Cultural Heritage Imaging

CHI and Me: My Summer Internship and Why by chicaseyc

Our guest blogger, Matt Hinson, is a junior at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Welcome to CHI, Matt!

Matt Hinson, CHI's 2015 summer intern

As a student majoring in International History, I’m interested in learning methods of interpreting history through the analysis of cultural heritage. Yet I’ve observed it is sometimes difficult to understand how to apply the knowledge I’ve gained through academics. As I learn more about the current threats to major historical sites and landmarks, I have come to realize that the documentation of world heritage sites is a major component of the effort to save them. And working to save the world’s historic and cultural treasures is a valuable application of historical research skills. So when I stumbled upon Cultural Heritage Imaging (CHI), an organization on the forefront of the scientific documentation of cultural treasures, I applied for a summer internship, and here I am.

As someone who would like to further pursue academic research in history, I have realized that learning how to study physical historical artifacts can add to my existing knowledge of how to analyze historical texts. Being introduced to the imaging methods that are featured here at CHI will improve my overall research skills in preparation for future projects. The emerging field of digital humanities is another area in which CHI heavily contributes. As the humanities become more and more connected with technology, I believe it is important that students of the humanities become better acquainted with such technologies. Learning about RTI, photogrammetry, and the other digital imaging methods developed at CHI is a great way to see how the field of the humanities can be transformed by such techniques.

This summer, I hope not only to learn from CHI but also to be useful to the organization in advancing its goals. CHI is working on a number of extremely interesting projects, and I would like to contribute to them as much as I can. I am not a technical expert when it comes to 3D imaging, so I intend to concentrate on expanding the cultural and historical dimensions of CHI’s work in world heritage preservation. I am very much looking forward to my time here at CHI!

Behind the Scenes: Museum Photography at the Oriental Institute by marlinlum

Recently Anna R. Ressman, Head of Photography at the Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago, shared a compelling article with me, and now I’m sharing it with you.

Here is a link to the Oriental Institute newsletter (PDF), which contains the article entitled, “Behind the Scenes: Museum Photography at the Oriental Institute.

Anna describes the process in which five very different artifacts are documented, each with a unique challenge. And yes, you guessed it, one of those artifacts was documented using the RTI highlight method.

Documentation of the Egyptian stele “was photographed with a method of computational photography called Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI).”

Using RTI to photograph OIM E14655 with photo assistants K. Bryce Lowry and Austin M. Kramer

Using RTI to photograph OIM E14655 with photo assistants K. Bryce Lowry and Austin M. Kramer

OIM E14655, Egyptian Stele, Limestone, New Kingdom, Medinet Habu, Egypt. 36x26cm

OIM E14655, Egyptian Stele, Limestone, New Kingdom, Medinet Habu, Egypt. 36x26cm

Specular enhancement using RTI of Egyptian Stele OIM E14655

Specular enhancement using RTI of Egyptian Stele OIM E14655

Anna concludes the section on RTI with these insights: “RTI files can be created in such a manner that pixel data is analyzed to show specular information rather than color data, which can reveal more information about the surface of the object than color data alone (figs. 3–4). As you can see, the inscriptions on the stele are much clearer in the specular-enhancement PTM image (fig. 3), even though the studio photograph (fig. 4) was taken using a macro lens under controlled studio lighting. The former may not be as aesthetically pleasing as the latter, but it reveals much more information than would normally be seen — and that is just a single image out of a series of forty-five.”

Be sure to download the complete article and check out the rest of the newsletter as well.

Anna R. Ressman is Head of Photography at the Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago, USA. Anna is also a freelance photographer and a fine artist.

[Photos by Anna R. Ressman/Courtesy Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago]

Japanese woodblock prints and RTI by marlinlum

By Guest Blogger:

Susan Grinols, FAMSF, Director of Photo Services and Imaging

You wouldn’t necessarily think you needed anything but your own eyes to appreciate the details of a Japanese woodblock print. After all, how much texture is there in a thin piece of paper? It turns out – quite a bit. While working with CHI on the Samuel H. Kress Foundation Grant we proved to ourselves that RTI is adept at revealing hidden textures in these artworks. We did this by photographing one of our Hirosada woodblock prints:

Konishi Hirosada woodblock print

Konishi Hirosada woodblock print

  • Konishi Hirosada, Japanese active 1819-1864
  • The Osaka Actor Mimasu Daigorō IV as Kan Shōjō in the Play “Sugawara denju tenarai kagami” at the Naka Theater
  • 1851
  • Color woodcut with metallic pigments, “lacquer,” and embossing
  • Image: 24.5 x 18.8 cm (9 5/8 x 7 3/8 in.)
  • Museum purchase, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts Endowment Fund, 1976.1.359

We were amazed to see that the woodblock carver accentuated the actor’s expression in this print through embossing. He also produced subtle and not so subtle textures in the actor’s kimono. These details really come out with RTI.

Konishi Hirosada Woodblock print

Normal / Specular viewing

When exhibiting our prints we frame them behind plexiglas and limit their exposure to damaging light by keeping the light levels low. This combination sometimes makes it difficult for people to see all of the artwork’s subtle textures.

To give our visitors a richer experience of the Hirosada print we decided to include its PTM in the galleries while the artwork was on display in our exhibition Japanesque.

Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to get the RTI viewer onto a kiosk before Japanesque’s opening so we decided to make a movie of the Hirosada PTM using Screen Flow and iMovie. BTW, a BIG THANK YOU goes out to the CHI team for the beautiful imagery we used in the movie, and also to Michael Ashley for his technical movie making expertise, and to Mark Mudge and Carla Schroer for their help in writing the gallery label.

The end result is a short movie with detailed imagery of the artwork. The best part is that the movie is being displayed on a 46” flat panel screen with the artwork hung close by, making it convenient for our visitors to compare the RTI results with the actual artwork.

Woodblock prints are the result of collaboration between the artist, the carver and the printer. Using RTI technology, our visitors are able to get a real appreciation for their artistry.