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Posts Tagged digitization

These days, most people may not be familiar with the interior of a rail car, let alone set foot inside one that is 100 years old. For those of you who have never been inside a railcar, it is very tight quarters—both for people and also for photography equipment and lights. So, when photographer Rudy Ruzicska and myself were tasked with getting new images of the interior of the 1921 Fair Lane, Henry Ford’s private railroad car (now located in the Railroads exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation), we knew we were going to have to get creative—and close!

Man standing on back platform of railcar in large room, with camera and light in foreground
Photographer Rudy Ruzicska setting up lights for our first exterior shot of the railcar…

Back platform of rail car in large room
…and the final shot. / THF186261

We knew that this was going to be a challenge, but a fun one. The largest rooms were at the front and the back of the car, with narrow hallways and small bedrooms between—and even smaller bathrooms! We captured as many angles as we could within such small spaces.

Interior space with coved ceiling, containing a man bending over a light, with other lights and a camera on a tripod in the space
Rudy again, setting up lights for our first interior shot of the lounge….

Interior space with blue upholstered furniture and wood paneling
…one of the resulting shots…. / THF186262

Interior space with blue upholstered furniture and wood paneling
…and another final shot. / THF186264

Back view of woman at camera on tripod pointing toward a narrow interior hallway
Digital Imaging Specialist Jillian Ferraiuolo (me!) setting up the shot of the hallway…

Narrow wood-paneled hallway with arched ceiling
…and the final image. / THF186265

Woman stands in tight corner of wood-paneled room behind a camera on a tripod
Jillian again, setting up the shot of the office…

Interior of wood-paneled room containing a wooden desk
…and the final image. / THF186266

For most photos, we use a Canon 5D Mark III camera tethered to a MacBook laptop. While we did use that camera for this photo shoot, we knew we would need something with a wider range to capture the small rooms. A fisheye lens is very convex, and because of that shape it allows the camera to capture a larger area. While these lenses are great, their downside is the distortion they create because of the curve of the glass. Since our job in the Photo Studio is, at the core, documentation, we want to show our artifacts exactly as they are, without that distortion, so to capture these small rooms we needed something more.

Our solution was to use another tool already in our toolbox, the Ricoh Theta 360 camera. This small camera is operated via cellphone and app and uses two fisheye lenses to capture a space. The app control allows us to preview the 360-degree image and remotely trigger the camera (so we can make sure we’re out of the shot). The app then stitches together the images to create a full 360-degree interactive image. This is how we were able to capture the interiors of the rooms completely, including the nooks and crannies of these small spaces where our Canon camera simply couldn’t reach.

Small camera on a tripod in a room in front of striped upholstered seating
The Theta camera, mounted on a stand, ready to capture the interior of the lounge. See the 360-degree image (and the others we took) here!

We captured all of the rooms (and bathrooms!) this way, with the Theta, as well as with the Canon camera, to make sure everything was thoroughly documented. Though this certainly led us into a few tight spaces….

Woman wearing mask behind camera on tripod in a stainless steel room containing a toilet
Man stands with hand next to knob in a stainless steel restroom containing a sink
Jillian and Rudy doing their best to capture the very small main bathroom and shower off the Fair Lane’s main hallway…

Small, stainless steel restroom containing a toilet, sink, and mirror
Stainless steel shower area with sink outside
…and the final images of the bathroom. / THF186274, THF186275

As photographers of the wide variety of artifacts at The Henry Ford, our job is certainly never boring, but when faced with unique requests like the Fair Lane, we get to have a little more fun than usual and really test the limits of our creativity and ingenuity.

I hope you enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at how we photographed Henry Ford’s private railcar. Be sure to check out some of the new images on the artifact card below, or click through to our Digital Collections to explore all of the images and 360-degree interiors! And read more about the Fair Lane, its travels, and its history in celebration of its 100th birthday this year.

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digitization, digital collections, railroads, Henry Ford Museum, photographs, by Jillian Ferraiuolo, Fair Lane railcar, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, photography

GIF cycling through a number of images of person with camera set up photographing a cabinet full of small packages

Rudy Ruzicska working in The Henry Ford’s photographic studio on August 10, 2021. You can see Rudy's completed photos of this display cabinet, containing "Munyon's Homeopathic Remedies" dating from the late 19th or early 20th century, in our Digital Collections here.

1956 was a momentous year in history. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vice-President Richard M. Nixon were running for re-election. The Montgomery Bus Boycott had just started, inspired by Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat the previous December. The Interstate Highway System was authorized. Elvis Presley had his first chart-topping hit with “Heartbreak Hotel.” There were no satellites in space, and the United States had only 48 states, since Alaska and Hawaii were still three years away from statehood. In the midst of all this, a fresh-faced young lad officially began a career at The Henry Ford. His name? Rudy Ruzicska.

Now, 65 years later, Rudy still works at The Henry Ford, expertly photographing our artifacts as part of our collections digitization process so we can share them with the world through our Digital Collections. If you see a photo of a three-dimensional artifact in our Digital Collections, chances are good that Rudy took it. His long career and deep expertise have been featured both on Detroit television news and on The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation (watch those clips below). He even received a congratulations on his 65th work anniversary from Innovation Nation host Mo Rocca.

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digitization, by Tim Johnson, photographs, photography, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford

Now that we are getting close to wrapping up our Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Museums for America grant to conserve, photograph, catalog, and rehouse artifacts from our collection, some of the staff who have worked on this grant would like to share interesting objects they’ve encountered over the course of the grant.



Marlene Gray, IMLS Project Conservator, has three objects she would like to share.

Machine on stand with large copper tub and motor below
Dodge & Zuill Easy Model C Washing Machine, circa 1912 / THF186088

As the IMLS Project Conservator for the last year of the grant, clearing space for larger objects in storage was our main priority. However, there were chances to conserve some interesting objects, one of which was a copper electric washing machine from the early 20th century. The dazzling copper tub was a sight to behold while in the conservation lab. While cleaning it, I remember thinking how grateful I am that technology has come such a long way in making tasks simpler!

Next is this footwarmer from the mid-19th century:

Metal box with perforations and decorations on sides and top
Footwarmer, 1830-1860 / THF185807

This footwarmer was a cute object to conserve because of the decorative elements in the wood frame and pierced tin stove box. One of the wooden columns had separated from the rest of the object. The opportunity to completely reassemble the object and give it a thorough cleaning made it feel as though the little stove could still be heated for the approaching cold months.

And finally, this lubricator cup assembly:

Piece of equipment with metal and brass fittings and black knobs
Lubricator Cup Assembly / THF181364

The great thing about conservation is that you are always learning about history through ordinary objects. While the conservation treatment of this object involved relatively simple metal polishing and glass repair, learning about the inventor of the lubricator cup, Elijah McCoy, and his connection to Detroit was fascinating. I highly recommend exploring his story, like I did!

For more information about the conservation process, as well as other milestones that we reached during this grant funded project check out Behind the Scenes with IMLS: Cleaning Objects, Behind the Scenes with IMLS: “Extra Large” Objects, and Exposing the Collections Storage Building.



Next up are Susan Bartholomew and me, Laura Myles, Collections Specialists in the Registrars’ Office. We have worked closely cataloging and researching the objects that have been selected for the grant. It was hard to narrow down our favorite objects, or at least the ones we think are the most interesting, but here is a brief overview of some of the objects we enjoyed working with the most.

My name is Susan Bartholomew. I am a Collections Documentation Specialist and simply put, my role in this project was to update or revise catalog records for objects selected for the grant. This included identifying and applying accession numbers, which allow us to track an object both physically and digitally using our database, as well as conducting provenance research, and creating or modifying existing records in our database using cataloguing standards.

My personal highlights for this grant include the following.

Wooden fire truck with red wheels
Model of a Hook and Ladder Truck, circa 1900 / THF170406

This incredibly detailed handmade model of a turn-of-the-century fire truck is complete with removable ladders, firemen’s tools, and what are possibly the world’s tiniest leather fire buckets.

Large golden teapot with long spout
Shop Sign, 1870-1920 / THF175572

From the tiny to the huge, this is a shop sign in the form of a giant gold-painted tin teapot. It stands over three feet tall and four feet long from spout tip to handle. For more information about this unique giant teapot, check out this blog post Senior Conservator Louise Beck wrote about its surprising discovery.

Wooden telephone designed for wall mounting; bell on top
Acoustic Telephone, circa 1878 / THF176648

A very early example of a type of telephone that had no batteries, this device operated on the same principle as two tin cans connected by a string, an idea that had been around for centuries. They were used in pairs and were connected over a short distance by a tightly stretched wire. With no dependence on electricity, they were advertised as being more reliable than battery-operated telephones. This unit was one of a pair used by the father of the donor to connect the flour mill he operated to the boats he used to ship his flour. One set would be at the mill and the other was placed on the wharf boat half a mile away.



And now, Laura Myles shares her favorites.

Like Susan, I have assisted with cataloging, but I also research objects more in depth to uncover missing dates and/or manufacturers, as well as approving records to go online into our Digital Collections. Working on the grant over the last three years has been a wonderful learning experience, as the objects are so varied you really have no idea what to expect.

Large wooden projector-like apparatus
Charles Ponti Megalethoscope, 1862 / THF179318

Large wooden projector-like apparatus
Charles Ponti Megalethoscope, 1862 / THF179324

Image of building wrapped around a public square
Megalethoscope Slide, "St. Mark's Square," unlit / THF179345

Image of building wrapped around a public square filled with people
Megalethoscope Slide, "St. Mark's Square," lit up / THF179346

Perhaps my most favorite object is the megalethoscope and its slides. One of the best parts of my job is rediscovering hidden treasures in the collection. While we knew this was something special by looking at it, it was not until we were working on the slides that we knew how truly special it was.

At first glance, it looks like the megalethoscope is a fancy magic lantern device—merely projecting the images on slides. The megalethoscope was designed by Charles Ponti while he was living in Venice, Italy circa 1862. Ponti photographed his travels through France, Switzerland, Italy, and Egypt, and it was these photographs that he turned into transparencies for his megalethoscope, costing five francs each at the time. These transparencies look like normal slides until they are inserted into the megalethoscope and manipulated to show night views painted onto the backs of the images but hidden by a dustcover. One of the 22 slides can be seen above. For even more information about the megalethoscope, here is a blog post written about its conservation and photography.

Metal cannon with some decorative banding, mounted on a metal (?) cart
Naval Cannon, circa 1780 / THF179510

Another object that I enjoyed researching was this naval cannon. While we know this cannon was accessioned in 1929, we do not have information about who made it or where it was used. Based on its estimated manufacture date, circa 1780, and similar design to British artillery, I reached out to the Royal Armouries, which helped eliminate the possibility of it being British in origin. Unfortunately, we do not know its history, but at least we know it was very likely made in the United States to be used on a merchant marine vessel.

Wooden sign with image of man and text
Sign / THF172438

This sign advertising the O. H. Perry Inne is one of my favorites just for its connection to the War of 1812 and Oliver Hazard Perry. On the front of the sign is a portrait of Perry, there is an eagle with seventeen stars above (although there were eighteen states by 1813, further adding to the mystery), and the words “Lake Erie” below on the reverse. Perry was regarded as a hero after defeating a British squadron in Lake Erie, which led to Detroit being freed from British control. Unfortunately, this sign’s history has been lost to time, although there are similar signs that have come up for auction. It seems likely that some local establishment capitalized on Perry’s name, probably along Lake Erie. We can only imagine the building it adorned.

Metal turtle whose shell opens to reveal a bowl inside
Spittoon / THF186256

One of the more recent objects to make my short list, and Susan’s as well, is this turtle spittoon. We think it is one of the cutest objects to have come through the IMLS pipeline, especially since spittoons themselves are not the most elegant of objects. Apparently turtle designs for spittoons were quite popular in their time, as well as remaining popular among collectors. The one in our collection is functional: pressing the turtle’s head flips open the shell to reveal the bowl.

If you would like to know more about the cataloging process, you can read more about that here (and see a few more interesting objects we have worked on as a result of this and a previous IMLS grant), and if you would like to know more about the provenance research Susan refers to, check out Associate Registrar Aimee Burpee’s blog post.



This is but a small sampling of some of our favorite objects from this grant. Over the course of the grant so far, we've digitized nearly 3,000 objects, and cataloged and conserved over 4,300 total objects. Unfortunately, this means that we had to be a little bit picky in what we shared here, but hopefully you will discover more of the treasures from our Collections Storage Building yourself while searching our Digital Collections.


Marlene Gray is IMLS Project Conservator, Susan Bartholomew is Collections Documentation Specialist, and Laura Myles is Collections Specialist, all at The Henry Ford.

by Marlene Gray, by Susan Bartholomew, by Laura Myles, digitization, research, conservation, collections care, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, IMLS grant

Throughout the month of November 2020, we’ve been celebrating reaching the milestone of 100,000 digitized artifacts by sharing out blog posts and fun facts, hosting Twitter chats with our digitization staff, and counting down the 20 most-viewed artifacts in our Digital Collections. In case you missed any of these great resources, we wanted to share them all here for easy reference.

If you follow us on social media, you might have seen the “top 20” countdown of our most-viewed digitized artifacts of all time, but if you’d like to get a broader look, you can check out the top 100 in this Expert Set. Fans of The Henry Ford will recognize many of the artifacts, but there may be some on the list that surprise you.

GIF that runs through 20 slides with text and images
The Henry Ford's all-time top 20 most-viewed digitized artifacts. Do any of them surprise you?

Here, also, are all of the fun facts about our digitization program and our Digital Collections that we shared out on social media.

GIF that runs through slides with text and background images of collections
Twenty fun facts about digitization and our Digital Collections.

During the first week of November, we provided a general introduction to our Digital Collections, our digitization program, and our workflows.

  • First was our announcement that we had just digitized our 100,000th artifact, and were kicking off the month-long celebration. You can also read our press release here.
  • If you’re interested in becoming an expert in using our Digital Collections, or just not sure where to start, this blog post will give you a run-down of the ways you can search, view, and use our digitized artifacts.
  • Associate Curator, Digital Content Andy Stupperich shared how we add context to artifacts in our Digital Collections in this post.
  • Saige Jedele, also an Associate Curator, Digital Content, took us behind the scenes with The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation to discover how digitization helps shape the stories we cover on the show--and helps you to learn more afterwards.
  • Like many other people around the world, a lot of our staff have spent time this year working from home. Find out how we continued to digitize artifacts despite the closure of our campus this spring in this post.
  • As part of the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship, we've digitized nearly 2,500 artifacts from our collections. Find out more about the team and the process from Project Curator Samantha Johnson here.
  • In our first live Twitter chat on November 5, I discussed our digitization program, digitization workflows, and a bit about what you'll find in our Digital Collections.


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conservation, research, collections care, photography, by Ellice Engdahl, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, #digitization100K, digital collections, digitization

In 2017, I had the opportunity to work with our curator of domestic life, Jeanine Head Miller, on a new Expert Set featuring alphabet blocks and spelling toys from our collections. We chose one example based on a nearly 20-year-old photograph from our collections database. It was dated between 1860 and 1880 and appeared to be a set of wooden alphabet blocks with images printed on the reverse that could be assembled to complete two puzzles. Notes in the database and an image on the box lid alluded to more, so we decided to re-photograph the blocks before adding them to our Digital Collections.

box, standing vertically with blocks with image on them in it; box lid lying in front with image on it
Image taken in 2000; touched up in 2017 by Jim Orr, image services specialist / THF133429

While conducting research for the Expert Set, I visited our photographic studio to see the blocks in person. They were in good condition, and I was able to carefully – with gloves and on a clean surface – assemble each of eight possible solutions, revealing not only the alphabet and two 12-block puzzles visible in our existing photograph (“The Farm” and “Anna’s Delight”), but two other pastoral scenes of the same size (“Grandfather’s Visit” and “My Country Residence”), two full-size, 24-block historical images (“William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians” and “Mount Vernon – Washington’s Residence”), and a map of the United States. The borders and place names on the map gave us hope that we might be able to narrow the date range for these blocks, but some text on the Mount Vernon puzzle gave us an even better clue – the lithographer’s name!

Corner of blocks with image and text at lower right corner
Reference image showing lithographer information [REG2017_1103]

A quick Internet search (an invaluable tool for modern museum research) revealed that Thomas S. Wagner worked as the sole proprietor of his Philadelphia lithography firm for a short time, between a dissolved partnership with fellow lithographer James McGuigan in 1858 and Wagner’s death in 1863. (Interestingly, according to the Library Company of Philadelphia, Wagner was “one of the few publishers of wooden lithographic puzzles” at that time.) Not only were we able to considerably narrow our date range from 1860–1880 to 1858–1863, we could now add creator information to our records!

We decided to have our photographer, Rudy Ruzicska, and digital imaging specialist, Jillian Ferraiuolo, create just a few official images of the picture puzzle – enough to document the box and individual blocks and to give online viewers a sense of the possible solutions. But I also captured reference photographs of each of the 8 completed puzzles for our collections database. These wouldn’t typically be available to the public, but to celebrate our recent digital collections milestone – 100,000 artifacts! – I’ve shared a few of them below.

Thanks for reading!

Set of blocks arranged together to display the alphabet in elaborate letters
Blocks arranged together to show several buildings and a yard with farm animals, along with text "My Country Residence"
Blocks arranged to show a line drawing of the United States, with states shaded in various colors

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toys and games, photography, by Saige Jedele, digitization, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, #digitization100K

My name is Jillian Ferraiuolo and I’m a Digital Imaging Specialist at The Henry Ford. In that role, I work with our institutional photographer in our Photo Studio, taking photographs of artifacts and preparing those for use in our Digital Collections.

Graphic with text
This graphic shows where photography fits into The Henry Ford's overall digitization process.

Every once in a while, our job requires us to step out of the studio, equipment and all, and photograph artifacts on location. Whether it’s taking photos of cars in one of our storage buildings or taking photos in (or of!) one of the buildings in Greenfield Village, if it can’t fit inside the studio, then we pack up and go to it. For example, the geodesic truss pictured below is in storage, but we needed to photograph it. You can see from the photo below how large it is, so instead of trying to find some way to get it to the Photo Studio in the museum, we went to it.

Camera on tripod in foreground pointing toward white paper with metal truss in front of it alongside a large red brick building
Photography staff and volunteers shooting the geodesic truss on location at a storage building.

Trapezoidal structure made of metal bars
The finished product: Geodesic Dome Test Module, Designed by R. Buckminster Fuller, 1953. / THF166740

One of the biggest challenges for us when we shoot outside the studio is making the most of our time. Given how large our campus is, we try to be as efficient as possible while still creating the same shooting environment on location as we would in the studio, especially when it comes to lighting and image quality. Another challenge of location shoots is that they allow less freedom than being in the studio—some objects are in a specific spot and can’t be moved or adjusted. When we’re in the studio we can change angles, move lights, and make adjustments easily, but if we’re out photographing a train car, and need to capture a different view, we have to move around it—there’s no way it’s moving!

Two people behind a camera on a tripod in a brick-walled room
Another example of getting creative to photograph a lathe used by Henry Ford out at the Bagley Avenue Workshop in Greenfield Village.

While shooting out on location can be a challenge, it is also a nice change of pace and a nice change of scenery. It forces us to think outside the box and get creative with taking photos—especially when the shoot involves something outside the norm. Take, for example, quilts—since they’re so large, we have to get up much higher than they are so we can get an accurate photo of the entire quilt. (You can read more about our quilt photography process here.)

Person with camera on landing at top of staircase, looking down over railing toward a large tilted board with a textile on it
Getting ready to photograph quilts from the Highland Park Engine catwalk in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

But whether we’re in the studio or not, we’re passionate about what we do, and we are ready to take on any challenge!

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by Jillian Ferraiuolo, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, #digitization100K, digitization, photography

Dark background containing white line drawings, notations and text

By the early 1950s, Ford Motor Company’s engineers had made over one million technical drawings of the parts used to make Ford cars and trucks. In 1949 alone, they used 13 million square feet of blueprint paper!

Large room full of tables, some of which have men standing near, leaning on, or lying on them with pencils or pens in hand
Ford Motor Company engineers at work, circa 1952. / THF125069

The drawings were being stashed away wherever room could be found. Since many of the drawings were for parts that were still in production, there was concern that the company’s operations would come to a halt if drawings were lost to a fire, a flood, or worse. Plans were made to microfilm the drawings so they could be stored more securely.

Sheet with text that notes among other things “top security for its records in the event of a bombing attack”
Paragraph from a 1951 brochure detailing the microfilming project. Cold War tensions were running high. / detail from THF135511

Three women in room with small filing cabinets along the walls and desks in the center
Eleven fireproof storage safes, holding one million microfilmed drawings, 1951. / THF123713

To save space, most of the original paper blueprints were destroyed after the drawings were copied onto microfilm. But a few can still be found in our Miscellaneous Ford Motor Company Blueprint and Drawings Collection.

Blueprint with blue background containing line drawings with notations and text
Blueprint showing part TT-7851-R for a Ford Model TT Truck. / THF138486

Dark background containing white line drawings, notations and text
70 mm microfilm copy of the same drawing. / THF406917

The Ford Motor Company Part Drawing Collection consists of over one million Ford engineering drawings from 1903–1957, on 70 mm microfilm. Each piece of film measures approximately 2.625 x 3.5 inches, and is in a manila envelope that shows the part number and the drawing’s latest revision date.

Manila envelope with handwritten numbers and red check mark
Envelope for drawing TT-7851-R, dated August 25, 1926. / THF406916

As of this writing, about 3,000 Ford part drawings can be seen on our Digital Collections website. Only 997,000 to go!

So, why don’t we “just” digitize them all?

The first challenge is the size of the film. Most high-speed scanners on the market now are not equipped to hold 70 mm film. And because each frame of film was cut from its roll and placed in a separate envelope, the film cannot simply be run through a machine.

We image the film using an Epson Perfection V850 Scanner with built-in Transparency Unit (a light inside the lid that allows it to scan film). Each piece of film measures just under 3 x 4 inches, so a scanning resolution of 1200 dpi (3600 x 4800 pixels) will usually suffice … but we go higher if a drawing looks like it will be difficult to read.

Three sheets with intricate drawings, notations and text
Larger blueprints, like this one for a V-8 Cylinder Block, were microfilmed in segments. / THF401366

After the film has been scanned, the images are straightened and cropped, and adjustments may be made to the brightness and contrast. If the film is a negative, we also create an additional, positive version of the digital image.

Line drawings, notations and text on light background
This version of the digital image can be printed without using as much toner. / THF406918

However, the bigger challenge is the data entry. Even the best digital image is useless if nobody can find it. To that end, it is necessary to transcribe the part number, the date of the drawing, and the title of the drawing from each piece of film. And many of the drawings include more than one part number!

Handwritten text reading in part “A-18254-B” followed by “A-18255-B”
If parts are symmetrical opposites, there is only one drawing for the pair. / detail from THF400831

Handwritten text in tabular format with numbers, dates, and initials
The revision history appears in the upper right corner of each drawing. This drawing is dated December 3, 1930 … but earlier versions may also exist. / detail from THF400831

If you are interested in researching the Ford Motor Company Part Drawings Collection, our Popular Research Topics page includes an FAQ and information about how to get started. Inquiries can be sent to research.center@thehenryford.org.

The Henry Ford is facing unprecedented financial challenges due to the impact of our 16-week closure and reduced operations. We need your help in securing our future. Love the Henry Ford? Please support all that we treasure—including our digitization program. Longtime supporters of The Henry Ford will match your donation dollar for dollar, so your contribution will have double the impact.
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archives, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, #digitization100K, digitization, drawings, by Jim Orr, cars, Ford Motor Company

Factory topped with several smokestacks and a water tower, with cars driving by in front

Exterior View, Ford Highland Park Plant, 30 March 1932; Object P.833.56894.1 / THF237509

When Ford Motor Company engineers developed the assembly line at the Highland Park Plant back in 1913, they were seeking to increase production volume in order to provide more automobiles to the general public at a reasonable cost, and in a reasonable time.

Move ahead more than 100 years to 2020, where the staff of The Henry Ford and the Benson Ford Research Center (BFRC) are operating a modern assembly line to digitize images and documents from our collections and make them available online.

By some estimates, The Henry Ford holds roughly 26 million 2D and 3D objects, with the majority of that total – some 25 million items – contained within the archival collections at the BFRC. Clearly, there’s a lot to move down our “assembly line”!

As is the case with auto assembly, there are a number of stations along our line, beginning with material selection, then material retrieval, cataloging, imaging, storage, import, export, and finally ending with online display. Improvements made to the speed and efficiency at each of these stations can lead to gains in the production rate of the entire line.

Graphic with text
This graphic shows where Rapid Capture imaging fits into The Henry Ford's overall digitization process.

To bring that speed and efficiency to archival imaging, the BFRC uses a process we refer to as Rapid Capture digitization. Developed by several institutions as an approach to increasing the scale of digitization, Rapid Capture is part technology, part process, and part philosophy.

Technically, Rapid Capture is rather simple. The equipment consists of a copy stand, lighting, a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera, and a computer equipped with photo editing software.

Photograph lying on black fabric with lights on either side and a camera pointed downward at it
Rapid Capture station.

The important feature of the camera is its full-frame sensor, which can create a 400-pixel-per-inch image of an item as large as 9 × 14 inches, allowing us to provide users with high-quality images for the majority of our archival materials, which can be easily viewed, downloaded, and used for presentations or reports.

At the click of the shutter button, the camera can record an entire image – perhaps an 8 × 10 photographic print – without the cycle time of a more traditional flatbed scanner. If you’ve used a digital camera or a camera phone to take personal photographs, then you know how quickly you can take tens or even hundreds of snapshots. The same holds true for Rapid Capture, with the limit on imaging rate being the safe and proper handling of the archival material, not the time spent waiting for the scanner to make a pass.

On certain projects, we are able to capture both sides of a photographic print in less than 60 seconds, translating to nearly 500 prints imaged in a single day. Our flatbed scanner can produce 10-12 images per hour, or both sides of just 48 prints per day. Starting with a single Rapid Capture workstation in February 2011 and now utilizing two workstations, we have produced nearly 100,000 production images since the launching the process.

Process, or efficiency in process, is also an important part of Rapid Capture. For example, since material handling is one of the keys to the speed of Rapid Capture, we work to select and schedule material in groups having similar sizes or formats and that are located together physically, such as the box of 8 × 10 photographic prints shown below.

box standing vertically; folder open in front of it with photo lying on top
8 x 10 photographs from our collection foldered within an archival box.

Another example occurs in the post-processing of images, which can also be done in a batch manner, including exposure correction, cropping, and derivative image creation. By using automated scripts, much of this work can be done unattended, and in the case of large batches, performed in the overnight hours.

Finally, Rapid Capture is in some ways a philosophy. Rapid Capture puts a premium on user access to large numbers of images, and in doing so forces trade-offs in areas such as perceived image quality and image resolution. An example of this trade-off can be seen in some of our Rapid Capture images, which appear slightly tilted, such as this image from the Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

Photo of train with steam coming from it at tentpole-like station with a number of people standing around
Railway Station at Haines Corners, Catskill Mountains, New York, circa 1902; Object P.DPC.014510 / THF204908

Rather than spend additional time on each image to create a perfect alignment, we’ve chosen to spend that additional time producing more images, with the assumption that you, our users, would want to see more “stuff,” and can accept some imperfection.

A second compromise involves image resolution. While the camera can produce images sufficient for online viewing and use in presentations, the images may not be adequate for advertising or commercial publication. We’ve accepted that a certain number of items may need to be reimaged at some point for publication use, but that the potential rescanning effort is outweighed by the ability to both produce and store more lower-resolution images.

Our implementation of Rapid Capture has proven to be very successful. In nearly 10 years of operation, we’ve created a large number of images that meet our goals for quality, usefulness, production time, and cost. And, as we celebrate our #digitization100K milestone of 100,000 digitized objects on our Digital Collections, we can also point to the more than 38,500 objects that are illustrated using Rapid Capture images as another measure of that success.

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digital collections, by Brian Wilson, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, #digitization100K, digitization, archives, photography, technology

Photographing Glass

November 20, 2020 Think THF

My name is Jillian Ferraiuolo and I’m a Digital Imaging Specialist at The Henry Ford. In that role, I work with our institutional photographer in our Photo Studio, taking photographs of artifacts and preparing those for use in our Digital Collections. Today I’m going to share a bit about the challenges of photographing glass artifacts.

Graphic with text
This graphic shows where photography fits into The Henry Ford's overall digitization process.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out our extensive studio and art glass collection (whether in person in the Museum or Village glass galleries, or online), I recommend you do so! We have pieces that range from teapots and cups to whimsical studio glass sculptures. Photographing these beautiful pieces of glass provides unique challenges.

The first task is to figure out the angles to shoot. Many of these are works of art, so figuring out the “front” and the “back” is difficult. Take the piece below, "Bubble Boy" by Richard Marquis, for example. It’s hard to tell what the best angle would be, so we take our best guess, and take more than one photo if we need to! Most of the time, we’ll look for a defining feature: say, a handle, or an area of the design that is most appealing, and start there.

Multicolored artwork with a base topped by three progressively narrower spheres/ovals with a protruding loop on each side, with a teapot-shaped crown on top
Multicolored artwork with a base topped by three progressively narrower spheres/ovals with a protruding loop on each side, with a teapot-shaped crown on top
Two views of “Bubble Boy” by Richard Marquis, 1988 / THF164207, THF164208

Often, the curator notes that one of these pieces is either historically significant or is important because of the artist that created it. In these cases, we take another step to capture more and create a rotating 360-degree image. We do this by (carefully!) placing the glass on a platform, rotating it by 20 degrees at a time, and taking 18 total photographs. This way we get a full picture of the piece from every possible angle! Take a look at an example below, or check out all the glass 360-degree views in our Digital Collections.

GIF of rotating glass artwork, red cuplike shapes on bottom and top, blue abstract shape in middle
Untitled from Relationship Series by Richard Royal, 1997 / 360-degree view

Another tricky part of photographing glass is dealing with its reflective qualities. As glass is usually shiny, creating an environment in the studio where we can control reflections can be tricky and time-consuming. Usually we create a fully white space around the object—if we don’t, every light and tripod and piece of furniture will be reflected on the object’s surface. We accomplish this very creatively with large boards or cloth, or if the object is small enough, we can put it into a tent that will allow us to fully control the space and light around it.

Photo studio with cart with laptop, many lights on stands, area blocked off with white paper
Aerial shot of space blocked off with white boards and paper; blue spittoon inside space; photography equipment outside
Examples of the Photo Studio set up to photograph a glass spittoon.

Then once we have everything set up, we take the photos, clean up the backgrounds with the magic of Photoshop, and enter the images and their metadata into our collections database—then voila, you get to see the finished photos in our Digital Collections!

Blue glass spittoon with vase- or urn-like shape
Spittoon, circa 1873 / THF168196

All that effort for a beautiful photo… of a spittoon.

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art, decorative arts, glass, digitization, #digitization100K, by Jillian Ferraiuolo, photography

Graphic with text
This graphic shows where photography fits into The Henry Ford's overall digitization process.

My name is Jillian Ferraiuolo and I’m a Digital Imaging Specialist at The Henry Ford. In that role, I work with our institutional photographer in our Photo Studio, taking photographs of artifacts and preparing those for use in our Digital Collections. As you might imagine, I get to work with many fascinating artifacts, and I’m going to share a couple of my favorites with you here.

Woman in foreground looks through camera as a second woman holds up part of a dress skirt
Conservator Fran Faile holds up a detail on the Cognitive Dress as I photograph it.

I think the most interesting artifact I’ve photographed is the “Cognitive Dress,” Designed by IBM and Marchesa, 2016. Besides being a beautiful gown, it is strung with lights throughout the skirt that change color based off technology developed by IBM using their Watson AI. Because of the innovative nature of this dress, and our partnership with IBM, it was important that we thoroughly document it.

Three people around a computer on a cart, with photography equipment and a woman adjusting a dress on a dress form in the background
The dress in the studio getting ready for its close-up with curator Kristen Gallerneaux and conservators Fran Faile and Cuong Nguyen assisting.

Normally we capture five standard angles when we photograph clothing, but this one was a special case because we had to account for the lights on the dress, and the changing colors. In total, we took 27 images of the dress, showing different angles, the shifting colored lights on the dress, and details of the skirt and lighting technology.

Dress on dress form with glowing blue lights integrated into bodice and skirt
THF167960

Back view of dress on dress form with glowing blue lights integrated into bodice and skirt
THF167966

Dress bodice on dress form with integrated glowing white-blue lights
THF167976

I enjoyed photographing this dress not only because it was a beautiful gown, but also because it was a challenge. To get the right exposure with the lights while keeping the dress lit up was tough, but that’s also where the handiness of Photoshop comes in. I was able to adjust after the fact and create a very nice finished product!

GIF running through various views and details of a dress on a dress form
Here’s a quick look at some of the shots we got!

Another fun project we had was imaging the Jens Jensen landscape drawings that show the plans for the grounds of Henry and Clara Ford’s estate, Fair Lane. These drawings were so interesting to look through—they lay out the gardens and surrounding areas of the estate in such detail, they’re works of art. Who would’ve thought that an estate would have so many blueprints? There are 29 in total, varying from gardens to orchards and even to plans for a bird pool.

Blueprint showing somewhat abstracted indications of trees, lawn, house
Landscape Architecture Drawing for Fair Lane, "A Planting Plan for section around service buildings," June 1920 / THF155896

Blueprint showing aerial view
Jens Jensen Landscape Architecture Drawing, "A General Plan of the Estate of Mr. Henry Ford, Dearborn, Michigan," 1915 / THF155910

One of the reasons why we had to photograph these prints in the Studio is because they are large, folded up into individual leather portfolios. Usually anything two-dimensional goes through our scanning or flat photography process in our Archives, but the nature of these prints did not allow for that. To get a good image of them they had to be unfolded, then carefully flattened with a large piece of glass while being imaged. The trickiest part is to make sure the print lays as flat as possible while ensuring there isn’t any glare off the glass from the lights in the studio.

At a glance, I’m sure you’d never guess that that’s how they were photographed!

GIF cycling through a number of blueprints
Here is a look at all the prints and the box they’re stored in.

What interesting artifact will we be photographing next? Peek through the Photo Studio’s glass doors at the back of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation on your next visit and find out!

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drawings, fashion, by Jillian Ferraiuolo, photography, digitization, #digitization100K, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford