After The Museum of Modern Art acquired the Thomas Walther Collection, a rare collection of fine art photographs made primarily between World War I and World War II, MoMA was awarded a generous grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to conduct a comprehensive study of the collection. The survey culminated in a symposium, publication, exhibition, and interactive website sharing the data collected during the four-year endeavor.
During the Photographic Materials Group Session, Lee Ann Daffner focused on the data collected during the survey and the way in which the interactive Object:Photo website uses the analysis to build relationships between photographs by geography, exhibitions, artistic schools and spheres of influence. The site is designed to encourage organic browsing by the user by highlighting action links in red, a bright contrast to the black and white theme reminiscent of the silver gelatin photographs which largely make up the collection. Before reading further about the project, I recommend spending time exploring the site, available at http://www.moma.org/objectphoto. It’s rich with information, yet feels more like wandering through an exhibition than browsing a website full of technical data.
Not only does Object:Photo make the Thomas Walther Collection images available online, it also highlights technical and historical data of each image. High resolution images of the front and back of each photograph, specular images highlighting the surface texture and sheen, detailed description of the photographic paper and technical analysis, as well as essays, exhibitions, and related articles are included to enrich each photograph in the collection.
In collaboration with Paul Messier, polynomial texture map (PTM) and microraking images of paper texture were created. This setup and process is illustrated and described beautifully in the Materials section of the site, and Mr. Messier outlined similar protocols for analysis later in the conference during his presentation titled “Revealing Affinities across Collections through the Language of the Photographic Print.”
Linking artwork with technical analysis, Object:Photo places each photograph in context in comparison to the others an artistic expression of the world between the two world wars. The presentation of the material is geared toward universal understanding by both scholars and museum visitors because “it was important to share all the data,” according to Ms. Daffner. MoMA’s data on x-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis, fiber analysis and paper thickness is available for download in Microsoft Excel file format.
While this website pertains only to the Thomas Walther Collection and the research conducted during the four-year survey, the Object:Photo project is an excellent example to other institutions who may conduct similar surveys in the future. Ms. Daffner and MoMA should be proud to encourage the development of industry standards and research protocols with Object:Photo. Please take the opportunity to explore MoMA’s Object:Photo site at http://www.moma.org/objectphoto.