Cultural Heritage Imaging


Illumination of Material Culture: A Symposium on Computational Photography and Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) at The Met, March 7-8, 2017 by chicaseyc

Our guest blogger, Emily B. Frank, is currently pursuing a Joint MS in Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works and MA in History of Art at New York University, Institute of Fine Arts. Thank you, Emily!

With the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) back on the chopping block in the most recent federal budget proposal, I feel particularly privileged to have taken part in the NEH-funded symposium, Illumination of Material Culture, earlier this month.

Co-hosted by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Cultural Heritage Imaging (CHI), the symposium brought together conservators, curators, archaeologists, imaging specialists, cultural heritage and museum photographers, and the gamut of engineers to discuss and debate uses, innovations, and limitations of computational imaging tools. This interdisciplinary audience fostered an environment for collaboration and progress, and a few themes emerged.

The sold-out crowd at the symposium at The Met

The sold-out crowd at the symposium at The Met

(1) The emphasis among practitioners seems to have shifted from isolated techniques to integrating a range of data types.

E. Keats Webb, Digital Imaging Specialist at the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute, presented “Practical Applications for Integrating Spectral and 3D Imaging,” the focus of which was capturing and processing broadband 3D data. Holly Rushmeier, Professor of Computer Science at Yale University, gave a talk entitled “Analyzing and Sharing Heterogeneous Data for Cultural Heritage Sites and Objects,” which focused on CHER-Ob, an open source platform developed at Yale to enhance the analysis, integration, and sharing of textual, 2D, 3D, and scientific data. CHI’s Mark Mudge presented a technique for the integrated capture of RTI and photogrammetric data. The theme of integration propagated through the panelists’ presentations and the lightning talks, including but not limited to presentations by Kathryn Piquette, Senior Research Consultant and Imaging Specialist at University College London, on the integration of broadband multispectral and RTI data; Nathan Matsuda, PhD Candidate and National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow at Northwestern University, on work at NU-ACCESS with photometric stereo and photogrammetry; as well as a lightning talk by Chantal Stein, in collaboration with Sebastian Heath, Professor of Digital Humanities at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World; and myself, about the integration of photogrammetry, RTI, and multiband data into a single, interactive file in Blender, a free, open source 3D graphics and animation software.

(2) There is an emerging emphasis on big data and the possibilities of machine learning.

Paul Messier, art conservator and head of the Lens Media Lab at the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, Yale University

Paul Messier, art conservator and head of the Lens Media Lab at the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, Yale University

The notion of machine learning and the possibilities it might unlock were addressed in multiple presentations, perhaps most notably in the “RTI: Beyond Relighting,” a panel discussion moderated by Paul Messier, Head of the Lens Media Lab, Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage (IPCH), Yale University. Dale Kronkright presented work in progress at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in collaboration with NU-ACCESS that utilizes algorithms to track change to the surfaces of paintings, focusing on the dimensional change of metal soaps. Paul Messier briefly described the work being done at Yale to explore the possibilities for machine learning to work iteratively with connoisseurs to push data-driven research forward.

Mark Mudge, President of Cultural Heritage Imaging, leads a panel discussion

Mark Mudge, President of CHI, participates in a panel discussion

(3) The development of open tools for sharing and presenting computational data via the web and social media is catching up.

Graeme Earl, Director of Enterprise and Impact (Humanities) and Professor of Digital Humanities at the University of Southampton, UK, gave a keynote entitled “Open Scholarship, RTI-style: Museological and Archaeological Potential of Open Tools, Training, and Data,” which kicked off the discussion about open tools and where the future is heading. Szymon Rusinkiewicz, Professor of Computer Science at Princeton University, presented “Modeling the Past for Scholars and the Public,” a case study of a cross-listed Archaeology-Computer Science course given at Princeton in which students generated teaching tools and web content that provided curatorial narrative for visitors to the museum. CHI’s Carla Schroer presented new tools for collecting and managing metadata for computational photography. Roberto Scopigno, Research Director of the Visual Computing Lab, Consiglio Nazionale delle Richerche (CNR), Istituto di Scienza e Tecnologie dell’Informazione (ISTI), Pisa, Italy, delivered the keynote on the second day of the symposium about 3DHOP, a new web presentation and collaboration tools for computational data.

We had the privilege of hearing from Tom Malzbender, without whose work at HP Labs in the early 2000s this symposium would never have happened.

The keynotes at the symposium were streamed through The Met’s Facebook page. The other talks were recorded and will be available in three to four weeks. Enjoy!

Tom Malzbender, the inventor of RTI, at the podium

Tom Malzbender, the inventor of RTI, at the podium

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