The AHC is primarily a research institution, meaning that a major focus of our collecting process is making collection material accessible to our patrons by processing and digitizing it. Digitization of archival material is important to making our collections searchable online, and can also be used to document fragile collection material as early as possible before further deterioration occurs. To address the digitization of formats beyond our Digital Scan Lab’s capabilities (such as, oversized documents and three-dimensional artifacts), we have a Digital Imaging Lab which is equipped with an overhead camera stand, studio equipment, high-resolution DSLR cameras, and a trained photographer. In the Digital Imaging Lab, one of my recent projects has been to document the wide variety of artifacts within the Buddy Ebsen collection as it’s being processed.
This collection contains many artifacts from Ebsen’s life and work as a prolific actor, including props from the set of The Beverly Hillbillies. Some of the artifacts are fragile, so it takes a lot of care to handle them, and I’ve had to do research on some artifacts (such as the oil can musical instrument) to determine how to properly assemble the pieces.
When an artifact crosses my camera stand, it takes time to find the proper lighting positions and manual camera settings. The archival standard allows for no post-processing besides cropping, so in addition to balancing exposure, shutter speed (to eliminate blurriness), aperture (to maximize the depth of focus), light sensitivity (to prevent graininess), and preventing camera shake, I also have to find the best angle to photograph from to reduce any reflections and maximize the informational content of the image. It can take a lot of work, but it’s important that I get it right so that we can provide the best possible documentation of the artifact for our patrons and our records.
Blog contribution by Hanna Fox, Photographer Digital Imaging Lab