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PERSPECTIVE: Photos and Fundamentals

Posted on November 4, 2020 at 3:30 PM by Ben Mayer

The last time I wrote a blog for the University Museums I discussed my work with the Iowa State Biographical Dictionary and while that work still continues for me, my main focus has now shifted towards inventorying and cataloguing newly received objects at our storage facility. Some may find this boring and tedious, but I find it fascinating and rewarding. When I was first introduced to all of the amazing objects we have in storage, I was eager to put my organizational and creative skills to use. I slowly saw this workspace turn into “my own” while I tweaked its layout and its setup to improve function for the tasks ahead. I took the first week or so at the warehouse to set up our workstation in preparation for unboxing, processing and photographing items. 

I couldn’t wait to set up the photography equipment and make my own photo studio. This is perhaps one of my favorite parts of my internship. I love taking precious and beautiful works of art and photographing them so they can be immortalized in our records and eventually available to the public through our eMuseum website. Adjusting the lighting, positioning the object correctly, adjusting the camera’s photography settings until I get the contrast, color, and depth I want are all parts of a meticulous process that I find grounding, peaceful, and fun. The process of setting up the studio and photographing the wide range of objects combined with the tunes I have playing in the background make me feel like I am a “professional photographer.”

Inadvertently, I will find that my mind wanders as I look through the viewfinder at beautifully crafted works of art – the work of skilled artist and artisans. I begin to think about the countless hours of work that were put into making such wonderful objects. I analyze the intricacies of each work of art, finding the most interesting features on them and trying to showcase their beauty in my photos. As I look over the objects, I ponder what the artist thought of when they were creating, why they chose the material they did, what ideas they may have had when trying to conceptualize the object before its creation, or what methods they used to create their vision. These thoughts and visual explorations while taking pictures are all reasons why my appreciation for the behind-the-scenes work that goes on at museums has grown so much over the semester. The meticulous work that goes into cataloguing, describing, and photographing objects before they are ever exhibited are all things I value now because they will serve as the foundation for which I can build a career upon working in museums or in other jobs dealing with art or artifacts.

I am an Anthropology major with the intention of becoming an archaeologist and I applied for this internship because I knew I could get fantastic hands-on experience in working with objects from all different time periods and cultures. Sure enough, I get to have a first-hand look at how to properly handle different objects, how to catalogue thoroughly and objectively, and how to be careful and thorough. All of these different aspects of my internship help me in building skills that support my goal of working as a professional archaeologist.

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