The Digital Image in the Museu Picasso: a Project in Collaboration with the University

On the 7th and 8th of October I attended as a representative of the Museu Picasso at the two lectures by Carles Mitjà, a professor at the UPC (Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya), spoke at the Working Sessions on the control of image quality at the Sonimag photo & multimedia fair. I am still asking myself how I, with my very limited knowledge of the digital image, came to be taking part in a speech full of algorithms on digital image quality… This is, then, a story of collaboration and mutual enrichment.

When I joined at the Museu Picasso just over a year ago the Director expressed his very real concern about the issue of ‘photography’ in the Museum. Despite my background of 14 years working in the Arxiu Fotogràfic de Barcelona, I remember insisting that I could introduce some degree of order and establish organizational and conceptual criteria, but that what was needed in the twenty-first century was digital images, about which I knew very little. I realized that the Director and I saw eye to eye on this, both of us aware of the importance of the issue for the proper functioning of the Museum, but we were also aware of the magnitude of the tragedy. So with this in mind I set to work.

Picasso with Sabartés. ©Rights reserved.

It was up to me to define the need for and the use of digital images in the Museum and give some coherence to the project, but a matter of such crucial significance as the control of image quality was entirely beyond me. Institutions such as ours are day-to-day practice, but the deep technical knowledge is in the universities, so I contacted them, set out our ideas and our concerns in this regard, and in February this year, just as the Museum was starting a new phase of qualitative growth, we signed a collaboration agreement with the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya’s Centre for the Image and Multimedia Technology (UPC-CITM) with a view to working together on programmes of common interest in the development of the visual arts and, more specifically, the digital image.

After a few months of discussions and exchanging of ideas we have begun to give shape to this joint venture. At the present time three lines of work have been opened up in sectors that affect the Museum: the digital reprography of the collection, the reprography of the documentary holdings and the preparing of photographic reportages. The CITM-UPC has drawn up three working protocols for all three spheres of action, they are acting as consultants to ensure their implementation and they are designing the intake, the archive and the access to these images. We are just beginning our collaboration and it will be some time before we see the results, but in these few months of working together we have already come a long way; above all, we have identified how the Museu Picasso can ensure the quality of the digital image and its management and we have set in motion new areas of research for the university.

It’s almost a year now since I attended a lecture by the wonderful Grant B. Romer, founder and Director of the Advanced Residency Program in Photograph Conservation at George Eastman House in New York, in which he said that ‘photography died’. I thought at the time that he was right, of course, but I now understand more fully what he was saying: the photograph is one thing, the digital image another. There is no doubt that the multifaceted nature of photography has been inherited by the digital image, but the technological basis of the latter belongs to another world and to other experts, and our museums must learn how to integrate these.

Sílvia Domènech
Knowledge and Research

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