Scientists from Rochester Institute of Technology have discovered a wide range of quality in the digital images being produced by American museums, libraries, and other cultural-heritage institutions and unfamiliarity with scientific protocol in the use of digital photography and color management.
Roy Berns, the R. S. Hunter Professor in Color Science, Appearance and Technology, and Franziska Frey, assistant professor in the School of Print Media, led a two-year study that included a comprehensive survey of museum practices, a detailed scientific evaluation of digital practices at several institutions and the development of a national conference to discuss the state of digital imaging and roadblocks to move forward. Their study provides new insight into the use and quality of digital imaging by American museums to catalogue and market their collections.
“Digital imagery is increasingly becoming the main medium for accessing American artwork,” Berns says. “These digital surrogates are used by scholars and students, alike, beginning in childhood. Our goal is to help create imagery of the highest possible quality”.
“Throughout the project, we worked closely with the photographers in cultural heritage institutions,” Frey says. “This approach ensured that we were clear on the tasks facing the image creators. In a future step it will also make it easier to help implement new workflows that take full advantage of what digital photography has to offer”.
Previously, museums used film photography to capture images of their artwork for publication in catalogues, books, art history texts, magazines, posters, and promotional materials. Many institutions are now moving to digital imaging due to the higher quality of digital photographs and the greater flexibility computerized archives allow.
“Digital imaging is still in its infancy and there is a lack of experience and knowledge in how to produce the best images,” Berns adds. “Our research will hopefully provide a standardized process and a better understanding of what a quality image should look like.”
Berns and Frey’s study was principally funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. They are planning to use their findings to push the quality in digital image production to a higher level through creating and promoting measurable tests and stricter protocols for image capture. A complete list of key findings and future research initiatives are attached to this release. You may also access the full report at http://www.cis.rit.edu/museumSurvey/.
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