The initial thought I had for this blog post was to describe a slice of my day that revolved around the work of William Gedney. I was going to spin a tale about being on the hunt for a light meter to take lux (luminance) readings used to help calibrate the capture environment of one of our scanners. On my search for the light meter I bumped into the new exhibit of William Gedney’s handmade books displayed in the Chappell Family Gallery in the Perkins Library. I had digitized a number of these books a few months ago and enjoyed pretty much every image in the books. One of the books on display was opened to a particular photograph. To my surprise, I had just digitized a finished print of the same image that very morning while working on a larger project to digitize all of Gedney’s finished prints, proof prints, contact sheets and other material. Once the project is complete (a year or so from now) I will have personally seen, handled and digitized over 20,000 of Gedney’s photographs. Whoa! Would I be able to recognize Gedney images whenever one presented itself just like the book in the gallery? Maybe.
Once the collection is digitized and published through Duke Digital Collections the whole world will be able to see this amazing body of work. Instead of boring you with the details of that story I thought I would just leave you with a few images from the collection. For me, many of Gedney’s photographs have a kinetic energy to them. It seems as if I can almost feel the air. My imagination may be working overtime to achieve this and the reality of what was happening when the photograph was taken may be wholly different but the fact is these photographs spin up my imagination and transport me to the moments he has captured. These photographs inspire me to dust off my enlarger and set up a darkroom.
It may take some time to complete this particular project but there are other William Gedney related projects, materials and events available at Duke.
This sermon struck me because of its direct reference to specific events related to the Civil Rights Movement (at least more than the others) and how closely it echoes current events across the nation, particularly the story of Emmett Till’s horrific murder and the fact that his mother chose to have an open casket so that everyone could see the brutality of racism.
I am in awe of the strength it must have taken Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till, to make the decision to have an open casket at her son’s funeral.
Duke has many collections related to the history of the Civil Rights Movement. This collection provides a religious context to the events of our relatively recent past, not only of the Civil Rights Movement but of many social, political and spiritual issues of our time.
We all probably remember having to pose for an annual class photograph in primary school. If you made the mistake of telling your mother about the looming photograph beforehand you probably had to wear something “nice” and had your hair plastered to your head by your mother while she informed you of the trouble you’d be in if you made a funny face. Everyone looks a little awkward in these photographs and only a few of us wanted to have the picture taken in the first place. Frankly, I’m amazed that they got us all to sit still long enough to take the photograph. Some of us also had similar photographs taken while participating in team sports which also led to some interesting photographs.
These are some of the memories that have been popping up this past month as I digitize nitrate negatives from the Sports Information Office: Photographic Negatives collection circa 1924-1992, 1995 and undated. The collection contains photographic negatives related to sports at Duke. I’ve digitized about half of the negatives and seen images from mostly football, basketball, baseball and boxing. The majority of these photographs are of individuals but there are also team shots, group shots and coaches. While you may have to wait a bit for the publication of these negatives through the Digital Collections website I had to share some of these gems with you.
Some of the images strike me as funny for the expressions, some for the pose and others for the totally out of context background. It makes me wonder what the photographer’s intention/ instruction was.
To capture these wonderful images we are using a recently purchased Hasselblad FlexTight X5. The Hasselblad is a dedicated high-end film scanner that uses glassless drum scanning technology. Glassless drum scanning takes advantage of all the benefits of a classic drum scanner (high resolution, sharpness, better D-max/ D-min) without all the disadvantages (wet mounting messiness, newton rings, time consuming, price, speed). This device produces extremely sharp reproductions of which the film grain in the digital image can be seen. A few more important factors about this scanner are: a wide variety of standard film sizes can be digitized along with custom sizes and it captures in a raw file format. This is significant because negatives contain a significant amount of tonal information that printed photographs do not. Once this information is captured we have to adjust each digital image as if we were printing the negative in a traditional dark room. When using image editing software to adjust an image an algorithm is at work making decisions about compressing, expanding, keeping or discarding tonal information in the digital image. This type of adjustment causes data loss. Because we are following archival imaging standards, retaining the largest amount of data is important. Sometimes the data loss is not visible to the naked eye but making adjustments renders the image data “thin”. The more adjustments to an image the less data there is to work with.
It kind of reminds me of the scene in Shawshank Redemption (spoiler alert) where the warden is in Andy Dufresne’s (Tim Robbins) cell after discovering he has escaped. The warden throws a rock at a poster on the wall in anger only to find there is a hole in the wall behind the poster. An adjusted digital image is similar in that the image looks normal and solid but there is no depth to it. This becomes a problem if anyone, after digitization, wants to reuse the image in some other context where they will need to make adjustments to suit their purposes. They won’t have a whole lot of latitude to make adjustments before digital artifacts start appearing. By using the Hasselblad RAW file format and capturing in 16 bit RGB we are able to make adjustments to the raw file without data loss. This enables us to create a robust file that will be more useful in the future.
I’m sure there will be many uses for the negatives in this collection. Who wouldn’t want a picture of a former Duke athlete in an odd pose in an out of context environment with a funny look on their face? Right?
In late October of this year, the Digital Production Center (along with many others in the Library) were busy developing budgets for FY 2015. We were asked to think about the needs of the department, where the bottlenecks were and possible new growth areas. We were asked to think big. The idea was to develop a grand list and work backwards to identify what we could reasonably ask for. While the DPC is able to digitize many types of materials and formats, such as audio and video, my focus is specifically still image digitization. So that’s what I focused on.
We serve many different parts of the Library and in order to accommodate a wide variety of requests, we use many different types of capture devices in the DPC: high-speed scanners, film scanners, overhead scanners and high-end cameras. The most heavily used capture device is the Phase One camera system. This camera system uses P65 60 MP digital back with a 72mm Schneider flat field lens. This enables us to capture high quality images at archival standards. The majority of material we digitize using this camera are bound volumes (most of them rare books from the David M. Rubenstein Library), but we also use this camera to digitize patron requests, which have increased significantly over the years (everything is expected to be digital it seems), oversized items, glass plate negatives, high-end photography collections and much more. It is no surprise that this camera is a bottleneck for still image production. In researching cameras to include in the budget, I was hard pressed to find another camera system that can compete with the Phase One camera. For over 5 years we have used Digital Transitions, a New York-based provider of high-end digital solutions, for our Phase One purchases and support. We have been very happy with the service, support and equipment we have purchased from them over the years, so I contacted them to inquire about new equipment on the horizon and pricing for upgrading our current system.
New equipment they turned me onto is the BC100 book scanner. This scanner uses a 100° glass platen and two reprographic cameras to capture two facing pages at the same time. While there are other camera systems that use a similar two camera setup (most notably the Scribe, Kirtas and Atiz), the cameras and digital backs used with the BC100, as well as the CaptureOne software that drives the cameras, are more well suited for cultural heritage reproduction. Along with the new BC100, CaptureOne is now offering a new software package specifically geared toward the cultural heritage community for use with this new camera system. While inquiring about the new system, I was invited to attend a Cultural Heritage Round Table event that Digital Transitions was hosting.
This roundtable was focused on the new CaptureOne software for use with the BC100 and the specific needs of the cultural heritage community. I have always found the folks at Digital Transitions to be very professional, knowledgeable and helpful. The event they put together included Jacob Frost, Application Software R&D Manager for PhaseOne; Doug Peterson, Technical Support, Training, R&D at Digital Transitions; and Don Williams of Image Science Associates, Imaging Scientist. Don is also on the Still Image Digitization Advisory Board with the Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative (FADGI), a collaborative effort by federal agencies to define common guidelines, methods, and practices for digitizing historical content. They talked about the new features of the software, the science behind the software, the science behind the color technology and new information about the FADGI Still Image standard that we currently follow at the Library. I was impressed by the information provided and the knowledge shared, but what impressed me the most was the fact that the main reason Digital Transitions pulled this particular group of users and developers together was to ask us what the cultural heritage community needed from the new software. WHAT!? What we need from the software? I’ve been doing this work for about 15 years now and I think that’s the first time any software developer from any digital imaging company has asked our community specifically what we need. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of good software out there but usually the software comes “as is.” While it is fully functional, there are usually some work-arounds to get the software to do what I need it to do. We, as a community, spent about an hour drumming up ideas for software improvements and features.
While we still need to see follow-through on what we talked about, I am hopeful that some of the features we talked about will show up in the software. The software still needs some work to be truly beneficial (especially in post-production), but Phase One and Digital Transitions are definitely on to something.
Does anyone else find it difficult to blog about work? For me, it’s not for lack of things to write about or lack of interest in what I am working on. It has more to do with the fact that the excitement I feel for the projects I’m working on, the people I work with and the growth I’ve seen in my department doesn’t translate well in writing. At least not for me and my writing style. Maybe I need to take a writing course? Maybe I need to find my voice in blogging? Maybe I just need to get on with it?
As is true for many of us, the things that interest or occupy us at work bleed into our lives at home and vice versa, whether or not we want them to. Personally, I find that some, but not all of the things I am focused on at work have a place in my life at home.
Below is a list of things I am creating, reading, watching, wanting and learning both at work and at home. I hope you enjoy!
I recently finished work on a donor request for slides from the Morris and Dorothy Margolin film collection. Right now I am digitizing the Duke Gardens Accession Cards , a planting card catalog from the Sarah P. Duke Gardens records collection. These particular requests are not for public consumption but support curatorial research at Duke. The Digital Production Center fulfills many requests of this nature that never show up on the Digital Collections website but are none the less interesting and useful.
At home I create digital content of my own using similar cameras, lights and software. I really enjoy studio shooting because I can control the lighting environment to suit my needs. My training as a photographer has translated well to my work at Duke. I have also applied things I use at work to my photography at home such as managing larger numbers of files and working in a calibrated environment.
At home I’m reading The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. A complex book about the happenings of the gold rush town of Hokitika, in the southwest of New Zealand circa 1866 where a crime has just been committed. Super long (848 pages) but worth the read.
Color Management and Quality Output by Tom Ashe. This webinar is offered by Xrite, a leader in professional grade color profiling hardware and software. As described in a previous blog post, color management is a critical part of the work we do in the Digital Production Center.
At home I just watched Tiny, a documentary on the Tiny House movement that chronicles the building of a tiny house. These houses range from 60 – 100 square feet and are usually built on trailers to avoid problems with state ordinances that require an in ground home be no less than 600 square feet. Whoa!
A DT RG3040 Reprographic System by Phase One. This model has a foot operated book cradle with a 90 degree platen and two P65 R-cams that shoot opposing pages simultaneously. This would really speed up and simplify digitization of fragile bound volumes that can only be opened 90 degrees during digitization. I would also take an oversize map scanner.
At home I really I want to setup a traditional wet darkroom, but we do not have the space. I’m thinking about building a single car garage just to accommodate a darkroom but will probably have to settle for setting up in the bathroom.
The Python programming language. I have completed a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) through Coursera and am now in the middle of my second course. While I haven’t built anything (at work) from scratch yet, I have been able to troubleshoot a few broken scripts and get them up and running again. The Digital Production Center is, as the name states, a production environment that lends itself to automation. While taking these classes I have developed many ideas on how to automate parts of our workflow and I am excited to start programming.
At home I continue to learn the Python programming language. The more I learn about Python the more I want to learn. While learning has been frustrating at times it has also been rewarding when I finally develop a solution that works. The IT staff in the Library has also been very supportive which keeps me moving forward when I get stuck on a problem that takes some time to figure out.
When I started putting this post together I didn’t realize it was about work/life balance but I believe that is what it became. It seems my work/life balance is a very fluid thing. I feel lucky to work at a place where my personal interests dovetail nicely with my work interest. While this is not always the case, most of the time I enjoy coming to work and I also enjoy going home at the end of the day.
The Digital Production Center at the Perkins Library has a clearly stated mission to “create digital captures of unique, valuable, or compelling primary resources for the purpose of preservation, access, and publication.” Our mission statement goes on to say, “Our operating principle is to achieve consistent results of a measurable quality. We plan and perform our work in a structured and scalable way, so that our results are predictable and repeatable, and our digital collections are uniform.”
That’s a mouthful!
What it means is the images have to be consistent not only from image to image within a collection but also from collection to collection over time. And if that isn’t complex enough this has to be done using many different capture devices. Each capture device has its own characteristics, which record and reproduce color in different ways.
How do we produce consistent images?
There are many variables to consider when solving the puzzle of “consistent results of a measurable quality.” First, we start with the viewing environment, then move to monitor calibration and profiling, and end with capture device profiling. All of these variables play a part in producing consistent results.
Full spectrum lighting is used in the Digital Production Center to create a neutral environment for viewing the original material. Lighting that is not full spectrum often has a blue, magenta, green or yellow color shift, which we often don’t notice because our eyes are able to adjust effortlessly. In the image below you can see the difference between tungsten lighting and neutral lighting.
Our walls are also painted 18 percent gray, which is neutral, so that no color is reflected from the walls onto the image while comparing it to the digital image.
Now that we have a neutral viewing environment, the next variable to consider is the computer monitors used to view our digitized images. We use a spectrophotometer (straight out of the Jetsons, right?) made by xrite to measure the color accuracy, luminance and contrast of the monitor. This hardware/software combination uses the spectrophotometer as it’s attached to the computer screen to read the brightness (luminance), contrast, white point and gamma of your monitor and makes adjustments for optimal viewing. This is called monitor calibration. The software then displays a series of color patches with known RGB values which the spectrophotometer measures and records the difference. The result is an icc display profile. This profile is saved to your operating system and is used to translate colors from what your monitor natively produces to a more accurate color representation.
Now our environment is neutral and our monitor is calibrated and profiled. The next step in the process is to profile your capture device, whether it is a high-end digital scan back like the Phase One or BetterLight or an overhead scanner like a Zeutschel. From Epson flatbed scanners to Nikon slide scanners, all of these devices can be calibrated in the same way. With all of the auto settings on your scanner turned off, a color target is digitized on the device you wish to calibrate. The swatches on the color target are known values similar to the series of color patches used for profiling the monitor. The digitized target is fed to the profiling software. Each patch is measured and compared against its known value. The differences are recorded and the result is an icc device profile.
Now that we have a neutral viewing environment for viewing the original material, our eyes don’t need to compensate for any color shift from the overhead lights or reflection from the walls. Our monitors are calibrated/profiled so that the digitized images display correctly and our devices are profiled so they are able to produce consistent images regardless of what brand or type of capture device we use.
During our daily workflow we a Gretag Macbeth color checker to measure the output of the capture devices every day before we begin digitizing material to verify that the device is still working properly.
All of this work is done before we push the “scan” button to ensure that our results are predictable and repeatable, measurable and scalable. Amen.
I have worked in the Digital Production Center since March of 2005 and I’ve seen a lot of digital collections published in my time here. I have seen so many images that sometimes it is difficult to say which collection is my favorite but the Sidney D. Gamble Photographs have always been near the top.
The Sidney D. Gamble Photographs are an amazing collection of black and white photographs of daily life in China taken between 1908 and 1932. These documentary style images of urban and rural life, public events, architecture, religious statuary, and the countryside really resonate with me for their unopposed moment in time feel. Recently the Digital Collections Implementation Team was tasked with digitizing a subset of lantern slides from this collection. What is a lantern slide you might ask?
A lantern slide is a photographic transparency which is glass-mounted and often hand-colored for projection by a “magic lantern.” The magic lantern was the earliest form of slide projector which, in its earliest incarnation, used candles to project painted slides onto a wall or cloth screen. The projectionist was often hidden from the audience making it seem more magical. By the time the 1840s rolled around photographic processes had been developed by William and Frederick Langenheim that enabled a glass plate negative to be printed onto another glass plate by a contact method creating a positive. These positives were then painted in the same fashion that the earlier slides were painted (think Kodachrome). The magic lantern predates the school slate and the chalkboard for use in a classroom.
After working with and enjoying the digitization of the nitrate negatives from the Sidney D. Gamble Photographs it has been icing on the cake to work with the lantern slides from the same collection so many years later. While the original black and white images resonate with me the lantern slides have added a whole new dimension to the experience. On one hand the black and white images lend a sense of history and times passed and on the other, the vivid colors of the lantern slides draw me into the scene as if it were the present.
I am in awe of the amount of work and the variety of skill sets required to create a collection such as this. Sidney D. Gamble, an amateur photographer, to trek across China over 4 trips spanning 24 years, photographing and processing nitrate negatives in the field without a traditional darkroom, all the while taking notes and labeling the negatives. Then to come home and create the glass plate positives and hand color over 500 of them. For being an “amateur photographer” Gamble’s images are striking. The type of camera he used takes skill and knowledge to create a reasonably correct exposure. Processing the film is technically challenging in a traditional darkroom and is made much more difficult in the field. Taking enough notes while shooting, processing and traveling so they make sense as a collection is a feat in itself. The transfer from negative film to positive glass plates on such a scale is a tedious and technical venture. Then to hand paint all of the slides takes additional skill and tools. All of this makes digitization of the material look like child’s play.
An inventory of the hand-colored slides was created before digitization began. Any hand-colored slides with existing black and white negatives were identified so they can be displayed together online. A color-balanced light box was used to illuminate the lantern slides and a Phase One P65 Reprographic camera was used in conjunction with a precision Kaiser copy stand to capture them. All of the equipment used in the Digital Production Center is color-calibrated and profiled so consistent results can be achieved from capture to capture. This removes the majority of the subjective decision making from the digitization process. Sidney D. Gamble had many variables to contend with to produce the lantern slides much like the Digital Collections Implementation Team deals with many variables when publishing a digital collection. From conservation of the physical material, digitization, metadata, interface design to the technology used to deliver the images online and the servers and network that connect everything to make it happen, there are plenty of variables. They are just different variables.
Nowadays we photograph and share the minutia of our lives. When Sidney Gamble took his photographs he had to be much more deliberate. I appreciate his deliberateness as much as I appreciate all the people involved in publishing collections. I look forward to publication of the Sidney D. Gamble lantern slides in the near future and hope you will enjoy this collection as much as I have over the years.
Post Contributed by Mike Adamo
Notes from the Duke University Libraries Digital Projects Team