Archivist/Digital Resource Manager
I am a lone archivist/digital resource manager at Artifex Press, an New York City-based company dedicated to publishing digital catalogues raisonnés. I work with digital and analogue artwork photography, as well as a growing collection of digital audiovisual materials, and am in charge of administering a digital asset management system (DAMS), Extensis Portfolio, embedding metadata in digital photos, as well as digitizing, editing, and color correcting physical film photography, using a Microtek flatbed scanner and Adobe Photoshop/Bridge. Our digital assets encompass the intellectual property of artists, photographers, galleries, museums, etc., so I am also the copyright point person. Furthermore, I’m the de facto IT lead, so I also manage the company file server, and back up all server data to Fuji LTO tapes (daily and monthly). I work on multiple photography digitization projects simultaneously, correlating to our several published and unpublished digital catalogues raisonnés, including Chuck Close: Paintings, 1967-Present; Jim Dine: Sculpture, 1983-Present; and Tim Hawkinson. Our published catalogues can be accessed for a free, limited time subscription via the Artifex website, which is the public facing, final product.
A Catalogue Raisonné?
A catalogue raisonné is the definitive, comprehensive, and annotated compilation of all the known works of art of an artist. Catalogues Raisonnés are critical tools for researching the provenance, attribution, and exhibition and literature histories of an artist’s body of work. The information in a catalogue raisonné is constantly in flux, and conventional printed catalogues cannot achieve both completeness and accuracy. Digital catalogues raisonnés afford instantaneous editing and modification, and thus are more accurate and up-to-date than their traditional counterparts.
Faithful visual representation of artworks is crucial to maintain this accuracy, and to the overall production of a digital catalogue raisonné. In the process of creating its digital catalogues, Artifex provides access to visual resources associated with an artist’s body of work by centralizing artwork photography from disparate sources in individual artwork records. Therefore, Artifex effectively manages the intellectual property of various artists, museums, galleries, and photographers. Cataloging visual materials for the catalogue raisonné creates a number of challenges for description, including discerning the layered intellectual property rights (i.e. copyright) inherent in artwork photography.
Metadata is a set of data that describes and gives information about other data. Embedded photo metadata stays within an image file, and allows this information to be transferred with the image in a way that can be understood by other software and hardware.
Embedding metadata in digital visual materials as they are acquired, ensures:
- The correct copyright holders are credited, and that this info is retained in the files themselves
- Embedded metadata minimizes the need for multiple spreadsheets/documents to fathom what an asset is, and who the copyright holders are
- embedded metadata centralizes this crucial info
- Artifex staff can locate materials after ongoing use has ceased
- Metadata is harnessed by a searchable digital asset management system
- Less need to rely solely on file names for retrieval
- Robust descriptive information is captured and retained for future projects
Artifex Press uses the IPTC Core metadata standard to describe and catalogue digital visual resources, due to its universal acceptance among a number of industries, including news agencies, photographers, libraries, and museums. The IPTC Core standard provides structured metadata fields that enable archivists to embed accurate data about images in the files themselves. This systematizes the way information is stored and transferred between images and institutions.
At Artifex, I item level catalogue born digital visual materials to facilitate better searchability via our DAMS, Extensis Portfolio. I simultaneously utilize a hybrid item/collection level cataloging approach for our multifaceted analogue collections, and I discuss both methods below.
Chuck Close: Item-Level Cataloging
I often receive born digital photos from various institutions with little-to-no metadata embedded. For example, the visual artist Chuck Close exhibited his new paintings at Pace Gallery in New York, in the Fall of 2015. I received the above photos (Figure 1) from Pace, but with very little info embedded, save for a time stamp and camera make/model (Figure 2). Fortunately, I was able to utilize Adobe Bridge’s metadata templates to batch apply metadata values that all photos in this particular group have in common, such as creator, pictured exhibition, title, credit line, copyright info, city, state, and country. In this instance, I created and employed the metadata template I’ve called “Chuck Close Pace Install” which instantly fills the IPTC Core fields with general values I’ve set, allowing me to quickly embed data all images have in common (See Figures 3 and 4). So, in a few key strokes I’ve ensured the intellectual control of a batch of born digital files, which otherwise had very little embedded info originally. With time permitting, I was able to embed artwork/photo specific metadata in individual photos in this batch, to augment the number of search results for specific works via our DAMS (Figures 5 and 6). For larger accessions of digital images, applying a metadata template will preserve at least a modicum of common descriptive info at accession, to allow for more granular cataloging down the road.
Sol LeWitt Studio Collection: A Hybrid Approach
In contrast I‘ve described our multifaceted analog collections at the collection level, as item level cataloging for these materials would prove too time consuming. Often I am digitizing photography from our analog collections – and primarily the Sol LeWitt Studio Collection – and then creating item–level metadata of these materials at the time of digitization.
Sol LeWitt, a progenitor of the Conceptual Art movement, created a numerical series of ephemeral works he called Wall Drawings, and Artifex Press is conducting ongoing research towards the compilation of the LeWitt Wall Drawing catalogue raisonné. The LeWitt Studio Collection contains similarly number boxes of photos related to his Wall Drawings, from which the LeWitt team draws for research. I‘ve created a traditional archival finding aid for the LeWitt Studio Collection, which provides a general (collection level) description to ensure a minimum amount of intellectual control of the enclosed materials.
I devised a digitization workflow with the Sol LeWitt research team that combines digitization and research priorities:
- The LeWitt research team conducts continuous research on LeWitt’s Wall Drawings, using the Studio Collection (I have the benefit of content experts supplying reliable metadata).
- The LeWitt team selects (prioritizes) materials from the Studio Collection to digitize for publication
- The LeWitt team simultaneously discerns the copyright holders (i.e. The Estate of Sol LeWitt and the contributing institution) of selected materials
- I employ a Microtek flatbed film/transparency scanner to digitize the selected Wall Drawing photography, creating an unprocessed master TIFF file.
- After digitization, I embed item-level IPTC Core metadata in the unprocessed TIFF file.
- I create a copy of, and color correct and touch-up the unprocessed image, and file a second, processed master TIFF file.
Artifex retains two master TIFF files for digitized visual materials, in case originals need to be consulted. Processed images are copies of raw scans (which retain the embedded metadata), with color correction and editing executed in Adobe Photoshop. Artifex Press attempts to represent accurate color of depicted artworks, to further enrich the digital catalogue raisonné.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the online Lone Arranger community for helping me fathom some of the above solutions over the last couple years. I hope my account of Artifex’s digital workflow can similarly assist other Lone Arrangers in their necessarily challenging and multifaceted roles.