Foto Marburg

Helping to preserve Art History

1.7 million pictures

With around 1.7 million pictures, the ‘Deutsche Dokumentationszentrum für Kunstgeschichte – Foto Marburg’ (DDK, the German Documentation Centre for Art History – Marburg Picture Library) is one of the world’s largest image archives, and Phase One’s XF Camera System is playing a crucial strategic role in the documentation and digitalization of their works – which are important pieces of art history.

100 percent quality

June 2016: We’re here at the gallery building at the Herrenhausen Palace complex in Hannover with Thomas Scheidt, manager of DDK, and one of his colleagues, who are on site with an Alpa 12 max camera, Rodenstock lens and a Phase One IQ3 Digital Back. They are on site – photograph the gallery’s ballroom, and capture all of the intricate ceiling decorations and elaborate wall frescoes of this space, which was designed and decorated by Venetian architect and court painter Tommaso Giusti at the end of the 17th Century. The images are going to form part of a research project that will document baroque ceiling and wall paintings in Germany in their respective architectural and subject matter contexts. “When shooting on location, we also work with 35mm cameras,” Scheidt tells us. “If we need to achieve 100 percent quality, however, we always use an Alpa with the IQ3 or the IQ1 digital back, and 100-megapixel resolution,” he adds.

Workflow and preservation

Standardized workflow

The team’s workflow is standardized. The images are captured in RAW. If required, the employees at the photo workshop then make initial adjustments to the tonal value in Capture One, and export the image data to a TIFF. The image is then opened in Photoshop, where it is converted to positive, and the tonal values are adjusted for the theme in question. When adjusting the colour and tonal values for old and faded slides, correction tools are used together with Capture One in the RAW workflow, as, in Scheidt’s opinion, this digital color restoration delivers more accurate results than when adjusting the TIFF files in Photoshop. Before uploading the digital JPEG copies to the ‘Bildindex für Kunst und Architektur’ (the Art and Architecture Photo Index,, an online database managed by DDK containing over two million images, from 80 cultural and academic institutions, the images are first catalogued extensively in a database system according to their art history image motifs/subject matter and methodically prepared for the linked data world.

Impressive ease of use and durability

It is not just the end result that impresses Scheidt – he also likes how the Camera Systems handle, as well as their durability. “The Schneider Kreuznach lenses are fitted with a central shutter. This is a major advantage for us, because they are far more hard-wearing than a focal plane shutter. Given it is triggered around 60,000 times per year, this leads to significant savings.” As for the photo campaigns, he has the following view: “The Workflow and preservationcurrent Phase One XF Camera Systems are fitted with a CMOS sensor, which provides a good live view. Even though our photos go directly to the PC, this is still very helpful, because it means we can do pre-capture quickly. The built-in sharpness scale is also very convenient, particularly during the reproduction of large negatives.” In his summary, Scheidt is also pleased to report that the ease of use is excellent, and similar to a 35mm DSLR.
Christian Bracht, Director of the Archive, factors in the significance of the photographic material from an art history perspective – and, as such, from a quality perspective too – in his appraisal of the Phase One Camera Systems. “Our review lies in conveying media and the conservation of cultural heritage, whether that is in-depth documentation of architectural heritage whose substance is threatened, or a digital back-up of visual cultural assets, e.g. historic negatives. We are in the top 10 art history image archives worldwide, and our task is to achieve as high a standard of quality as possible. The Phase One Camera Systems give us ideal conditions in which to do so.”

Preserving cultural heritage

The archives are of enormous benefit to cultural scientists and restorers. The photographs collected over the past 100-plus years in Marburg played a crucial role during the restoration of the Dresden Frauenkirche, for example. “The high-end digitalization with our Phase One cameras, and the 100 megapixel-resolution sensors, mean that our images are available in the extremely high quality that will be sufficient for most research, teaching and publication purposes,” Thomas Scheidt tells us. This attention to detail is not only beneficial to users, but also to the historical pictorial documents themselves. “Thanks to the fast access to digital copies that is now available around the world, it now less likely that you will need to get hold of the original copy. This means that we are also carrying out a conservation task because, ultimately, removing the original from its temperature-controlled location will always place this valuable artefact from art history under a certain amount of stress – running the risk of damage to the cut film or slide,” Scheidt says. Using the Phase One systems also pays off when it comes to backing up originals that are at risk, as the Marburg-based photo workshop digitalizes the negatives showing signs of heavy ageing before the image information is lost.

The high-end digitalisation with our Phase One cameras and the 100 megapixel-resolution sensors mean that our images are available in the kind of extremely high quality that will be sufficient for most research, teaching and publication purposes

Thomas Scheidt

Head of Fotowerkstatt des DDK

Repro station with Phase One cameras and transmitted-light unit

The Marburg team has a term for this art history documentation process in their own jargon – ‘Fotokampagnen’, which translates literally as ‘photo campaigns’. These shoots only make up one fifth of Foto Marburg’s total volume of work, since eighty percent of their time is actually spent digitalizing historic images – primarily from cut film and glass negatives, but also from historic color images. Phase One Camera Systems are also used for this. “Our digital station consists of one Phase One XF camera with a Schneider Kreuznach 120 mm f/4.0 LS Macro Camera Systems and an IQ3 digital back as well as a flash box that we use to light up the Digital Back, as well as the negative while capturing the image,” Scheidt tells us. Although innovative and unconventional as far as repro setups go, it is one that, according to Scheidt, gives them a real edge in terms of benefits. “Because we use our Phase One cameras for both on-site documentation and digitalization, we use them to their full capacity,” the manager of the Marburg-based photo workshop tells us. “This also makes digitalization much more efficient. By reproducing photographic negatives using a one-shot technique, we achieve digitalization speeds that are well in excess of those achieved by scanning techniques.”

Maximum resolution and colour fidelity

The photographers’ perfectionism is not an end in itself because DDK, which is based at the University of Marburg, has an official task. “Our core task is to ensure that the images of material artefacts from our cultural heritage that we make available to academic research allow art historians and curators of monuments to conduct detailed analysis, and to do so without having to go to the site,” says Dr. Christian Bracht, Director of the Archive. The DDK is known for its high-quality interior shots, stresses Bracht, who lends some art history expertise to the shoots. “It goes without saying that it is extremely important to us that we achieve the finest resolution and 100% colour fidelity when we are photographing the kinds of works of art that are found in locations such as the Herrenhausen Palace. We guarantee this level of image quality by using Phase One professional-standard cameras and digital backs.”

At a glance

As home to around 1.7 million pictures, the ‘Deutsche Dokumentationszentrum für Kunstgeschichte – Bildarchiv Foto Marburg’ (DDK, the German Documentation Centre for Art History – Marburg Picture Library) at the Philipps University of Marburg, is one of the largest archives of photos documenting European art and architecture. Its collection can either be viewed on-site or researched online via the digital ‘Bildindex für Kunst und Architektur (, the Art and Architecture Photo Index) and ordered for publications or personal use in academia. The Photo Index is a basic service provided to academia, so access to the content on the portal is free of charge. The Archive and Index are tasked with collecting, providing and conveying photographs of European art and architecture and researching the history, practice and theory of passing on the tradition of visual cultural assets, in particular researching the medial transformation processes associated with this, the conditions of saving knowledge in a visual form and the significance of remembering visual culture in society.

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