cranberry Street for almost 15 years, and yet, we have very little of her own records. Despite all of this we have been able to find a rich history of a woman. Without a doubt, Richenda’s presence is evident and her history is recorded throughout the archive, whether it is in photographs, or labels she put on travel slides. 

As Kelin and I wrap up this project, we are floored by the people on our team and members of the community that have helped us. From co-workers, family members translating Mandarin for us, to neighbors of the Rhodens sharing their stories. Lastly, huge thank you to Hoang Tran and Dr. Brittany Webb, who have been helping us and guiding us from day one.

Richenda Rhoden, Indonesia, 1963

This project, Rediscovering John W. Rhoden: Processing, Cataloging, Rehousing, and Digitizing the John W. Rhoden papers, is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency.

ABOUT THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.



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