Paolozzi: Mosaics to Maquettes

Author: John Bryden

In February 2016 I was tasked with digitising a large number of mosaic pieces which once comprised an Eduardo Paolozzi mural, previously installed in Tottenham Court Road Tube Station, London in 1984. The work of the Scottish artist was acquired by the University of Edinburgh Art Collection in October 2015 following its removal from the tube station arches by Transport for London.

The dissipate mural consisted of approximately 500 fragments spread over 42 boxes and 4 pallets. Dependent on what percentage of the original mural we had actually acquired, the initial long-term plan was to reconstruct the mural and install it within the university campus, giving it a new life. From the outset however, it became clear that piecing it all back together again would be challenging. We decided to attempt to digitally reconstruct the mural first to give a better idea of the potential for physical reconstruction. This would also help us establish what percentage of the whole mural was represented among the pallets and boxes….an unusual, but exciting, project to say the least!

On a technical level, I used a Hasselblad-H4 camera and professional, Bowens studio lights within my digitisation process. To begin with, I captured several mosaic fragments in one shot and then went on to crop, and edit, each piece individually before saving as a separate, new file. The tricky part came in ensuring that the scale of each fragment would be represented correctly with every image produced. I, therefore, set the camera at a distance from the mosaics that would represent a 1:1 ratio in scale, placing a ruler within each raw image capture in order to make minor adjustments at a later stage if necessary. The result meant that, when using the images in image processing software, the pieces would be of a relative size to one another. If the size of the fragments was incorrect then this would only cause problems further down the line when trying to complete this very large digital jigsaw puzzle. Further, the faces/upside of the mosaics had to be perpendicular to the focal plane of the camera and, collectively, the mosaics had to be of equal distance to focal plane. The same principles applied for the positioning of the ruler itself. This confirmed that perspectives would not be distorted and that the relative size of the mosaics would remain consistent throughout the project.

montage-mosaic

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The image management process for this project involved saving the final cropped images as both tiff and png files. Having cropped directly around the edges of each fragment (i.e. with no background around the mosaic itself), the png files would then allow the fragments to be arranged edge to edge where possible. This process was key regarding the next stage of the project.

The images of the mosaics were then transferred to Professor Bob Fisher of the University’s Informatics Department. This cross departmental work seems particularly fitting as Paolozzi had close ties to the Informatics department and this relationship is visible in the form of several Paolozzi sculptures dotted about the Informatics buildings. With the help one of his PhD students, Professor Fisher used image recognition software, that he had developed, to digitally piece back together the fragments so to reflect the original design of the mural as best as possible. Professor Fisher had access to original images of the Paolozzi Mural in situ at Tottenham Road Tube Station which served as a vital reference point. To give a simple analogy, these original images would act as the cover image you would see on the box of a jigsaw puzzle, with the images of the individual mosaic fragments representing the pieces inside the box.

Art Collections Curator, Neil Lebeter, and I produced a short video interview with Professor Bob Fisher and Phd student, Alex Davies, where they discuss their work process, the challenges, and uniqueness, of this particular project and the results they have found to date. It is an interesting watch!

https://vimeo.com/170003917

Since the making of this interview the project plans have developed in light of Bob and Alex’s findings. In August 2016 the University employed a Public Art Officer, Liv Laumenech. As well as caring for, and developing the public art collection, she also has the responsibility of figuring out what to do with the fragments. Given that a large portion of the arches are missing, to reconstruct the arches now seems an unlikely option. The next step that has been taken is to organise an interdisciplinary symposium in February 2017 that will bring together Paolozzi experts, conservators and mosaicists to brainstorm ideas for redisplay and use of the fragments with students. Until such time as a decision is made regarding their redisplay, the mosaics have been used in teaching and as part of visits by researchers and the general public to the art collection.

Having completed my side of the Paolozzi Mosaics Project, I have been lucky enough to get the opportunity to digitise a large number of Paolozzi maquettes which are also part of the University of Edinburgh Art Collection. The collection encompasses a wide range of weird and wonderful pieces. Among his maquettes we can see where he began developing his ideas for what became his piece, The Manuscript of Monte Cassino (also known as the ‘big foot’), situated outside St Mary’s RC Cathedral here in Edinburgh.

paolozzi-big-foot

Digitising the mosaic fragments involved a more consistent photographic approach in terms of camera positioning and lighting, whereas working with the maquettes has offered slightly more freedom in this regard. I have been lighting and positioning each maquette in a way that best exhibits the physical attributes of that particular object. Here are a number of the maquettes pictured below.

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We have also had Digital Heritage specialist Clara Molina Sanchez in the studio carrying out 3D work on one of the maquettes. This should render a high quality 3D visualisation of the object. Currently we are looking at ways of delivery such 3D images online. Here, Clara has kindly allowed us to show an interesting behind-the-scenes shot of her setup.

paolozzi-clara

John Bryden

Project Photographer

Digital Imaging Unit

University of Edinburgh

 


 

How did AHFAP come about 30 years ago, how has it developed, what have we achieved and what does the future hold?

Author: David Clarke
AHFAP President

In the following blog I share my observations as I witnessed the evolution of the Association. I am sure there are many who have different memories and views of events; it would be great to hear them, so please add to the blog.

How it all Started

The seeds of AHFAP were sown during a tentative conversation between a handful of museum photographers in 1985. They suggested meeting up on a regular basis to catch up with what was going on in their respective organisations and also to get to know each other socially. Meeting socially was a big step in itself. From my experience, photographers didn’t always mix well in groups. I have never known why but they certainly do now!

1988 Conference registration

1988 Conference registration Copyright: National Gallery

Thirty short years later, AHFAP has 280 members and presence and influence on a global scale; how did it happen? Well, in simple terms it has been due to the support and belief of many and the determination and hard work of a very few which has achieved this success.

Within those same thirty years, the world and in particular image making within the heritage sector, has faced three major areas of change:

  • The shift from film to digital technology
  • The growth of mass digitisation and mass access to art collections via the internet
  • In later years, a worldwide economic crisis

The Early Years of Digital, we start to find our voice

Very early on it became obvious that AHFAP was well placed to facilitate the communication between photographers and manufacturers as we stumbled, sometimes blindly, into digital technology. The Association did an excellent job to make sure we were all on the same wavelength as we tested and searched for appropriate equipment to achieve the standard of quality we required. At the time however, I don’t think many of us fully understood what the indicators of digital quality actually were or indeed how the parameters of quality would change so dramatically in future years.

Group experience and shared evidence linked to AHFAP membership was a very powerful tool when making the decisions and requesting funding from our respective budget holders. This would have not been possible without the free flow of dialogue between all concerned, mostly made possible through annual conferences but also by more ad hoc methods such as demonstrations and studio visits etc, more often than not organised by AHFAP. Slowly but surely a bond of trust was created between UK heritage imaging professionals which has proved to last the test of time.

International Partnerships are born

Quite early on, the move to new technology also triggered dialogue with individuals and organisations outside of the UK, including notables such as USA, China and of course mainland Europe. Over the following years, relationships were developed and friendships cemented, surrounded by understanding and mutual respect. In 2011 AHFAP organised an ambitious inaugural International Conference held in Brighton, which although a steep learning curve in logistics for the organisers, was a resounding success. Delegates met international contemporaries, sometimes face to face for the first time, and discovered the existence of a great commonality; the vast majority had the same worries and same sleepless nights over the same issues. A collective sigh of relief was heard over Brighton.

A wider reaching and more targeted international conference; 2+3D Photography – Practice and Prophecies, was held in 2015 at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, which attracted representatives from 22 different countries. This very successful conference showcased existing and emerging technology and discussed the need for commonly agreed quality standards. The conference model set by AHFAP, plus years of offered experience was an essential building block towards the success of the Rijksmuseum conference.

The Association spreads its wings and shapes the future

As AHFAP’s position of authority has become established, so too has its membership base widened. The Association, originally the sole domain of museum and gallery photographers, has and continues to attract a more diverse group of imaging professionals. It now includes Special Interest Groups from major libraries and archives, including universities, as well as a growing band of independent professionals and a number of digitisation companies.

Progressively through the years, AHFAP has been key in providing a platform to promote the development of best practice and new techniques for mass digitisation of not only fine art collections but archives held within cultural establishments and private collections.  AHFAP has become a pool of specialists who can often move from one organisation to another or indeed in these days of part time contracts, to simultaneously work for more than one employer. I can see a time when equipment, project staff and IS and web integration could be a communal activity which would transfer as a package between organisations. This would certainly benefit smaller or less resourced institutions.

Mass communication based around the web is now firmly established as both an educator and income generator. One major gallery for example, attracted approximately 7 million personal visitors in 2014 but 20 million web visits. The web in all its guises is image rich far beyond what could have been imagined even ten years ago. The image makers are accordingly valuable and essential to the continued development of web communication, including e-commerce which works in tandem creating an essential income stream, on which many cultural institutions now depend.

A Positive Twist emerging from the economic downturn

With regard to the economic downturn of recent years it could be argued that the situation has actually allowed image making within the heritage sector to flourish and prove its true worth. Audience generation via an image rich website is proven. So too are other schemes such as picture libraries which many larger collections operate. The success of high quality reproduction is of course dependent on high quality multi-purpose digital images. Confidence in technique and commonly held quality standards is rightly demanded by picture libraries and can now be delivered efficiently with confidence by in-house teams and independent specialists alike.  Issues surrounding image reproduction have always been identified as being of fundamental importance to AHFAP and progress in this area has helped strengthen the image maker’s hand.

I see a new confidence emerging, which was never there thirty years ago, or even ten years ago, for that matter. Imaging professionals feel more comfortable in their own skin, offering specialist expertise within their individual organisations and often working in other external partnerships.  The heritage sector is attracting talented newly qualified professionals. Image making in the sector is seen as an attractive option where individuals can follow both their technical and creative ambitions.  Crucially, budget holding managers also recognise the expertise which exists within their in-house teams. Specialist work which years ago would have been commissioned externally is now trusted to in-house staff. This includes architectural and advertising photography, web creation, film making, project management and a whole host of other activities. With the professional framework being promoted by AHFAP, heritage sector image makers in 2015 are being recognised as leading the field rather than following it, which was certainly not a general perception back in 1985.

Effects and Impacts on Individuals

What have we achieved on a personal level? I guess AHFAP could be officially described as a group of like-minded professionals working towards a common goal. However I prefer to think of AHFAP as a group of friends, for that is what they have become to me, who support and look out for each other. This has been well illustrated during the personal hardships of recent years. AHFAP has been invariably unable to intervene in any real sense when members have been made redundant or departments devoured by aggressive internal takeovers and stripped of their autonomy and some may say dignity and self-respect. However, the Association has provided a common and shared understanding, which has been immensely supportive to a great many people. Even in the face of the terrible time many have had, I do feel sure, for the reasons set out above, that a corner has been turned and there is a new feeling of self-empowerment emerging. There is a great future which is achievable and worth working towards.  Accordingly we certainly can be very proud of what has been achieved during the first 30 years of AHFAP.

David Clarke, President 2015

British Library Imaging Studio – opening up our collections

Author: Kristin A. Phelps
Senior Imaging Technician
British Library

In a quiet seaside town on the northern coast of Crete, a plaque affixed above the lintel of a deserted building silently states:

Today it is mine, tomorrow someone else’s.

Today it is mine, tomorrow someone else’s.

This statement remains a haunting reminder of the ephemeral nature of ownership. While land, building and object can be occupied or used for a finite period of time, they do not really belong to anyone. Indeed, the transient existence of an abandoned structure serves as an abbreviated symbol for our global heritage: today it is in our care, tomorrow it will become the property of future generations.

Museums, galleries and libraries are the first places which come to mind when thinking about heritage sharing vehicles, serving both current and future generations. But how accessible are the modern museum’s collections? It is an old statistic, yet no less true today, which still shocks those who hear it: on average our museums display approximately 1-3% of their total collection. Even with the age of digitisation upon museums , the percentage available to website visitors still does not vastly improve visibility (ENUMERATE’s 2014 Survey Report on Digitisation in European Cultural Heritage Institutions reported only around 17% of collections were digitised).

A Coptic and Arabic Gospel illumination, from a manuscript being digitised in the British Library Imaging Studio. (Or 1317 f57r)

A Coptic and Arabic Gospel illumination, from a manuscript being digitised in the British Library Imaging Studio. (Or 1317 f57r)

Even if accessibility improves, is the heritage sharing process effective? Does the manner in which these objects are shared shine light on their original functions? Museum stores are often full of objects which will never again be used for their core purpose or intended use and are shown in isolation and out of context: a Yorùbán mask which will never again be used in a ceremony, a Roman ring which will not be worn once more, or an airplane which will at no time fly again.

At the British Library and other library and archive collections, the landscape differs. Most of the Library’s objects still retain their core function—to be read. Even without physically holding a book or manuscript, the text can still be read through a digital platform, such as the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts portal.

The sharing task at hand though is jaw-dropping: with around 56 million catalogued items, it would still take someone more than 153,000 years to get through this material based on looking at just one item per day. And this figure does not include uncatalogued items nor the new items acquired each year, which are measured not by numbers but rather by kilometres of shelving. It has truly become a problem of big data…or is it an opportunity?

The British Library and others are currently developing strategies of how to best cope with this overwhelming amount of data and to turn it into something both useful and useable. Recognising the strategic issue of how to thrive as a library in the digital age is one of the inspirations behind changes.

In January of this year, the Library introduced its Living Knowledge strategy for the next 8 years. One of the purposes of this strategy is to ‘engage everyone with memorable cultural experiences.’ The British Library’s Imaging Studio is in a position to uniquely add value to this purpose. The Studio works with a random sample of the Library’s broader collection and therefore is placed in the unusual, fascinating position of being able to present a visual and digital snapshot of the many types of material being digitised. To help engage the public in one of the unique cultural experiences realised every day at the British Library, we have launched a Twitter initiative of an image a day. These images will appear on Twitter Monday through Friday of each week and will give a flavour of items being imaged during the week. We hope our feed will give the opportunity of engagement with the objects using a digital platform and create the opportunity to generate discussions.

Parchment stitching repairs on a Coptic manuscript (Or 3581a f31r) - recently posted via Kristin's Twitter feed.

Parchment stitching repairs on a Coptic manuscript (Or 3581a f31r) – recently posted via Kristin’s Twitter feed.

Later addition silver clasp on the binding of a 15th century French Book of Hours (Egerton 2019) one of many details of the physical collection items it is the Imaging Studio's task to capture.

Later addition silver clasp on the binding of a 15th century French Book of Hours (Egerton 2019) one of many details of the physical collection items it is the Imaging Studio’s task to capture.

We invite you to beautify your Twitter feed and engage with the digitisation process as the British Library’s Imaging Studio photographs a variety of items. We hope you will be reminded of all of the exciting things held by the British Library (which are not always books!). Follow the beautiful images of the British Library’s collection as seen through the eyes and lens of the Studio Enjoy and share the images that move you or make you think. Be a part of our Living Knowledge and help us share our global heritage!

You can follow the British Library Imaging Studio on Twitter.

This post was originally published on the British Library’s Living Knowledge blog. Republished with kind permission.