Thursday, June 3, 2010

Vision To Visuals: Preserving Image Quality

By Baldev Duggal Published in The Business of Photography
Laurance Rassin’s paintings being photographed for the book.
Laurance Rassin’s paintings being photographed for the book.
I’ve written a fair amount in this column about the rich experience of working with artists who donate their works for charities. We’re so frequently involved in such projects that we’ve become quite adept at navigating the maze of stakeholders who make these artists’ exhibitions possible, namely the sponsors, collectors, exhibitors and the artists. However, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when we get to work with someone whose artwork raises money for charity as well as qualifies for a world record. Laurance Rassin, an artist whose paintings have been likened to a “cross between Picasso, Matisse and Chagall,” created an exhibition whose proceeds go toward helping him become the first American artist to create art in space, as well as to support children affected by the Chernobyl disaster.

Simply Blue, Rassin’s first solo exhibition, opened in May at the Condé Nast Towers in Times Square with the support of three unique organizations. The Durst Organization is the real estate group that runs impressive art programs in its New York buildings. Valerie Wilson Travel, Inc., is an award-winning travel industry leader and one of the largest privately held, women-owned and family-managed travel consulting firms in the U.S.; they’re also the Accredited Space Agent for Virgin Galactic. Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl is a nonprofit organization that rehabilitates children affected by the disaster.

We worked with Rassin to create a unique memento for his exhibition—a book of photographs of his paintings that were digitally captured, printed and bound by the Duggal team into a beautiful square piece intended as a gift for collectors. Rassin’s work is described as extremely original, full of color, imagination and energy, and his canvases have been called “the best combination of old and new school; the next wave of great contemporary expressionism.” Such glowing praise is fitting for this true renaissance artist who’s as comfortable with creating pop imagery as he is with painting like the old masters. His imagination soars across multiple genres, technologies and experiences that transcend the normal in every way, including wearable “art couture” on fashion runways. The works displayed in the exhibition span a decade of Rassin’s signature color-filled, large-scale impasto oil paintings, bronze sculptures, ceramics, tapestries and textiles, and reflects his love of the modern era, space travel and romance.

To authentically reproduce such a rich legacy of work onto a second-generation medium such as a book, the most important concern in an artist’s mind inevitably is the accuracy of color, texture and detail to match the original. So, Rassin first tested our ability to reproduce his works by bringing his paintings into our studio. He was satisfied with the results, however, it was inconvenient for him to transport all his works into our studio to be filmed. So we offered him a unique solution that we’ve only recently created to address this exact problem—in a unique collaboration with Broncolor and Hasselblad, we’ve created a portable fine-art photography-capture studio that our team can easily set up on-site in any gallery, studio or production house to capture extremely detailed and accurate reproduction-quality digital files.

The complexity and rich detail in Rassin’s paintings is stunning when viewed in the three dimensions, but translating these works into two-dimensional images while maintaining their richness was the challenge. The process of transferring the layers of brushstrokes from a canvas through a camera lens onto printed paper requires an extensive background in digital photography, color theory and lighting. Using a Broncolor four-light system on the larger paintings, and a two-light system for the smaller pieces, our team led by Karl Rudisill captured almost every single grain by matching the results in real time with the images on the laptop to the ones on the wall.

It helped to know in advance that Rassin wanted to use the photographs of his paintings in multiple applications—a book, a website and a fabric reproduction. So being able to prepare the files for a true-to-the-original output on varying media required our image engineers to analyze every inch of the final file for any detail or color inaccuracies.

We often contend with a low-quality image that our clients bring us because pixels in their files just “fill in the gaps” of lost highlights, which occurs as a result of poor capturing systems. Our new Digital Capture System (DCS) removes this problem by allowing us to control the quality of an original through every digital iteration of the image. We’ve designed our entire process chain at Duggal around all potential errors by connecting original capture to the final print in a single seamless process.

From the time of the capture of Rassin’s works, to the layout, color matching, proofing, printing and binding, my team took less than a week. Moreover, we were asked to make a last-minute change as a result of a budget restraint less than 24 hours before the exhibit was supposed to open, so the images had to be reduced in size and laid out again to accommodate two images per page. My team met this difficult deadline by working overnight and printing, collating and saddle-stitching through the night to meet the unexpected time frame.

Although we’ve been able to offer in-house fine-art reproduction services for many years through our high-end scanning and capture systems, our mobile fine-art studio with Broncolor lighting systems and Hasselblad cameras is the first-ever door-to-door service for museums, galleries and production houses that are constrained by high insurance costs and risks associated with transporting delicate works of art. I’m proud to have created this service for artists like Laurance Rassin to give them the choice of being able to preserve their works in the most life-like, accurate forms as possible. With a small footprint, our Digital Capture System’s portability also means that any technical data or notes can be added per image to ensure an accurate back-read to conversion and postprocessing in real time. The color temperature easily can be adjusted for accuracy based on the specific lighting circumstances and environment of the location. The color accuracy of this lighting system is second to none—giving us totally smooth coverage of the art without obvious light transitions. The neutral-gray zone—or white balance—easily is set for daylight-capture viewing with the on-board digital controller on the packs themselves, regardless of what ambient light system is installed at the location. This is one of the key elements in this lighting system for accuracy. Due to the ease of use and the invisible sophistication of this system working in the background, it’s possible to shoot blind, convert the files to usable content and burn a disk, all on location without any postshoot processing, saving time and money compared to other systems on the market.

As Laurance Rassin prepares for his historic flight into space, I’m proud to say that we’re also able to challenge the science behind printing by capturing images at the molecular level—the nanoscale on which the world of today operates.
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