Friday, October 30, 2009


After arriving at work and doing a quick check of news: weather, sports, finance and world politics followed by the reading of and responses to emails it is welcome to another day in the life of a museum photographer.  It's the way every day starts.  The first of order of business for that day was to bring up to date the most recent ongoing project,  photography of African Printed Textiles.

Yesterday, in the film age, which ended about 5 years ago unprocessed film was sent to labs, it was processed and delivered by courier and the photographer was finished.  Today, in the new digital age, after shooting has taken place, digital processing and post production work follows in house.  It's fairly labor intensive yet the process yields a greater degree of quality control.  The last stage prepares compact discs with finished images including  recording data necessary to the archiving process.  That's what was happening when the  phone rang.  Ah yes,  being flexible is part of the  job.  It was Lisa Vann, our designer. "Franko we have an issue with Black Gold that you shot as an installation record."  So I went down to her office temporarily abandoning the on board project to deal with this priority.

The issue was as follows:  the image was being pulled off an installation shot.  These are shot as records.  They differ from publication quality photography which are photographed after carefully creating and sculpting with light to produce a "publication quality" picture.   After an exhibition is set up,  a set of "installation shots" are shot anywhere from 30 to 100 showing many views and details as a historical record.  It was decided that the image of Black Gold I, a temporary wall painting, was needed as the signature image for our new show Yinka Shonibare MBE.  So now I was asked to convert a record shot into a publication quality signature image.  I consulted with and was aided by Lea Ingold, my colleague who is currently under contract with our museum.  She is a regular photoshop whizz.  We worked together to extract a publication quality product from an installation shot.  Success was achieved after several hours of work.  After another much smaller fire was put out for another publication,  the day ended with closure on the African Printed Textile project.

The examples include Black Gold I shot as an Installation photograph and the digitally re-mastered version as a Publication quality example. 

Before work started

Publication quality

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The National Museum of African Art Production Shop

One of the things people may not realize is that most everything you see in our galleries is built in house.  This is certainly going to be the case for the Shonibare exhibition.  We are building the platforms on which the artworks are display; even an open theater.  It is a team effort.  Some of us have spent a fair amount of time lifted ten feet in the air as we get beams in place.

The production shop consists of two areas, Cabinet shop and Paint shop. The cabinet shop employs two full time journeymen exhibit cabinet makers. The shop is fully equipped with the state of the art equipment, Computerized Panel Saw, Tables saws, Planer, Jointer, Band saw, Radial arm saw and a complete dust system. Hand tools are a must in fabrication and the shop has a complete inventory that any craftsmen would dream to have.

The cabinet shop takes on all exhibit fabrication ranging from custom built cases, platform, label rails, graphic panels and other components for the exhibits. Our exhibits are rotating exhibits the change out every three to four months and they are located in four major galleries on first floor and one on second floor of the museum.  Some of the outstanding exhibits this year are Disney African Vision, Artful Animals, and Yinka Shonibare. All of these are first class jobs.

The paint shop employee’s one full time painting specialist. The shop is also fully equipped with the state of the art equipment. Computerized paint mixing machine, spray booth, and top of the line spray guns, a painters dream shops.

The paint shop takes on all exhibits ranging from the prep work and painting of cases, platforms, wall panels, graphic panels, and all other components.  The painting specialist provides the top of the line finishes of galleries and the public space of the museum.

Enjoy some images from the initial exhibit construction.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The installation of Black Gold, again...

The thing that I find most interesting about the installation of the Yinka Shonibare piece Black Gold is that it is an installation piece that changes to the space it is being installed into. The back "spatter" on the wall is painted so every time it is installed that part has to be re-done by the installers.

We have a full size plastic template that the artist made that we layout and determine the location where we want to paint black splatter. The template is just a big sheet of clear plastic with a magic marker out line of the painted part of the piece. Since the template is considered to be part of the object we can't cut, draw or paint on it. So what we do is once we have it positioned we project an image of the finished piece and use the template to locate and size the projection.

Once that is done we take down the template and draw the out line of the splatter with pencil onto the wall. Once it is drawn onto the wall the curator will decide how it has to be modified to fit the space it is being installed in. These changes are then run by the artist.

This goes back and forth until all parties are in agreement. we have only installed this piece twice and both times the spaces were bigger that it was originally designed for so the painter had to grow the "splatters so they would fill the space.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

We're going to do something a little different

On November 10 the National Museum of African Art is proud to open an exhibition showcasing the multi-dimensional work of the artist Yinka Shonibare, MBE.

Instead of one voice talking about the exhibition we have invited our staff to post comments particular to the contributions they give.

I serve as Webmaster for the museum and since I created this blog I've decided to make the first entry. In the future, you will hear from the curator of the show as well as conservators, design staff, administration, our cabinet shop, everyone. Our hope is to give you a glimpse into how a national museum decides, designs and builds an exhibition and since Sir Shonibare's work speaks on many levels we thought it was a perfect show to talk about.

Please contribute to the conversation. On Nov. 10, we will be launching a web site devoted to the show and conversations will be possible through Facebook and Twitter.

Stay tuned!