As the home to around 1.7 million pictures, the ‘Deutsche Dokumentationszentrum für Kunstgeschichte – Bildarchiv Foto Marburg’ (DDK, the German Documentation Centre for Art History – Marburg Picture Library) is one of the world’s largest image archives. Phase One’s XF Camera System is playing a crucial strategic role in the documentation and digitalization of their works, which are important pieces of art history.
In June 2016, in the gallery building at the Herrenhausen Palace complex in Hanover with Thomas Scheidt, manager of DDK, and one of his colleague is on site with an Alpa 12 max camera, Rodenstock lens, and a Phase One IQ3 Digital Back. Their task is to photograph the gallery’s ballroom and capture all of the intricate ceiling decorations and elaborate wall frescoes of this space, which was designed and decorated by Venetian architect and court painter Tommaso Giusti at the end of the 17th century. The images are going to form part of a research project that will document baroque ceilings and wall paintings in Germany in their respective architectural and subject matter contexts.
“When shooting on location, we also work with 35mm cameras…If we need to achieve 100% quality, however, we always use an Alpa with the IQ3 or the IQ1 back and 100-megapixel resolution.” – Thomas Scheidt
Workflow and durability
The team’s workflow is also standardized as follows: The images are captured in RAW image format. If required, the employees at the photo workshop then make initial adjustments to the tonal value in Capture One software and export the image data in a TIFF file to Photoshop. From here it is converted to positive, and the tonal values are adjusted for the theme in question. When adjusting the color and tonal values for old and faded slides, correction tools are used together with Capture One in the RAW workflow. In Scheidt’s opinion, this digital color restoration delivers more accurate results than when adjusting the TIFF files in Photoshop. The images are cataloged extensively in a database system according to their art history image motifs/subject matter and methodically prepared for the linked data world. Finally, they are uploaded as digital JPEG copies to the ‘Bildindex für Kunst und Architektur’ (the Art and Architecture Photo Index) – this is an online database managed by DDK containing over two million images from 80 cultural and academic institutions.
Ease of use and durability
It is not just the end result that impresses Scheidt – Thomas also likes how the camera systems handle as well as their durability. “The Schneider Kreuznach lenses are fitted with a central shutter. This is a major advantage for us because they are far more hard-wearing than a focal-plane shutter. Given it is triggered around 60,000 times per year, this leads to significant savings.” As for the photo campaigns, he takes the following view:
“The current Phase One XF cameras are fitted with a CMOS sensor, which provides a good live image. Even though our photos go directly to the PC, this is still very helpful because it means we can do prior checking quickly. The built-in sharpness scale is also very convenient, particularly during the reproduction of large negatives.” – Thomas Scheidt
Digital back-up of visual cultural assets
Christian Bracht, Director of the Archive, factors in the significance of the photographic material from an art history perspective – and, as such, from a quality perspective too – in particular in his appraisal of the Phase One camera system:
“Our core expertise lies in conveying media and the conservation of cultural heritage, whether that is in-depth documentation of architectural heritage whose substance is threatened, or a digital back-up of visual cultural assets, e.g., historical negatives. We are in the top 10 art history image archives worldwide, and our task is to achieve as high a standard of quality as possible. The Phase One cameras give us ideal conditions in which to do so.”
Preserving cultural heritage
The archives are of enormous benefit to cultural scientists and restorers. The photographs collected over the previous 100 years or more in Marburg played a crucial role during the restoration of the Dresden Frauenkirche, for example.
“The high-end digitalization with our Phase One cameras and the 100 megapixel-resolution sensors mean that our images are available in an extremely high quality that is sufficient for most research, teaching and publication purposes,” Thomas Scheidt tells us.
This attention to detail is not only beneficial to users, but also to the historical pictorial documents themselves. “Thanks to the fast access to digital copies that are now available around the world, it less likely that you will need to get hold of the original copy. This means that we are also carrying out a conservation task because, ultimately, removing the original from its temperature-controlled location will always place this valuable artifact from art history under a certain amount of stress – running the risk of damage to the cut film or slide,” Scheidt says.
Using the Phase One systems also pay off when it comes to backing up originals that are at risk, as the Marburg-based photo workshop digitalizes the negatives showing signs of heavy aging before the image information is lost.
Repro station with Phase One camera system
The Marburg team has a term for this art history documentation process in their own jargon: ‘Fotokampagnen,’ which translates literally as ‘photo campaigns.’ These shoots make up only one-fifth of Foto Marburg’s total volume of work since 80% of their time is spent digitalizing historic images, primarily from cut film and glass negatives, but also from historic color images. Phase One systems are also used for this.
“Our digital station consists of one Phase One XF camera with a Schneider Kreuznach 120 mm f4.0 LS Macro, an IQ3 Digital Back, and a flash box that we use to light up the negative while capturing the image.”- Thomas Scheidt
Although innovative and unconventional as repro setups go, it is one that gives them a real edge in terms of benefits, according to Scheidt. “Because we use our Phase One cameras for both on-site documentation and digitalization, we use them to their full capacity,” the manager of the Marburg-based photo workshop tells us.
“This also makes digitalization much more efficient: By reproducing photographic negatives using a one-shot technique, we achieve digitalization speeds that are well in excess of those achieved by scanning techniques.”
Resolution and color fidelity
The photographers’ perfectionism is not an end in itself because DDK, which is based at the University of Marburg, has an official task: “Our core task is to ensure that the images of material artefacts from our cultural heritage that we make available to academic research allow art historians and curators of monuments to conduct detailed analysis, and to do so without having to go to the site,” says Dr. Christian Bracht, Director of the Archive.
The DDK is known for its high-quality interior shots, stresses Bracht, who lends some art history expertise to the shoots. “It goes without saying that it is extremely important to us that we achieve the finest resolution and 100% color fidelity when we are photographing the kinds of artworks found in locations such as the Herrenhausen Palace.”
“We guarantee this level of image quality by using Phase One professional-standard cameras and digital backs.” – Dr. Christian Bracht
At a glance
As home to around 1.7 million pictures, the ‘Deutsche Dokumentationszentrum für Kunstgeschichte – Bildarchiv Foto Marburg’ (DDK, the German Documentation Centre for Art History – Marburg Picture Library) at the Philipps University of Marburg is one of the largest archives of photos documenting European art and architecture. Its collection can either be viewed on site or researched online via the digital ‘Bildindex für Kunst und Architektur (the Art and Architecture Photo Index) and ordered for publications or personal use in academia.
The Photo Index is a basic service provided to academia, so access to the content on the portal is free of charge. The DKK and Photo Index are tasked with collecting, providing and conveying photographs of European art and architecture. In addition, they research the history, practice, and theory of passing on the tradition of visual cultural assets, in particular researching the medial transformation processes associated with this, the conditions of saving knowledge in a visual form, and the significance of remembering visual culture in society.