The second session of the MTS Learning Lab took place on Saturday, June 8th at our studio located in Andover, Massachusetts. The topic was Photographing Museum Textiles and attracted a small but passionate group of collections care professionals, independent curators, and textile enthusiasts.
The day started with MTS administrator Leah Ceriello giving in-depth presentation on the basics of operating a camera, how to decide which camera is right for your institution, and how you can effectively document textiles without investing in expensive camera equipment. The group also discussed how light, a fundamental part of photography, causes photo-degradation, and how textiles are in the category of museum objects that are the most at risk. We then discussed which auxiliary lighting systems are cost effective for small institutions and independent professionals, and which types of light are the safest for photographing textiles
Associate conservator, Morgan Blei Carbone, allowed attendees to get hands on experience preparing samplers and a pair of shoes for photography. In this exercise, attendees learned the basics of setting up both their object and their work station for photography. They employed the use of color cards and white mat board to white balance their cameras, and learned how to pin an un-framed sampler to a fabric-covered board.
Participants were also challenged by Morgan to photograph a framed sampler without showing any glare or reflection in the glass, a task which can only be accomplished by the use of supplemental LED lights and careful set up of their workspace. Attendees enjoyed using DSLR cameras provided by Museum Textile Services, and seeing the differences in image quality from camera-phones manufactured by Apple, Google, and Samsung.
After breaking for lunch, Morgan continued to lead students in photographing textiles commonly found in local and regional institutions. By using objects from the Museum Textile Services study collection, attendees were able to pin Velcro and magnetic hanging systems onto quilts in good condition, and see how a quilt in poor condition can still be photographed by laying it flat on a table. Attendees learned proper handling techniques for quilts in both good and poor condition, and proper health and safety techniques for hanging and photographing objects while using a ladder.
The hands-on part of class concluded with a demo of different mounting systems for photographing historic costume, and most importantly, a discussion of common condition issues that can make an historic garment ineligible for mounting. Attendees learned proper handling techniques for an early 20th century walking dress with a heavily shattered silk lining and prepared it for flat photography on a table. The group also discussed using Andover Figures® ethafoam manikins and padded hangers to mount a vest, a dress, and a bodice. Each of these objects presented its own specific complications, due to their size, material, and color. Attendees learned how to set up lighting to reduce harsh shadows, and how to position manikins in order to appropriately document the condition issues of complex three dimensional objects.
The day concluded with Leah showing attendees how to upload their images to a computer using a USB camera card reader. She also discussed basic file management, and revealed how MTS syncs and backs up its own extensive collection of images. Attendees then viewed a demonstration of image editing in Windows Picture Manager, Adobe Photoshop, and a free open-source imaging software called GIMP.
There are still spots available in upcoming Learning Labs! Fiber and Fabric Identification is on Saturday August 3rd, Condition Reporting Textiles is on Saturday September 21st, and Vac & Pack Textiles is on Saturday November 16th.
We hope to see you in the lab!