Adaptability and flexibility are crucial when you are working a museum that is short on space, so when it became apparent that we needed a larger support for photographing textiles Greg Palumbo, the exhibits coordinator, jumped to action to help me make a removable and adjustable photographic slant board. Photographic documentation is an important step in conservation treatments, because it is essential to have pictures of an artifact’s condition so that you can help to identify any future changes that might occur. It is much easier to see changes that have occurred in photographs than to id changes through a written condition description.
When the curatorial building, where the conservation lab is located, was built in 2004 museums were still using black and white photographic film and color slide film to record the condition of artifacts. In the last six years however museums have gone the way of our family photos and migrated entirely to digital photography. The “dark room” off the back of the conservation lab has been converted into a photo studio, but due to the small size of the room we can only photograph small artifacts that will fit onto the copy stand or can be photographed at a very close range. The beautifully colored patchwork textiles in our collection are much too large for this set up and needed to be laid down on the floor on top of gray photo paper in order to achieve acceptable photographs. This is where the idea of our new slant board came into being!
Slant boards are extremely useful because they can be fixed at a slant equal to that of the camera, which is attached to the top of a large tripod. This will create photographs that are square and without distortion or a “keystone” effect (just stand to the side of a table and take a photograph of a framed piece of art laid out on it in order to see what I mean). If textiles are placed on top of paper on the floor, the camera would have to be mounted directly above the artifact in order for the photographs to be properly squared off. In reality the camera needs to be mounted on a tripod in order to minimize the vibrations and create the clearest and crispest images. A tripod will also help you reduce the blur in your personal photographs, but they can be heavy to carry around. A tripod that stands on the floor, like the one we have here at the museum, cannot be mounted directly over the artifact because the legs would cast funny shadows in the image. A slant board is the best way to fix this problem.
Greg used sheets of coroplast (an inert plastic corrugated board) on a wooden frame to make the base of the slant board. We covered the frame with a medium grey felt stapled to the back of the base. I always choose to take my conservation photography on a grey background because it is a good middle tone and it does not throw off the color or light contrasts in the rest of the photograph. The D-hooks installed on the top of the board can hook onto a number of screws on wall that are arranged to give different levels of slant. Now it is all set up to take photographs of a number of new acquisition patchwork textiles that recently came into the collection. For more information on these textiles see Robin Kilgo’s upcoming article in the AQ (“Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Quarterly”) publication!
For more information, contact Corey Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.