What is the Purpose of Heritage Visualisation?

Normal photo of beadGenerally speaking, when you hear of heritage visualisation, you’re first reaction may be something along the lines of, ‘What’s that?’ A perfectly valid reaction, since we tend to talk about visualisation in terms of specific techniques (e.g. photography, 3D modelling, etc.) rather than as the more general term. Heritage visualisation is simply representing heritage materials (e.g. objects, sites, monuments, texts, etc.) in a visual way. Drawings, photographs, and 3D models all fall under this larger term, as well as any other way of visually representing these materials. Continue reading

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Photography and Its Effects on Museums

I was doing a fair amount of reading this week and came across a chapter that discussed the overwhelming influence photography has had on art, history, and museums. You can see how it would have a large influence pretty easily, but it brought up a lot of good points I’d not really thought of before, so I thought I would post about it.

The work of Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre was presented to the Institut de France on August 19, 1839. Daguerre had created what we know as a daguerreotype (hence the name), which was a silver-plated piece of copper that was treated with fumes to make it light-sensitive. It was then exposed through a camera and the first photographs were created.

At the same general time, Henry Fox Talbot had invented the photographic calotype or talbotype, which was a piece of paper coated with silver iodide and then exposed for as long as necessary to create an image.

Interestingly, Samuel Morse (known best for his invention of the telegraph and Morse Code), was one of the first people to introduce the daguerreotype to the US, where it quickly caught on. The calotype/talbotype was less popular, because it required much longer exposure times than the daguerreotype.

Boulevard_du_Temple_by_DaguerreAll this happened within a few years, and the result had an enormous influence on Western culture. Many first photographs were produced in that time, such as the Boulevard du Temple (1838, pictured right), which is believed to be the first photograph (or at least the earliest surviving one with a human being in it. It’s really more of a cityscape, but there are two individuals towards the bottom, one having his boot polished by the other.

Photographs earned a fair amount of prestige for two main reasons: 1) they were incredibly detailed, often so much so that the image remained clear under a hand lens; and 2) they were perceived to capture the truth, nothing more, nothing less. Paintings could embellish or omit certain features, whereas photographs captured the truth of a person or scene.

Photography quickly destroyed two art forms that had recently gained prominence: miniature portraiture and reproductive engravings. Miniature portraits claimed to be truthful, detailed, and provide the owner with fairly high social status. Daguerreotypes could do the same thing, but to an even larger degree. It wasn’t so much that they were cheaper (because they weren’t, at least in the beginning), it’s that they did the job so much better. Reproductive engravings fell out of favour because they took longer and daguerreotypes could capture the detail much better. The market value for both art forms was destroyed very quickly and they never really recovered.

This doesn’t necessarily mean photography held a high status or that it gained favour overnight. One particularly good quote I’ve come across is that from Rosen and Zerner: “Many artists and critics affected to despise the new invention until… they decided they wanted photographs of their mothers,”

But photography also completely changed museums. Museums before photography had been invented or even before it gained traction were generally founded to house existing collections of original pieces that had been acquired one way or another. They weren’t meant to represent a discipline or a culture or a medium as a whole, they were more collections and cabinets of curiosities. They also often served as showcases for imperial power and national prestige, which is one reason why the non-western sections of art museums tend to be more ethnographic as a whole.

Once photography came out, anyone could make a print of any painting, sculpture, object, or piece of art, so long as they were willing and able to travel to the original to capture the photograph. Because of this, newer museums (i.e. post-photographic museums) were generally founded to create collections rather than house existing ones, and they placed a heavy emphasis on education.

© Victoria and Albert Museum

© Victoria and Albert Museum

A good example was the South Kensington Museum, now called the Victoria and Albert Museum often seen as one of the first of these post-photographic museums. Their photographer, Charles Thurston Thompson, photographed nearly everything that was loaned to the museum. He also travelled to take photographs of other collections or objects being cast for installation. Thompson even photographed objects or architecture that were not usually on display. The late 12th century portico of the Santiago Cathedral in Spain, for example, was concealed behind later architecture and was therefore virtually unknown before Thompson photographed it (left).


A number of museums modelled themselves after the South Kensington Museum, including the Museum of Fine Art in Boston.

It also changed how art was displayed to the public. Museums rarely showed damaged or incomplete works prior to photography, but the appeal of truthfulness presented by photography drove museums to present pieces as they were, rather than as they felt the pieces should be. This led to a change in art conservation, where conservators needed to be skilled in photography as well as other art forms. This included complex forms of photography as well, such as infrared, x-ray, and ultraviolet.

I find the appeal of the truthfulness of photography interesting, since it is now so often suspect given the rise of Photoshop and other similar programs. Nowadays, we often feel that seeing the original is more truthful than seeing the photography, or seeing the landscape or subject photographed is more truthful than the photograph itself.

I have a fair amount of thoughts on all this, and a fair amount more that was in the chapter that I want to talk about, but I’m going to need another day or so to wrestle with them before I can post about it. In the meantime, if anyone else has thoughts or questions or comments, feel free to leave them below – I’d love to hear them!


All information in this post taken from:

Walsh, P. 2012. Rise and Fall of the Post-Photographic Museum: Technology and the Transformation of Art. In: Cameron, F. and Kenderdine, S. eds. Theorizing Digital Cultural Heritage: A Critical Discourse. London: The MIT Press, pp. 19-34.

Images from:

Boulevard du Temple: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Boulevard_du_Temple_by_Daguerre.jpg

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Bead Design: Take 2

You may remember that back in October, I started to write a series of posts about documenting the designs of polychrome beads. I started to describe my system, and then promptly fell into one of the busiest three months of my life, so I stopped posting.

A lot happened in those three months, one of which was that I changed my system for documenting bead designs. The old system worked, but only to a degree, and when we got into things like the lines on a bead and the designs or orientations they could have, there were easily over a hundred different options. It got too confusing keeping track of all of them, and then there were issues with colour and all sorts of things.

Yes, I’ve changed my methods. Research is an ever-evolving process, and what may seem to work for one dataset actually doesn’t work for another. What may seem to work initially might be alright, but it’s actually cumbersome and clunky when you try to use it on a larger scale. Refining techniques is simply a part of the research process.

So I’m going to start back from the beginning with bead design, describing the new set of methods. You’ll notice they aren’t so different from the old set of methods – everything is still there, just shifted to make it easier to talk about. Continue reading

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Stereoscopes and Archaeology

I’ve just started my PhD, which means this blog is about to get a LOT more active! If you’re curious about what my PhD is in, you can check out the longer description here. For now, I’m looking at finding a practical, portable, and affordable way to create 3D models of small, reflective, and translucent objects (using beads as a case study, because they fit perfectly). You can check out the reasoning in the longer description, too.

But as a result of having just started, I am in the middle of a LOT of reading, which means I have a lot to talk about, at least theoretically speaking. So I’m going to start doing more of these posts, talking about what I’ve read, what I’ve learned, and why it’s important for not just my research, but bead studies and archaeology in general. Hopefully you guys can benefit from some of this, and at the very least, it’ll help me internalise what it is I’m reading.

So this week, I didn’t do crazy amount of reading because most of the week was running around taking care of logistics – picking up residence permits, filling out loan paperwork, etc., etc., etc.

But I did read something really cool, and it had to do with using stereoscopic images as a way of viewing enhanced macro photographs and even semi-3D images (Campana, 1977). Stereoscopes are those contraptions you’ve probably seen from the 1800s that look like a View-Master we all know and love from childhood, just bigger (because that’s exactly what it is). You place a card with two slightly offset images in the holder and look through the lenses. Because the images are slightly offset, when you look through the lenses, the image appears to be 3-dimensional.

Stereoscope (from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f6/Holmes_stereoscope.jpg)

19th century stereoscope

In the 1970s, this was one really effective way of making 3D images in archaeology (1977, 435). Taking photos from a microscope or using a macro lens was really difficult to preserve in publication. The depth of field is generally quite small, and while our human eyes can account for it and adjust accordingly (at least to some degree), cameras really couldn’t (and still aren’t great at it). So, at least in the 1970s, creating stereophotograph pairs was one fairly simple way of preserving photomacrographs or photomicrographs for others to view (Ibid). It also helped in cases where a researcher was looking at various collections in different locations, because you could preserve the images from your first collection and bring them to the second for comparison (Ibid).

Stereo-photomacrographs, as these images are called (or stereo-photomicrographs when created from microscopes) are created by taking two separate photographs where the lenses are offset by 6.5cm (Ibid, 436). This is the average distance between human eyes, so it needs to be the distance offset for these photographs. With photomacrographs, it gets a little dicier, because you’re so close to the object. For these photos, you offset the image by 15° instead (Ibid).

You can use two cameras simultaneously to take the photos, but with macro photos (or microphotos), you can’t really place two cameras close enough together to get the right image. So instead, you use the same camera and just move it (Ibid).

Photomacrographs have a better depth of field than micrographs, because you can control more of the functionalities of the lens. So up to a certain magnification, photomacrographs are actually better than photomicrographs.

To view the images, you can build a lens system similar to the stereoscopes used in the 19th century, or you could just find one and use it. According to the main article I was reading (Ibid, 439), you can also train yourself to see the images without a stereoscope, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do that.

Not only was this all really fascinating to read anyway, it was particularly fascinating having just come from working in a museum specialising in the 19th century and particularly working with a stereoscope and a set of three images. I never really would have guessed that they could be used as a precursor to computerised models, but now that I’ve seen it and read it, it makes complete sense. And now I just really want to try it, despite having zero access to stereoscopes.

There are probably a certain number of you saying something along the lines of “this is really cool, but what’s the point? Why use these images?”

Good question. The main point in the 1970s was to view objects in different ways, with different depths and lighting than the human eye naturally did. Doing so allows us to see things like wear patterns, designs, or cut marks on objects that we may not be able to see with the naked eye. Our eyes are really good at adjusting to different circumstances, so they can often block out things that we actually DO want to see. Creating stereoscopic images provide a depth of field to the objects that often allowed for more clarity and a stronger ability to see those thing we might not otherwise see.

Polychrome 1

When it comes to macro photography, these lenses allow us to zoom into objects that are quite small, or zoom into areas our eyes can’t see simply due to the size of what we’re trying to look at. I’ve used this with beads quite a lot, and have posted a number of the results on this blog (like the image above). But I’ve never tried stereo-photomacrographs before, and I’m quite keen to try, if only could find a viewer.


Everything I talk about in this post comes from the following source as well as personal experience in museums:

Campana, Douglas. 1977. Making Stereo-Photomacrographs for Archaeological Studies. Journal of Field Archaeology. 4, 435-440.

Stereoscope image from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f6/Holmes_stereoscope.jpg

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Spiral Beads

spiral 2One of my favourite bead designs is the spiral bead. These beads are always wound and tend to be either normal, circular beads, triangular beads or (technically) hexagonal. They have anywhere between two and four spirals that radiate out until they hit another spiral. Continue reading

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Museum Highlights: National Museum of Scotland, Part 1

The National Museum of Scotland holds a very dear place in my heart, since I spent the majority of my MLitt dissertation working feverishly on the bead collections here.

My first visit to the museum was actually for a class. We were to wander around the majority of Scottish History and Archaeology, though our primary focus was the early medieval to Norse periods.

NMS-1There are so many beads in this exhibit that I need to split up this post in order to talk about them all, and I’m only going to talk about the beads from the Romans to Norse for now. For anyone who loves beads, the Scotland galleries at the NMS are basically heaven. Continue reading

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Stripes, Swirls, and Squiggles: Line Styles

eye bead-5Line style is a fairly straightforward category. This basically describes the pattern of any lines that decorate the bead – not the pattern those lines make, but the pattern they have.

There are only a few options for this. First is a monochrome line. The line is a single colour, nothing more. This is the most common style; most line styles are monochrome. Continue reading

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Swag Beads

swag-3Swag beads are probably my favourite type of design, largely because of the name. It really is a technical term, and I am all for bringing it back into popular usage in bead studies.

swag-1Swag on a bead simply refers to a continuous wavy line traveling round the bead. It can be any colour, though I mostly see white or yellow on a dark blue, black, or sometimes ark green. These lines can also be reticella, which is composed of multiple colours twisted together to form a single line. Continue reading

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Museum Highlights: Upcountry History Museum

UHM-2Last Friday, I was down in Greenville, South Carolina for my twin brother’s wedding. My family and I flew into Charlotte, getting into Greenville around 11:30 in the morning. We had a good 4 hours before we could check into the inn we were staying at, and when faced with such situations, my family tends to find a local museum. So that’s exactly what we did.

The Upcountry History Museum may seem relatively small, but there’s a lot of history packed into that building. They talk about the history of the area from pre-colonial times to present day, at least as much as they can in the space they have. Personally, I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of the exhibits. Continue reading

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Stripes, Swirls, and Squiggles: Design Shape

eye bead-12Aside from the number of colours involved in the design, the first element I record is the shape itself. This can be any design that isn’t a line, like eyes, flowers, spirals, stars, fish, birds, etc.

eye bead-6The simplest shape is a dot. You can also get a dot with a circle around it, a dot with multiple circles around it, or a dot that looks like a rayed sun. Sometimes these are laid out in a pattern, sometimes they aren’t. Continue reading

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