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Photographing Works of Art

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Photographer Edward Robinson

Photographer Edward Robinson

In preparation for the November 9th opening of The Artists’ Eye: Georgia O’Keeffe and the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, the Collections Management department organized a photo shoot for the objects in the exhibition.  These images are typically used to promote the exhibition or to enhance your visitor experience: from educational programs to press materials, exhibition graphics, and exhibition catalogs.

IMG_3596First I’d like to “introduce” you to our photographer, Edward C. Robinson III, a fine-arts photographer based out of Eureka Springs, Arkansas.  He first contacted Associate Registrar, Jennifer De Martino, about shooting our permanent collection before Crystal Bridges was even open.  While Edward focuses most of his time shooting the beauty of the outdoors, he also has extensive documentary photography experience.  As Crystal Bridges is hardly located in a bustling urban area, we are fortunate to have a professional photographer with these skills living close by. You can see more of his work here:

So now you may be wondering, “What makes art documentation photography different from other types of photography?” The major difference is that these images are completely representational, a true reflection if you will, providing a visual account of very specific subjects.  They represent objective reality rather than the subjective intent of the photographer.

In order to capture a flawless reproduction of the object, the photographer requires a studio with black and white backdrop options, a large adjustable easel, reflectors, a color-calibrated monitor, and special lighting that approximates daylight.  Edward transports and sets up his own equipment for each photo-shoot and that’s why it’s important for us to provide as many objects as we can for each photo session.

An example of some of the small, sturdy mounts that have been made, by our own preparators or outside professionals, to secure artworks in place, without being obtrusive.

An example of some of the small, sturdy mounts that have been made, by our own preparators or outside professionals, to secure artworks in place, without being obtrusive.

This is where the prep work begins, to ensure we have everything ready to go before Edward arrives. Step one, obviously enough, is to decide on the objects we need reproductions of.  For this specific photo shoot our focus was pretty expansive:  the entire Alfred Stieglitz Collection.  All 101 objects needed to be documented!  Associate Registrar, Jennifer De Martino, uses The Museum System (TMS), our art database, to gather information about the objects and create a rough shooting order. The goal is to create a list that keeps the session moving and limits the need to change the staging for the objects between each shot.
IMG_3602First, we group the objects by their classification:  the paintings, prints, and other two-dimensional objects are separated from the sculptures. Next, we use the object dimensions to group art by size, moving smallest to biggest, so that the photographer doesn’t have to readjust his equipment for every single shot.

Three-dimensional objects and sculptures are sometimes unable to stand on their own.  Our preparators work with each object to create a sleek yet strong mount that will secure the work during the photo-shoot.

Some works on paper are “float mounted,” meaning we can see all the way to the edge of the work and nothing is cropped by a frame.  However, any works that are partially covered by a frame need to be unframed so that the photographer can capture the entire work.  At this point we assess the stability of each work and group them accordingly.  If the work has a strong backing-board, then it can be set up on an easel, but if it’s too flimsy we will use a wedge to prop up the work as best we can.

Our amazing preparators tag-team this process—removing each artwork from the hanging storage racks, carefully unframing it, and then staging the work on the easel. Then the whole process starts over in reverse: reframe, rehang…WHEW! We couldn’t complete the photo-shoot without all their hard work!

So—next time you are perusing a brochure or article that features photographs of the artworks in our collection, remember how much time and effort has gone into capturing these simple images!

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