Photography Workshop: A Report

(this and the following photos are by Maria Aimé Villano)

In the last week of January, we spent two days exploring the different aspects of digital photography and its role during the epigraphic research. The role of photography will be crucial for the Graph-East project, because we will not be accompanied by a professional photographer during our personal missions, and also because our field is located rather far from France, so we will not be able to return there often. Thus, we will need to make proper photos in order to analyze them later.

This brief course was conceptualized and organized by Clément Dussart, our fellow team member, and divided in two parts. On the first day we dedicated ourselves to photography, and on the next day we were dealing with more intricate subjects, such as photogrammetry and ultraviolet/infrared photography. Each day was also split in two parts, we began it with theory and finished with practice. As it was an open event, there were not only Graph-East team members in the audience, but also our colleagues from the CESCM, the University of Poitiers, and other universities. Among them were participants of another ERC project, HornEast, based in Aix-Marseille University. The number of attendees varied during the day, however, the peak number was fifteen, although including the lecturers.

We began with basics. As everything on the first day, they were taught to us by Lisa-Oriane Crosland and Eva Avril. During the first half of the first day, we were told about the camera construction, its working principle, learned about exposure, aperture and ISO – the three pillars of photography, and also about focal length, different types of objectives, white balance and different camera modes.

Then, it was time to test all the newly acquired – or refreshed, as all of us had different backgrounds and experience – knowledge on practice. Some of us brought their own cameras and tripods, some were provided with them by the lecturers, and some, including the humble author of these lines, had a possibility to test a new camera, purchased specially for the Graph-East needs. The practice was twofold: we started in the classroom with some separate stones, inscriptions, and seals, and then, after lunch, under the shy winter sun we moved to the Baptistery of St. John. There, inside the walls adorned by inscribed frescoes and among the carved sarcophagi, we were placed in field conditions. Despite the chilling cold, whose hand became even more firm as the evening descended, we managed rather well, even those who took cameras for the first time. At the end of the day, Estelle Ingrand-Varenne, our most beloved leader, took our guests from other cities to an excursion to the Church of St. Radegund, of which excursion, unfortunately, I cannot tell anything.

Next day, straight after having learned the most simple basics, we delved into depths of much more complicated methods. Divided in two groups, we learned first about photogrammetry (thanks to Daniel Morleghem, an independent archaeologist from Poitiers), and then (with help of Jean-Baptiste Javel, PhD student in Bordeaux) about some additional ways to take photos, such as macro- and microphotography, as well as ultraviolet and infrared photography, and new research possibilities opened by them. Or vice versa. Given our diverse backgrounds, those subjects were not something very new for some of us, however, those were not necessarily the same people who had not learned anything new on the previous day. To those, who, as myself, has not heard about the aforementioned methods (except maybe for macro) before, let it be known that photogrammetry consists of making a 3D image of an object, which was previously photographed from all possible angles, with help of a special software. In terms of epigraphy, it makes inscriptions more readable. However, there is also a disadvantage: the 3D models occupy quite a lot of space on the disk. As for the IR/UV photography, it requires a special filter, or a partly disassembled camera (infrared blocker removed), and literally allows to see the invisible, when it comes to the painted inscriptions or some very slight incisions. The latter can also be discovered and depicted using macro- and microphotography. So it is.

As on the previous day, we went on to practice after lunch in the same baptistery. As there was only one IR-conditioned camera, we were mostly occupied with photogrammetry, taking photos of different sarcophagi for a model, which then would be made according to them. However, those interested had the possibility to lend Jean-Baptiste’s camera for a few moments.

In general, it was an interesting experience, which also offered a rare possibility to gather all the team together. It was not definitely the last workshop organized by Graph-East team, as some other ideas were voiced during the group discussion in the evening of the last day, such as the initiation into Adobe Photoshop or InDesign, or a workshop on edition of the inscriptions, or even a workshop on heraldry, as many slabs do have different coats of arms on them. So, please stay tuned for further announcements and such reports.


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