The Association for Historical and Fine Art Photography 2014 conference

Last week I attended the Association for historic and fine art photography 2014 conference at the Wellcome trust in London. The theme of the conference was best practice for photography in the heritage sector.

At Kendal museum we are currently digitising two mineral collections and herbarium collection containing over 4000 specimens. The project is heritage lottery funded and I am employed as the collection assistant intern working closely with the digital imaging consultant to digitise these locally and internationally important collections. We are just over two months into the project and we are making great progress digitising the mineral collections and are scheduled to start digitising the herbarium in the New Year. The project at Kendal museum will digitise the herbarium to Metamorfoze standards so I was hoping to find out more at the conference. So far there have been several challenges that we have had to overcome whilst working on the project, attending the conference was an opportunity to learn from others in the heritage sector and other professionals who have completed similar projects.

The first talk of the day was Cecile van de Harten, Head of Imaging Department, at the Rijksmuseum it focused on the future of digital photography and how there is a need to develop guidelines and standards for 3D imaging.

Next there was a very interesting talk on heritage imaging at UCL by Dr Tim Weyrich he described how 3D scanning can be used for conservation purposes to monitor objects, non-invasive analysis and visualizing spaces to document an exhibition. There was an interesting discussion as to whether a digital surrogate a 3D print of an object will ever replace the original object, I am not so sure. It was fascinating to see to see how 3D scanning has been used to restore and transcribe the great parchment book which was badly damaged in a fire in 1786.

Next there was a talk about the musical instrument museums online project by Norman Rodger based at the University of Edinburgh. It was very fascinating to hear how the project collaborated with several museums to achieve a standardisation of how to present musical images online. It was useful to hear about developing a work flow and problems faced whilst working on the project such as pesticides, budget constraints and movement of large musical instruments. The MIMO project has produced a website presenting the images online and has contributed to Europeana. The end goal of the project here at Kendal museum is to have a website displaying over 6000 images of the mineral collections and herbarium with collections data. We are also hoping to contribute to Europeana.

The next talk was by Rose Hilson Summers a trainee at the Tate photographic studio funded by the heritage lottery skills for the future programme. It was great to hear from a young professional in the heritage sector and how much the HLF role has helped her gain skills and confidence. My role at Kendal museum is funded by a HLF grant, I have been in the role for just over two months and already I have gained an abundance of skills and experience. I strongly agree with Rose it is very important that other heritage institutions should take on trainees as the skills gained are invaluable but also there are great benefits for museums.

The next talk focused on 3D documentation of heritage collections and the work of the Cultural Informatics research group at Brighton University. It was interesting to hear how computer scientists, engineers and heritage staff work together to produce useful 3D imaging technologies. One example was imaging automation techniques. I wish we had a conveyor belt to digitise the herbarium at Kendal museum.

There were further talks by JISC discussing the need for continuing professional development especially in 3D imaging as new technologies are rapidly emerging. The next talk discussed embedded metadata in heritage, a topic I was keen to learn more about as I am relatively new to digital imaging and I am still getting to grips with metadata.

There was also a useful talk on  DIY image quality and tools available online to measure colour targets something that we will be using for the herbarium as we are digitising following Metamorfoze standards. Next I got to see the work of RCAHMS aerial survey team and the amazing images documenting Scottish landscape.

Finally the conference ended on an inspiring talk by Kira Zumkley she described her career path studying as an archaeologist and how she developed a passion photography eventually managing to combine both of her passions working as a photographer at the Science museum.

Attending the conference it was great to learn about new technologies and the future of digital imaging in the heritage sector. I think digital photography is an important way of making museum collections readily available to a wider audience, which will hopefully inspire people and encourage more people to visit museums.

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