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Wednesday, May 31 • 3:30pm - 4:00pm
048. (Objects) Practical solutions to the challenges of documenting large-scale objects

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The challenges of documenting large objects sometimes test the limits of our space, equipment, and patience. The physical limitations imposed by our photography set-ups and the size and condition of the objects themselves constrain our ability to achieve acceptable overall photos. This talk will address problems encountered during photographing and stitching photos of large objects and the practical solutions developed to overcome them. It will also discuss the reasons behind the success and failure of commonly used practices. Documentation is one of the universal responsibilities for conservators in all specialties, who record a variety of information on the condition of objects, technical details, and treatment we perform. Along with hand-annotated sketches and photographs, digital technologies provide conservators with new and exciting capabilities, allowing us to stitch photos, created layered digital annotated documents, and make 3D models. Technical imaging techniques like Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) and multispectral imaging open up yet more possibilities. Some of these techniques have been readily adopted by conservators, while others are more difficult to implement, requiring additional training and special equipment. Nonetheless, conservators today face many of the same challenges we did when documentation was analog: digital tools and technologies have not (yet) eliminated the need for creative problem solving in both the capture and processing phases. After establishing some of the goals of documentation photography, the talk will work towards an understanding of the adjustments we need to make to the "ideal" hypothetical photography set up in order to achieve the best results possible when working in less-than-ideal conditions. Examples feature textiles with patterned surfaces, and three-dimensional sculptures with issues of access and lighting. The problems I will focus on relate to textiles and objects conservation, but could be equally applicable to architectural documentation or large-scale paintings and paper artworks as well. How do you accommodate unavoidable distortion caused by the camera angle and lens? How can you include registration markers to more easily align photographs for stitching? What other tools (panorama stitchers, photogrammetry software) should we add to our toolkit for conservation documentation? Illustrated examples will demonstrate useful modifications to standard practice that can help ease the process of stitching photographs together, and explain several cautionary tales of approaches and shortcuts that did not work out. Rather than focusing on procedural details and proposing a one-size-fits-all solution, this discussion will center on what types of problems we frequently encounter and how to develop strategies for working around them. Since documentation is such a key responsibility of professional conservation practice, it's important to recognize that a flexible approach may be needed to ensure we are focusing on the bigger picture: providing useful information for now and the future.

avatar for Jessica Walthew

Jessica Walthew

Conservator, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum
Jessica Walthew is an objects conservator at Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. She holds an MA in Art History and Archaeology with advanced certificate in Conservation from NYU's Institute of Fine Arts, Conservation Center. Her research and teaching interests include history... Read More →

Wednesday May 31, 2017 3:30pm - 4:00pm CDT
Riverside West Exhibit Hall Exhibit Level, East Tower
  9. Poster, Objects