Museum Photography and Digitization Workshop

Text: Kira Zumkley

Images: Kristin Phelps on behalf of the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust

This June Dani Tagen, Photographer at the Horniman Museum and Kira Zumkley, Photography Manager at the Science Museum Group embarked on a fantastic opportunity to lead a workshop in museum photography and digitization at the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust for the Cultural Heritage Technology and Innovation initiative. The Trust’s mission is to invest, facilitate and build capacity to continually advance Puerto Rico’s economy and its citizens’ well-being. It is a much-needed effort as Puerto Rico has been experiencing an economic depression for 12 consecutive years which has led to a mass emigration of more than 200 individuals permanently leaving the island every day.

Hearing the stories of the people left behind and about their endeavor to save Puerto Rico’s cultural heritage from disappearing alongside their fellow countrymen has been a humbling experience. But more than that it has been an affirmation of how important it is to create communities, provide education and enable people to preserve their culture and history for generations to come.

Museums and cultural institutions in the United Kingdom are starting to understand that in order to engage people in a dialogue about the past, present and future and to create income; it is more and more necessary to make digital a dimension of everything they do. What would a museum look like without an online presence? Or, imagine museum websites, social media pages, curatorial talks, HLF applications, exhibitions, flyers, posters and publications without accompanying high quality photographs!

These were among the many questions raised during the first day of the workshop which was designed to get the attendants thinking about the benefits of museum photography and digitization. The participants ranged from freelance photographers, to collections staff and even museum directors. The presentation, group exercises and final discussion panel was a great success with more than 50 people attending, many of which had enrolled for the following four days of hands-on training as well.

Workshop attendants photographing an object using focus stacking

The second half of the workshop focused on providing the participants with basic photography and digitization training, tailored to the standards that must be applied when working in the cultural heritage sector such as correct exposure, white balance, colour space, file format and metadata. Feedback was of the highest order with all attendees giving the workshop between 9 and 10 out of 10 points.

First results using the flat copy set up

The willingness to work together across country borders and languages to support cultural heritage and share knowledge is a great opportunity to make our sector stand out and it has been a privilege to work the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust and the people of Puerto Rico.

Group photo from the 2017 Museum Photography and Digitization workshop at the PRSTRT