by Catherine Schofield Sezgin
ARCA Class 2009 graduate Lauren wrote “Revolutionizing Security in the Art World One Photograph at a Time: Photomacrography and its Application to Protecting Cultural Property” for the Fall 2010 issue of The Journal of Art Crime. Ms. Cattey writes in her abstract:
“Photomacrography, high resolution close-up photography, is an important tool within the art world. The goal of photographing works in very close detail is to illustrate clearly the distinguishing features found on every single object. These photographic results can be used not only for analysis of the work of art, but as a protective layer of security. By demonstrating how photomacrography is used within the art world today and discussing how it should be used in the art world tomorrow, this known photographic process transforms itself from a tool for observation, documentation and analysis to a much needed security service to identify and protect cultural property for future generations.”Ms. Cattey received her Bachelor of Arts from St. Louis University in May 2008 with a major in Criminal Justice, a minor in Psychology and a certificate in Forensic Science. While attending St. Louis University, she interned with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department in their Sex Crimes section. As an intern, she set up accounts on MySpace and Facebook for the Sex Crimes section after solving a case using these social networking sites. Later she interned at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC in the museum’s Protection Services department where she helped to review, edit, and organize security policies and procedures into a convenient security manual. In 2009, she graduated with honors from ARCA’s Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and was the Investigative Assistant to the Security Director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
ARCA blog: Welcome to the ARCA blog, Lauren. Your article outlines how photomacrography can be used to document and authenticate artworks. Although conservators and art historians use this method to analyze art, you are proposing that photomacrography be used to protect artwork. Would this be expensive for museums and private collectors?
Ms. Cattey: The most expensive part of investing in photomacrographs for works of art would be the purchasing the photographic equipment (digital SLR camera, macro lens, tripod, computer). However, since most museums have the equipment already, it would be a matter of labor costs.ARCA blog: You write that photomacrography simply refers to a technique used to photograph a subject at life-size or larger – actually up to forty times its actual size. Is special equipment involved? And how would these images be stored?
Ms. Cattey: Special equipment is needed. As mentioned previously, a digital single-lens reflex (SLR) camera, macro lens, tripod, wireless shutter release and a computer with plenty of storage space. I would recommend backing up your images on an external hard drive or burning them to CDs for safe keeping.ARCA blog: In your article, you discuss the work done at the J. Paul Getty Museum, could you elaborate here for our readers?
Ms. Cattey: In the summer of 2007, the J. Paul Getty Museum launched a new feature on their website in conjunction with the Courtauld Institute of Art and the Royal Collection. Developed by a paintings conservator and a paintings curator, Yvonne Szafran and Anne Woollett respectively, “Cranach Magnified” is a project that allows visitors of the site “to compare macroscopic details” of paintings by sixteenth century German Renaissance painter Cranach the Elder. The concept originated upon analysis of the Getty’s own Cranach painting, Faun and his Family with a Slain Lion. Szafran and Woollett observed in the painting’s background, a man running down hill, whose actual size is one-third of a centimeter.
This type of in-depth analysis provides many benefits for the art world and its enthusiasts. The access “Cranach Magnified” creates is unrivaled. Using photomacrography, the Getty Museum produced a new way to interact with works of art. It also allows side-by-side comparison of works that are in separate collections, which is the main objective of “Cranach Magnified.”
ARCA blog: In your article, you discuss a company, Art Access and Research, that uses photomacrography as an alternative security method, using cracks and brushstrokes of a painting as an ‘internal barcode’. You are suggesting that this can prevent a forgery from being passed off as an original. Could this be applied to all paintings?
Ms. Cattey: Yes, but it shouldn’t be limited to just paintings. It can be applied to prints, sketches, sculptures, etc. High resolution imaging captures features of the work of art that do not change, without damaging the original work. By having magnified images of the craquelure pattern, brushstrokes, signature or any unique identifier of that work of art not only deters forgery, but also helps in identification and proof of ownership disputes.ARCA blog: How do you suggest that the art world begin using photomacrography to its fullest potential?
Ms. Cattey: To start, whether you are a museum, private institution, or private collector, having photographic records as an inventory list is essential. That way, if any misfortune does occur, the photographs will not only prove what you own, but will also help the insurance company, appraiser, restorer or police department do their jobs. It also adds to provenance, encouraging owners to take an interest in keeping track of the history for that work of art and their entire collections.To seek out this piece, and many others, consider a subscription to the Journal of Art Crime—the first peer-reviewed academic journal covering art and heritage crime. ARCA publishes two volumes annually in the Spring and Fall. Individual, Institutional, electronic and printed versions are all available, with subscriptions as low as 30 Euros. All proceeds go to ARCA's nonprofit research and education initiatives. Please see the publications page for more information.