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: Andy Warhol’s Polaroids

Contributed by PAFA Museum Collections

One of the more interesting groups of works in PAFA’s collection that is being digitized for our current IMLS grant is a set of personal Polaroids taken by Andy Warhol. These were largely created during the 70’s and 80’s and whose subjects include what seem like friends, models, and Warhol himself, all in various poses and stages of attire and undress that, when seen together, read like something between art reference photos and contemporary social media posts. Returning figures include named entities like “Kimiko Powers,” “Mr. Black,” or “Ted Hartley,” among other unidentified individuals. Some feel candid, while others clearly posed and staged, but something about them all feel both intimate and enigmatic. Within PAFA’s larger permanent collection, with its historic slant and focus on traditional techniques and subjects, these entries are certainly unique.

Ted Hartley
Ted Hartley (1980) Andy Warhol, Polacolor Type 108, 3×3 in. (7.62 x 7.62 cm.), 2008.21.82, Gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., The Andy Warhol Photographic Legacy Program, © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
Kimiko Powers
Kimiko Powers (1971) Andy Warhol, Polacolor Type 108, 3×3 in. (7.62 x 7.62 cm.), 2008.21.35, Gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., The Andy Warhol Photographic Legacy Program, © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

About the Institute of Museum and Library ServiceThe 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: Project Update

Contributed by Hoang Tran, Director of Archives & Collections

How time flies! It has been a year since we were awarded the IMLS grant. It seems fitting that I take this chance to provide an overview of all the changes and activities that have been completed so far.

The first major update is in regards to staffing changes. HoJun who served as the Project Museum Collections Assistant decided to leave the project early. In his place, we were fortunate to hire an amazing candidate, L Gnadinger. L is an artist, writer, and educator originally from Louisville, KT who has experience with art handling, writing, and arts administration. We’re happy to have L join the IMLS project team!

We’ve completed the first round of cataloging for all permanent works in PAFA’s collection. The main emphasis for this round of cataloging was to obtain accurate biographical information—life dates, place of birth, nationality, gender, race, etc. This round also included ensuring all objects had at least one subject access point, standardized date, copyright information, and of course, no spelling errors.

Photographing the collection has been challenging due to the staff change, technology problems, and institutional commitments. However, we managed to bounce back rather quickly when we switched to photographing 3D works (sculpture) in the second half of the summer. To date, we have photographed 82 small/medium sized sculptures (21%). In the past, we took 1-3 photos of a sculpture in a frontal view only. This time, we decided to photograph the sculpture 10 times to create a full 360 degree view of the work. We believe this added work would not only help PAFA document the work better, but also help curators and researchers view other markings such as a signature or date that is typically on the back of a sculpture.

PAFA’s legacy files are stored in a complex web of folders with tiff and jpg files intermixed with unconventional file naming standards. L has taken on the immense task of digital file management. Fortunately, L has Python programming skills that proved to be invaluable for this task. After a few weeks of brainstorming, testing, and team meetings, L was able to get a grasp of what the best approach would be.

I’ve been working closely with PAFA’s Registrar, Danielle McAdams, who is assisting with the CMS implementation phase of the project. The data migration and implementation of a new CMS is largely done by the vendors. We are currently reviewing the vendor’s feedback for crosswalks that aren’t compatible with the new CMS and determining if we require anything more customized for our needs. So far, there hasn’t been any major issues.

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.

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