RIT Research to Spearhead Establishing Image Quality Criteria for Museums

Research funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

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It’s commonplace for cultural heritage institutions to photograph their works of art for use in books, catalogues and online publications, but there are currently no standard guidelines for image creators, publishers and users to follow to ensure the image quality is not compromised during the capturing and transferring process.

Franziska Frey, McGhee Professor in the School of Print Media at Rochester Institute of Technology, has been awarded a $307,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to research the benchmark of the art image interchange cycle and to spearhead developing industry standards.

“It is a fact that most museum imaging personnel are not color-imaging scientists with a thorough understanding of all the materials and processes involved in the digital imaging and production chain, nor do they have to be,” says Frey. “However, the complex nature of the equipment and procedures involved makes it very difficult for the staff creating the images to select and establish practices that will produce digital images which will be of the best quality and will maintain their quality throughout the art interchange cycle.”

Frey has a long-standing involvement with many cultural institutions in the United States and around the globe. She is a member of the group ImageMuse, consisting of museum and publishing professionals dedicated to defining and adopting guidelines for the use of digital files for reproduction. Some of the prestigious museums represented include The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Yale Art Gallery, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and The National Gallery, London. Frey will work closely with the ImageMuse members to receive input on surveys, testing procedure and guidelines.

Frey will also consult with faculty and staff at RIT’s Munsell Color Science Laboratory on the scientific content of the project.

There will be various phases to the 30-month project including questionnaires, case studies, workshops experiments and a final conference to announce the findings and guidelines. The survey will target those responsible for art image interchange, for example, chief technology officers at digital stock agencies to production managers at photography studios.

“The survey and interviews with art image creators, publishers and printers will enable a thorough discussion of the pros and cons of the various workflow scenarios,” says Frey. “Some of our questions will focus on technical aspects such as image reproduction, image processing procedures, color management and output devices used while others look at personnel issues.”

The guidelines that are ultimately developed will be based on the survey results and the testing procedures.

Adds Frey: “It’s our goal to develop guidelines that will help cultural institutions work together with outside content providers, publishers and printers to maintain the highest image quality throughout the cycle.”

To disseminate the results, a conference will be held at RIT in the summer of 2010 and the guidelines will also be posted through a project Web site.

Frey’s latest grant expands upon a two-year study also funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, “Direct Digital Image Capture of Cultural Heritage—Benchmarking American Museum Practices and Defining Future Needs,” that she conducted along with Roy Berns, the R.S. Hunter Professor in Color Science and Technology at RIT.