As the Digital Trainee at York Museums Trust, I am quickly becoming well versed in the digitisation of objects. It’s an important part of an object’s record and also its ability to reach worldwide audiences.
I have just completed the job of photographing a collection of historic board games. Now as much I as I enjoyed it, I was horrified to realise just how racist entertainment could be in the Victorian era!
In my next job, I have been tasked with photographing Tempest Anderson’s glass lantern slide photographs. A glass lantern slide is an early photographic print that can be projected. The images were developed between two slides of glass and bound by tape. Anderson was a wealthy Yorkman, who travelled around taking photographs in the late 19th, early 20th century, with the predominant focus on volcanic landscapes. Without devaluing this beloved collection, I must say he was a little too trigger happy on his shutter for my liking. Much to my detriment too - we’ve got 10,000 of the blooming things to digitise.
Now, when a photo poses for a photo it’s like looking into a mirror that faces another mirror and suddenly becoming trapped in an infinity of mirrors; sucked into a gigantic reflective hole, and if you multiply that by 10,000 images, that is quite a lot for a new starter like me to comprehend.
I am slowly preparing myself for the amount of maddening hours of monotonous photography that I am to undertake.
So, what is the point? Surely if the object is an image, then an image of the image, is an image all the same. Here are the reasons that I am wrong:
1. DEGRADATION & PRESERVATION
As the glass gets older many of the slides are becoming more and more brittle and more prone to breakage. Unfortunately some of the slides have already fractured. So time is of the essence if we would like to capture and preserve the image from the slide. There is the conversation to be had, however, which encompasses whether the slide itself is the piece of history or if the image that is captured on it is the important piece of history. So post-digitisation does the digital image become just as valuable as the original object, more so if the object is broken?
Once a slide is digitised, the digital image can be enlarged and edited and the enhancement of it actually uncovers things that weren’t otherwise visible, especially on the negatives. For example, when I was doing some practice photos last week, a small boy with a dog appeared that I didn’t even notice on the glass slide!
3. REACH & USE
By translating the slides into digital assets it will enable them to reach much wider audiences. The slides are stored in boxes, on shelves, in the store, so the only people that see them are a select few museum employees, if they aren’t selected for an exhibition. By them being released as pictures online, they will be in their rightful, accessible, public and open place.
4. REASON ENOUGH
These slides have been entrusted to us so it is our duty to care for, use and share them to the best of our ability.
Also, I must add, that it is strangely satisfying to get my head down, headphones on, and power through photographing some slides. There is no better feeling than finishing off a box, I have a real sense purpose and achievement.
BRING IT ON!