It Works on Paper: Behind the Scenes in the Carter's Photo Lab

With the immediacy of camera phones that send multimedia messages and post photos directly to Flickr and Facebook, it’s easy to take digital images for granted these days. When you see images of artworks on a museum’s website, you don’t necessarily think about all the work that went into getting that image (and the accompanying metadata) out there for you to see.

We’ve just passed the halfway point in our NEA grant-funded works on paper digitization project and have thousands of images to show for all of our hard work, which is remarkable because each artwork must be very carefully moved out of storage, shot by the Carter’s photography assistant, and returned to storage. The images are processed and metadata is embedded in each file”¦and all of this happens after the works have been thoroughly cataloged and measured.

Our photography assistant, Rachel, has been trained to handle artworks and makes the day-to-day decisions about the best ways to shoot works on paper whose medium, dimensions, and other needs vary widely across the collection.

Here, Rachel is shooting a Civil War mezzotint from the Carter’s prints collection. She’s using a special camera and studio setup for larger objects in the collection.

Photography assistant Rachel shoots a large print

And here is the fruit of her labor, an accurate reproduction of the print. Not only will this image end up on the Carter’s website, it will also be used internally by staff from several departments and made available for educational programs and museum publications.

 Pickett's Charge, mezzotint, 1872
John Sartain (1808-1897), after Peter Rothermel (1812 or 1817-1895), The Battle of Gettysburg: Pickett's Charge, mezzotint, 1872, Gift of Edward L. Mattil