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Art of the Month Club: Jim Gipe

The Williams College Museum of Art is excited to introduce a new regular feature to our blog, the Art of the Month Club. Each month we invite someone special to write about a work from our collection. We look forward to engaging with a variety of people through this new feature. Find your own favorite WCMA artwork by searching our collection database. You never know, we may invite you to be the next Art of the Month Club member. Today, please welcome our second guest, Jim Gipe, a photographer, digital imaging consultant, and owner of Pivot Media in Florence, Massachusetts.  Along with fellow photographer Stepehen Petegorsky, Jim has been systematically digitizing the WCMA collection, beginning in 2004 with the Encounter Art book project, and continuing on to the African and Ancient object collections.  Jim and Stephen are currently digitizing the Prendergast collection.  Their photographs of the WCMA ancient objects are on view in the collections database.


How many of you are reading this blog post through a bifocal lens, your neck pinched back as you squint through the bottom of your glasses?  Mid-life happens to the best of us.  As I peered through my bifocal lens to read Adam Falk’s first post in this series, I was drawn to his focus on the details.  It was a kind of meta moment, reading through my bifocal lens another man’s description of detail—detail that I could easily conjure in my mind, having studied the piece many times.

President Falk was inspired by the finest details of probably the largest object in the museum’s ancient collection, the bas-relief of the King of Nimrud.  In that spirit, I would like to share with you the finest details of the smallest objects in the ancient collection, intaglio glass beads.

I am one of a handful of people who has seen, handled, photographed, studied, and marveled over every ancient object in the museum’s collection as part of WCMA’s ongoing digital imaging project.  That’s more than 2,000 objects, and among them the beads are the smallest.  The day Stephen and I made the photographs attached to this blog, we were working in the Rose Study Room.  Emily Lemieux, Digital Imaging Assistant and project coordinator brought in a handful of really tiny zip-lock bags each of which contained a small glass bead, roughly the size of a button on a man’s dress shirt.  Stephen and I looked at each other for creative inspiration, because, really, how are you going to make an interesting shot of a tiny glass chip?

First things first; out comes the macro lens.  We use a state-of-the-art Hasselblad digital camera, so imagine a bifocal lens on steroids tethered to a computer / optical processor.  First shot, dull – change the lighting.  Second shot, not good – change the lighting.  Third shot, worse yet.  By the fourth attempt to make these beads look interesting, we decided to mix it up a bit and try back lighting, to make them glow.  We reconfigured our strobe lights, putting one directly under a sheet of glass and placed the first bead on the sheet. Align the camera – set the focus – trigger the camera. A flash and suddenly, there, rendered on our computer screen was an image of a tiny man on a tiny horse.  We were surprised, to say the least, as you could not see the etching with the naked eye.  Adding to the experience was the thought that this might be the first time anyone at the museum had clearly seen these figures—a moment of discovery, if you will.

Anonymous, Intaglio with figure on rearing horse, (93.1.50)

That moment delivered the inspiration we were looking for and we went on to photograph the rest of the beads in the same way, watching as each new figure was revealed in the bursts of our flash.

Anonymous, Intaglio with seated angel, Anonymous gift. (93.1.44)

Anonymous, Intaglio with head in profile, Anonymous gift. (93.1.46)

Anonymous, Intaglio with kneeling female figure, Anonymous gift. (93.1.51)


Above images:

Anonymous, Intaglio with figure on rearing horse, Anonymous Gift. (93.1.50)
Anonymous, Intaglio with seated angel, Anonymous gift. (93.1.44)
Anonymous, Intaglio with head in profile, Anonymous gift. (93.1.46)
Anonymous, Intaglio with kneeling female figure, Anonymous gift. (93.1.51)

2 Responses to Art of the Month Club: Jim Gipe

  1. Dick Fish says:

    Great job guys. Backlighting is not something I’d have thought about. It worked beautifully!

  2. Mr. Washing Machine Comparison says:

    I love these photos! Using the backlighting has an amazing effect on the figures. Thanks for sharing!