One of the many functions that goes on quietly behind the scenes in a museum is the digitisation of the collections. A primary reason for digitising the items we hold is to increase the accessibility of the collection online – creating access beyond the walls of the MTG Hawke’s Bay building. Having collections online bypasses the museum’s constraints of space and time, where what is viewable is limited to what is on display (3-5% of the collection), which is only able to be viewed by people in the vicinity and during opening hours. Digital collections enable anyone, anywhere in the world the ability to view our holdings, at any time. This kind of access is of huge benefit to everyone but is particularly useful to researchers, colleagues in other institutions, genealogists, artists and so on.
Online collections enable members of the public to interact with collections in some very creative ways. For a bit of a light hearted view have a look at this website http://www.digitalnz.org/gif-it-up where people have played around with images and brought them ‘to life’. Another fantastic thing that can happen is a flow of information from members of the public providing knowledge about objects and images such as identifying the people in an image, confirming where an image has been taken, what an unusual object might have been used for and so on. When we get to this stage it’s a great way to engage and exchange dialogue with interested parties.
Internally images have many uses including being invaluable for our curators in researching and planning exhibitions, for publications, or to record particular aspects of an object, such as makers’ marks or damage that has been sustained. Images help enormously in planning the design and layout of exhibitions and visualising how an exhibition will look and feel for our audiences. There is no doubt that an image is much better than a description when it comes to planning exhibitions.
A lot of requests come into museums to access images for publication and, if there is not a high resolution image already available, the object will need to be brought out of storage and photographed. While the majority of the fine art collection has been completed we estimate that only 10-15% of the entire collection has been done, so there is still a long way to go! These days when new items are accepted into the collection they are photographed as part of the accessioning process. The challenge then, is to address the backlog of objects that are not yet photographed.
Recently, while scanning some glass plate negatives our Collection Assistant (Photography), Nicola Zaaiman, discovered some additional Russell Duncan images. Among Sunny Southern Isles is an exhibition currently on display showing photographs Russell Duncan took when travelling through the Pacific at the end of the nineteenth century. The images that have just been discovered include a picture of Russell Duncan’s house and a photograph of a picnic.
Ideally all the collection would be available online. But, while images are great, and they are so much better than written descriptions, they will never replace the experience of seeing the real article. There is something magical about directly experiencing an object from history or being in the presence of a great piece of art.
Laura Vodanovich Director of the Museum Theatre Gallery (MTG) Hawke’s Bay.
Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 16 January 2016.