On my way back towards Carrboro, we always drive past a little patch of green grass with several statues and installations placed what almost looks like random. Some of them are more complex, moving on their own. When we got the assignment of doing a 3D project in Agisoft Megashape (previously known as Agisoft PhotoScan), I decided instantly I wanted to try to do one of them. JJ advised us when photographing outside to a) not take photos when it was sunny, cloudy weather is preferable and b) do not photograph something too shiny. I had this advice in mind when going out to take my photos, but however in the end I managed to sort of do them both.
All the statues are made by Carrboro metal sculpturist Mike Roig, and the plot of land they’re on is adjacent to his studio and home. I chose the piece Looking up primarily based on its texture being more rugged and not as shiny as the other pieces. On my way to my first attempt the weather shifted pretty fast and I had to do it in sunshine, which meant that the back of the sculpture didn’t come out as well in the photographs. My first attempt I took 42 ( a little overkill) photos, and as you can see from down below, parts of the back didn’t really want to come out.
For my next attempt, the weather was cloudy, but even so the light didn’t really want to come out properly anyway, just as with my first attempt. Even though cloudy I think this one came out even more poorly than my first attempt. Here Metashape told me that out of my 29 photos, four of them could not be properly aligned and that they were cut from the rendering; it didn’t give me more information or clues as to why they couldn’t be aligned (I thought I was going pretty straight and slow but maybe not). My own guess would probably be that it also had to do with the light not coming out properly, making it difficult for Metashape to align them properly. This one however as you can see, did not turn out well as it couldn’t properly render the back of it and turned out worse than the first one.
Just for fun, I did a version with all the 71 photos from both sessions that you can find below, hoping it may make it a bit clearer, but I was wrong. As you can see the back has a whole in it that I couldn’t properly fill. I was surprised that it turned out well surface wise, as the lightning was very different in the two sets of photos, so the front part of it I would say still looks decent.
Apart from my models not turning out perfect, I thought the software with the workshop and guidelines provided were comprehensible and easy to understand. It was also very fun to see step by step how all these photos slowly turned into an actual model. I could see this being used in numerous ways and would be excited to try it out myself, even though I am not sure how I would use it just yet. I can imagine that trying to troubleshoot or go deeper into the possibilities of the software will require a lot of learning, but by simply following the software step by step (grateful that you can’t accidentally jump over a step in the process for example) and the guidelines is for now enough to continue on doing 3D models.
I have been pretty forthcoming about my skeptical attitude regarding digital humanities throughout many of my blog posts. Now I’ve taken a whole course in digital art history, and for my final official post I want to check back in. I wish I could write about how through experimenting with different tools I had a change of heart and grew to think digital tools are integral to my discipline. Unfortunately, I’m still not convinced. Don’t get me wrong, I think these tools are important. They are good to know and can be extremely useful in the research process, but I don’t know if they have a space in the final products of art historical scholarship. Perhaps as these digital tools progress this will change. It is inevitable that we will have to use digital tools in some capacity, that is the reality of the technological world we live in, so I will learn to incorporate them in some capacity. But for now, I don’t think I would integrate many of these digital tools in my own publications or scholarly output.
I can, however, see myself using digital tools along the way. Many of the tools we looked at this semester would be beneficial to me when I’m organizing my thoughts and research and trying to find connections within my own work. ThingLink, Omeka, and Pinterest are all tools I can see myself using as tools to organize my large caches of images for example. But are these digital humanities tools? Maybe. But in my work I’d consider them inventory tools.
Let’s say I did want to start a digital humanities project
Skeptical nature aside, let’s say I did want to start a digital humanities project. What have I learned this semester that I would apply to it? First, I’d check funding and institutional support. Here is one resource my professor showed us to help find funding. From reading about various projects I’ve found that the biggest road block is support, be it financial or logistical. I’d first need to secure financial backing and find labor assistance; applying for grants can be draining and finding ethical labor is tough. See “A Student Collaborator’s Bill of Rights” that sums up a lot of my thoughts of the subject of graduate student labor. As mundane as this is, it is absolutely vital to a successful DH project since they often are not well funded and can lead to personal career burnout.
Once funding is secured, I’d establish a scope for the project. I’d want to clearly delineate what my project aims to do and where (and how) it is limited. Here is a good resource for scheduling and scoping out a project. My project won’t be able to do everything, and that’s okay. I think many of the projects that I wasn’t impressed with this semester tried to do too much. Because so many digital tools have a bunch of different components, everyone wants to try to incorporate them all. But they don’t have to! I’d impose limitations on what I can and cannot accomplish so that I do not overburden my users or stretch myself too thin. I’d rather have a limited but thorough project than one that feels superficial.
Let’s skip ahead a bit now and say that I have completed what I’ve set out to do. So many digital humanities projects end up fizzling out because of upkeep costs and the changing nature of platforms/the internet in general. In an attempt to combat this, I’d try to put various long term safeguards in place. This may be setting aside part of my funding to upkeep costs of may also be training a replacement or someone who will assist in maintenance. In an ideal world, I’d like to find a way to turn the project over to the public. Once established and supported, a crowdsourced project could be interesting. Maybe there will be a way to allow public support and submissions that could keep the project viable for a longer time frame. This semester we haven’t really addressed the ways in which we can keep projects running long term, but this would be a vital component of my project. A digital humanities project is only useful for as long as users can take advantage of it after all. Unlike a paper which can sit in a dusty book in the far corner of a library until some student digs it out for a project, digital projects can become fully unusable very quickly. This is a major limitation for me, so I want to make sure to address this. Here is a succinct list of 10 rules for starting a new digital humanities project. It is pretty much the tldr version of this ramble I’ve gone on.
I wanted to present Agisoft with a challenge for our 3-D modeling project, so I selected a sculpture of Holly Fischer’s, who is an artist and faculty member at my undergraduate school, Meredith College. Holly is an amazing artist, and was kind enough to let me photograph one of her sculptures in the 3-D studio at Meredith. Here is a photo of the sculpture.
I wanted to find out how Agisoft would handle such a shape. I took 30 pictures, from all sides, about 2 ft. away, as I had the sculpture on a turntable. I also photographed the top and bottom of the sculpture. Here is the result:
What you should be seeing is a fairly accurate rendering of the background of the studio, not the actual sculpture itself. I should have placed something plain behind the sculpture so the software couldn’t see the colorful background. That was my first attempt.
For my second attempt, I removed the background completely before I began the rendering process. However, my laptop is still rendering, and I left it running overnight. I am not filled with optimism at this point. If I had to guess what is wrong with this attempt, it is that perhaps I took too many pictures. I will let it run a bit longer and see what happens.
It just finished rendering, and the second attempt came out worse than the first. I am not sure where I went wrong, but clearly I haven’t done all the steps correctly. Over the weekend, I will take new photos of something else and try again.
I am also having difficulty embedding the pdf file. I added a pdf embedder plug-in, which is working, but I am not seeing anything when I preview the post. I don’t know if this is something that will only work when it is published, or not.
Even though I am having difficulty with Agisoft, I think this technology is amazing, and has many applications for art historians. Being able to view an object from anywhere in the world, from multiple perspectives, without damaging the object is an amazing opportunity for scholars.
The articles we read for class discussion this week relate to digital humanities as applied to the field of art history. Sydni Dunn’s article discusses the difficulties facing digital humanists in using a digital portfolio, or project in place of a traditional paper for their scholarship. So many of them fear being denied tenure with digital-only projects that they wind up doing twice the amount of work as those choosing more traditional modes of scholarship. While universities are being more open to digital projects, they are not completely embraced in the same manner as traditional scholarship. This creates a lot of uncertainty for academics in the digital humanities. This will continue to be a problem, because as we know from our readings and discussions this semester, art historians in general are rather wary of digital projects, and publishing still remains the gold standard of scholarship. Many art historians don’t see the need for digital art history, and unfortunately many examples we are shown are not entirely convincing. It seems that many of these projects fall into the interesting, but not necessarily revelatory, category. Until there is a digital project that could not be done on paper, and provokes some new understanding about the material it examines, art historians will remain exactly where they are now, using PowerPoint.
Dunn advises that when assessing someone’s digital project, evaluators should be told to examine the work in its digital form, not screenshots, thumbnails, or a printout. This shows very clearly the level of familiarity that most have with digital projects. If you have to tell them to look at it in its native state, you’re already in trouble. It seems pointless to be evaluated on a digital project by those who don’t understand what went into its creation. Dunn does say that it is advisable for the digital project to be evaluated by those in the digital humanities, but this may not be possible in all departments. This poses a real problem for those working in the digital humanities, and it is not easily overcome. This explains why these scholars find themselves doing double the work, by providing their tenure committee with not only their digital project, but a traditional paper as well. Those working in alternate academic careers may be able to provide solely a digital project as proof of scholarship, but many of these positions are not tenure-track positions. There remains a skepticism towards the scholarship of a digital-only project, which keeps many art historians from embracing digital art history.
Sydni Dunn, “Digital Humanists: If You Want Tenure, Do Double the Work,” Chronicle of Higher Education, 5 January 2014, https://chroniclevitae.com/news/249-digital-humanists-if-you-want-tenure-do-double-the-work
Over the past few months, I have explored how many different digital tools could work towards art historical research, education, and communication. I’ve tried to dive into the methodology of digital humanities and hope that, moving forward, I can apply some of these skills and tools to my own research.
But if I’m honest, I think what I am more excited about with digital humanities is the capability to integrate it into teaching practices. In a class on DAH, we recently read the article by Caroline Bruzelius and Hannah Jacobs– two art historians at Duke University– about an introductory course they taught that utilized digital software to reinvent the ‘traditional’ survey course. For this class, the professors created a ‘living’ syllabus– a narrative that “linked the syllabus’ practical information with spatial and temporal visualizations, embedded media and links to supplementary content.” (Bruzelius and Jacobs) This syllabus also compressed historical time with living/contemporary time as current events were interwoven into the course structure, linked to relevant topics or works of art within the survey. For those interested, you can access the syllabus here.
This reinvention of the ‘traditional’ syllabus is honestly super cool. Sure, the design a little cumbersome, but I think Bruzelius and Jacobs did a great job at executing their original goals. I also think that a digital syllabus like this really sets the tone for the overall class– introducing to the students that this isn’t your grandma’s art history course. So where can you go from here?
In her Twentieth Century Art at Dixie State University, Professor Nancy Ross with collaboration from her class, organized a data visualization project to map the relationships and interrelationships between famous women artists. This project grew out of students’ interest in expounding on the common narrative of Twentieth Century Art– a field dominated by men– and resulted into a new way of conceptualizing interrelationships among artists. Ross identifies the inconsistencies and shortcomings of this project, but concludes that overall it was a successful attempt to intervene on the traditional art historical course using digital methods.
Gretchen McKay created and implemented a game for her art history class. Modernism vs. Traditionalism: Art in Paris, 1888-89 was a semester-long, fully immersive role-playing game in which students took on key figures on the Paris art scene of the late 19th century. The game centered around the debates around the changing style, function, and appreciation of art at the time as students controlled discussions as their respected characters. The game cumulated in an art sale with one secret buyer. The students were challenged to successfully advocate for the art associated with their character to persuade the secret buyer’s choice. Though McKay’s game doesn’t employ technology directly, the idea of immersion into an alternate reality (virtual reality) is akin to some DH initiatives.
There are many more examples that I could list on Digital Art History in the classroom, suggesting that many scholars and educators are seriously thinking about how methodology can significantly change pedagogy. These projects are extremely useful as I begin to think about how to construct a course in African Art. In my first blog post, I mention that both DAH (as a method) and African Art (as a concentration) are located on the periphery of Art History. The ways in which both are being integrated into the field are still being negotiated. While this is frustrating, I find that there is an opportunity to marry the two into something very significantly new.
There is a debate among scholars and educators about the most effective format for an introductory course on African Art. This is to be expected of course, trying to teach the history of art from an entire continent (with 54 countries and even more ethnic groups) is a challenge. Should it be structured chronologically? Geographically? By theme? A mixture of all three? How might digital tools and methods help address this debate?
I don’t know, but I think its worth pursuing. There is a lot left to improve with African Art History pedagogy (and arguably, the discipline at large) and it seems foolish to not consider digital art history as a way to redefine the field.
For this brief post I wanted to document my attempts at creating my own 3D models. My professor told us not to practice with our pets both because of the ways they move, but also because fur (or hair) doesn’t come up well. I didn’t listen and probably should have. Here’s my first attempt at a 3D model of my cat Aldous. He kept moving his head to follow the camera so he appears as a headless blob. Obviously it didn’t come out perfectly, but I could start to see how many images were necessary to have PhotoScan create a thorough model and how static they need to be. You can see that I didn’t get photos of his back so it is not complete (he would get up if I tried to get around him). I also used the free demo mode so I couldn’t embed a manipulatable file here for you to play around with and instead just took a screen video.
Next, I tried to model one of the objects in the university’s museum, the Ackland. Below you’ll see a video of that model. Honestly, it didn’t turn out any better! This was a little frustrating, because I had 38 photographs from 3 different angles (straight on, looking at it from above, attempting to angle upwards) and thought I had covered most of the perspectives necessary. You can see a bit of the detail/texture, but you can barely tell that the object is this chubby little man of a pot. I’m not sure what I did wrong here. I did get an error message that some of the orientations of the photographs were different which may affect quality, so perhaps it was that (I took some photos in landscape some in portrait but I never changed the zoom so I didn’t think that would matter). I think the biggest issue was that I wasn’t able to get good photographs looking upwards because of the placement of the object on a table. This could be the reason for most of the holes in the model.
After my first attempt with the museum object I’ll admit I was frustrated. At home that night I thought I’d give it another go. Looking around my apartment I realized I don’t have a lot that works for the assignment (you don’t want objects with a lot of holes, fine threads/fringe, or shiny surfaces). I ended up choosing my Puma sneakers. I figured they had different textures, were matte, and I could arrange them in an interesting way. I set them up on the floor and made sure that I had even lighting. I took 23 pictures from a variety of angles. It still didn’t come out. Not only did an entire half of the sneaker not appear on the model, but even this frontal view was incomplete. At this point I was starting to feel discouraged. I felt that compared to the example we did in class I had good photos that definitely overlapped at points and used the same zoom across the board and yet I couldn’t get a single complete model.
By my fourth attempt I was officially discouraged. I decided to choose something with brighter colors incase that would make any difference. I hypothesized that one possible issue with my sneaker model was that I was looking at beige suede shoes against a beige carpet, perhaps the lack of color variation was making it difficult. Looking around the kitchen I saw some clementines in a market bin that had a great contrast of orange against teal. It may be my most successful model in that the texture of the clementines came out really well, but the model is still incomplete. I’m not sure exactly why there are so many gaps in parts when I know I had 39 photos that definitely overlapped.
After talking to my professor, I decided to try one last time. JJ noted that a lot of the clementine model did have good detail, and that it looked like a lot of my issues in that model as well as my earlier ones stemmed from not having all the angles photographed, particularly not one angled upwards (see my discussion on the museum object). This could account for some of the holes in my models. She suggested putting the box of clementines on a mug or thing pedestal so that it would be easier to get under the object and photograph from lower angles. I tried this, and it worked to a slightly better degree although it definitely did not produce a great model. I’ll still consider it a success because of the texture achieved on the clementines themselves, and you could see the basic shape of the container.
Overall, while I’m not sure I can say I successfully created an entire model I did learn a lot about the process. For one, I learned my laptop is apparently too old to be compatible with a lot of the software which is a shame and why I needed to use videos rather than embedding a file you could manipulate. I also learned the importance of the photograph in the final product. I agree with JJ that a lot of my issues stemmed from gaps in my photographs. While I tried really hard to get all the necessary angles, it is easier in some instances than others. For example, while photographing the object in the museum, it was on a large table so I couldn’t angle up easily without moving the object. I also wonder if a better camera would have gotten better results. All my photographs were taken with an iPhone 6 camera, which is good but not great. Perhaps better quality photographs would have achieved models that were more clear. I found this digital project to be especially fun. I’m not sure how I would implement it into my own research since I am mostly interested in photographs, but I can see myself playing around with it just for fun. I highly recommend downloading the demo mode of Agisoft‘s Photoscan.