Association of Historical and Fine Art Photography Conference 2015

Jamie Dunn, one of the digitisers working on the Digitisation of Mental Healthcare Archives project, attended the Association of Historical and Fine Art Photography annual conference which was held 22nd-23rd October. Here is his report on the conference. 

This year the Association of Historical and Fine Art Photography held its 30th Anniversary conference, at the RAF Museum in London. The Association is really the only of its kind in existence and certainly the only that is particularly relevant to the work that we undertake, here in the Digitisation Centre. The conference abstracts were of a diverse nature, from case studies in photographing challenging 2/3D materials right through to the ethics of photographing items for heritage collections and as in depth as new research into Multispectral and Hyperspectral imaging.

Stacey Rain Strickler, a Senior Photographer at the Getty Museum in California, gave a fascinating insight into her research and the subsequent process she devised, when presented with the challenge of photographing some of the first recorded examples of photography, from pioneers such as Hill & Adamson, Anna Atkins, Fox Talbot and others. Owing to the age and the fragility/instability of both of these mediums, they tend to be stored in an entirely dark environment to prevent any degradation. Through research and collaboration with scientists based within the Getty she concluded that the safest practice to digitize these photographs was with the lowest possible flash power with UV dome fitted to the flash bulbs, and the use of a safe light to frame and focus, concluding that the overall exposure was equivalent to approximately 2 seconds of gallery light. I know that the university holds similar photographs, so perhaps one day we can put this method into practice to capture them. She closed with a particularly poignant statement:

“Digitzation is an ongoing activity, a way of life, not a one time activity.”

The following day I visited the photographic studio in the Tate Britain gallery, which was interesting  to compare and contrast the setup to that of our own here in Glasgow. In terms of camera systems they were almost identical to our current Hasselblad, they did show us their very useful motorized easel – streets ahead of a traditional easel for making small adjustments to how artworks are held. As a large portion of their collections consists of artworks they often utilise a variety of methods to digitise this material , including X-ray.It was very interesting to see this in action and to see the practical uses for curators and conservators alike.

Jamie (far left)  on the V&A tour with Ken Jackson. Very meta!

Jamie (far left) on the V&A tour with Ken Jackson. Very meta!

Following the Tate I then headed to Blythe House, home of the V&A archive repository. During the mid-nineteenth century the V&A began photographing its collections to document them, at that

point on 10×8 plate cameras, continuing right up to the present digital view cameras they use. Ken Jackson, Chief Photographer, kindly showed us a variety of different works, one in particular was remarkable – a 600mm glass plate negative. While there are plenty of glass plate negatives in existence, I have never seen one this large, the quality is truly spectacular – notwithstanding the fact that it was made on a camera system over 100 years old!

The conference and following studio visits have provided a great opportunity to network with other photographers working in our sector, and a valuable insight into working practice inside other institutions.

Thanks for the report, Jamie! You can find out more about the conference by following their Twitter feed here. To find out more about the work of the Digitisation Centre, have a read at one of our blog updates

Categories: Archive Services

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