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In January 2017 I spent an afternoon at the Rijksmuseum with Duncan Bull, Cecile van der Harten and Peter Gorgels. A South African who has lived in The Netherlands for some decades, Duncan is heading up the curation of the Robert Jacob Gordon Collection as part of the Goede Hoop: South Africa and The Netherlands from 1600 exhibition that opened on February 17. Cecile is the Head of the Image Department at the Rijksmuseum and gave me a personal tour of the museum’s digitization facilities. And Peter manages the Rijksmuseum’s digital communication.

I was invited to meet with Duncan and Cecile because Africa Media Online had digitized the document collection of the Robert Jacob Gordon Collection for The Brenthurst Library in Johannesburg. Robert Jacob Gordon was the last Dutch governor of the Cape Colony and The Brenthurst Library have his writings as part of their collection whilst the Rijksmuseum hold his sketches, maps and paintings. Digitising the collections held at both institutions enabled the possibility of presenting the complete collection for the first time.

A print screen of the front page of Rijksmuseum's Robert Jacob Gordon Collection website showing one of the Brenthurst Library's Gordon Collection manuscripts that Africa Media Online digitised

A print screen of the front page of Rijksmuseum’s Robert Jacob Gordon Collection website showing one of the Brenthurst Library’s Gordon Collection manuscripts that Africa Media Online digitised

Duncan emailed me recently to alert me to the fact that they have just launched the Robert Jacob Gordon Collection website that brings together both the manuscript and the artworks collections. They really have done a beautiful job of enabling one to get a close look at items in the collection. If you click on the Writings and Drawings section you can get a really close up view of the materials from the Brenthurst Library that we digitised. When he received the images Duncan emailed to say, “Thank you very much indeed for the excellent work you did scanning the Brenthurst MSS. They are exactly what we wanted, and are an enormous help.” And his colleague, Geoffrey Badenhorst, also of South African extraction, emailed to say, “It must have been an immense task to digitalising all the manuscripts. We are ever so pleased with the result.” That response was certainly very satisfying, meeting the expectations of an institution World-reknowned for its exacting standards in the digitisation area.

I spent time with Cecile looking at the technology the Rijksmuseum is using to capture artifacts and rare manuscripts. It confirmed to me that we have pursued the right course in shifting across from scanners to medium format digital cameras. They too use Broncolor lights but went the Hasselblad camera and digital back at a time when Phase One had not started to develop systems specifically for the digitisation of heritage collections. Staff Photographer Henni van Beek showed me the specialised copy table that they had manufactured for the digitisation of rare books and I got to see a number of their studios digitising various types of artifacts. The image department is at the heart of the Rijksmuseum’s open access strategy. By 2020 they hope to have digitised 1.1 million artworks!

Cecile van der Harten Head of the Image Department at the Rijksmuseum (left) in one of the studios with Staff Photographer Henni van Beek demonstrating the capture of a rare manuscript

Cecile van der Harten Head of the Image Department at the Rijksmuseum (left) in one of the studios with Staff Photographer Henni van Beek (at the computer on the right) with their setup to capture rare manuscripts

Peter Gorgels has overseen the development of the Rijksmuseum’s award-winning website. “We only have 8,000 artworks on display at the museum, yet we have 1.1 million artworks in storage. So digitization is a way to create accessibility,” he said.

Peter and his department created the concept of the Rijksstudio where over 100,000 images of artworks from the museum are made available in high resolution (2,500 pixels x 2,500 pixels) for download and for re-use. “In the past, we were really high-brow and stuffy”, Peter said. The museum spent some years doing a complete renovation and so had a lot of time to digitise their collections. “When we reopened we wanted to make our collections really accessible.”

“The collections belongs to everyone,” he said, “The artworks become ambassadors for the museum. Making them open access is in line with the mission of the museum.” The artworks are all out-of-copyright works and the museum runs an open access policy where they believe that the public have the right to access the artworks and create derivative works.

“In the first year that we launched Rijksstudio use of the images was restricted to private use. We then discovered that the profit from selling images was very little. So then we decided to open it up completely fitting in with the thinking of Creative Commons and Wikkicommons. We found the line between commercial and non-commercial is very thin so in the end we went for simplicity. It is actually hard work to make money from licensing and so it was easier just to make it all open.” Peter and his team run a competition every year called the Rijksstudio Award where designers are encouraged to make creative derivative works inspired by works presented on the Rijksstudio. “That people can recreate and use the artworks for commercial use makes them relevant for now. We do, however, ask for credit and people are not allowed to use Rijksmuseum logo because brand value is very high. The value of the digital images, on the other hand, is low.”

Even the architecture of the revamped Rijksmuseum speaks of openness, accessibility and simplicity, values they have carried through to all of their interactions with the public, including their online presence. This area including their coffee shop and bookshop is open to the public without a ticket

Even the architecture of the revamped Rijksmuseum speaks of openness, accessibility and simplicity, values they have carried through to all of their interactions with the public, including their online presence. This area including their coffee shop and bookshop is open to the public without a ticket

Within the Rijksstudio website, users can curate their own collections, much like on Pinterest and share them across social media. Users can even upload the derivative works they may have created. Certainly, the strategy seems to have worked. “The number of visitors greatly increased,” said Peter. He admits, however, “It is hard to tell if people who are coming to the website also come through the door. The average number of visitors per day since we reopened has doubled.”

“A lot of people are afraid to make their collections available online thinking that people won’t come back to the museum, but the opposite has happened. Seeing the real art is different to seeing it online. A museum visit is also a social thing.”

“When we launched it there was an immediate success that we did not expect. Now after four years later we are still being invited to give lectures to other museums and institutions around the world. This has grown our global brand significantly.”

The Rijksmuseum does have significant public funding, a vast collection and a strong global brand which together has created a “perfect storm” of bringing vast numbers of visitors through their doors. They are also situated in a city with other globally significant museums. Amazingly, the strategy of the relaunched Rijksmuseum has had an amazing impact on the whole city. “The number of tourists in Amsterdam as a whole has increased and housing prices have gone up dramatically. It has been acknowledged that the new golden age of Amsterdam started with the launch of the new Rijksmuseum.” Visitor numbers at the Van Gogh Museum in the same area of the city have also doubled.

The splash page of the Rijksmuseum website showcasing the new "Goede Hoop: South Africa and the Netherlands from 1600" exhibition. The Rijksmuseum website is purposefully picture driven with large pictures that show close detail

The splash page of the Rijksmuseum website showcasing the new “Goede Hoop: South Africa and the Netherlands from 1600″ exhibition. The Rijksmuseum website is purposefully picture driven with large pictures that show close detail

While this strategy has been a wonderful success for the Rijksmuseum and for Amsterdam as a whole, it does not necessarily translate directly to smaller institutions that need to create income streams to survive. At the CEPIC Congress last year I heard Jeff Cowton of the Wordsworth Trust Museum in the UK speak alongside Sandra Powlette of the British Library about their need to license material as a small museum acknowledging their differing circumstance to a large publically funded institution such as the British Library. As Cecile van der Harten said to me at the Rijksmuseum when I asked her about them giving away the high-resolution images of their artworks, “Of course, we can afford it!”

Here is an interview with Peter covering much of what we spoke about when I visited him.

In the first half of 2016, Africa Media Online took delivery of our first InoTec Scamax machine. As an organization we specialize in helping historic or archival organizations build digital collections. In our work, we have often come across collections where there is a large volume of material (read kilometers of shelving in some cases). Normally such volume would be captured using a high-speed form-feed scanner. But the collections we work with are historic and archival and so by their nature they contain a mix of material including fragile material, such as old letters and telegrams that risk being damaged if sent through a form-feed scanner. While there are many form-feed scanners on the market, many of which can do hundreds of pages a minute, few are gentle enough to allow us to be confident to use with irreplaceable archival materials. For over a decade now clients have entrusted rare, fragile and often irreplaceable material to our care. We have been determined not to betray that trust and have invested in systems that ensure we do not damage materials as far as it depends on us. So we avoided looking at high-speed scanners not believing any were up to the task of dealing with the materials we need to deal with.

Africa Media Online team members, Nkanyiso Ngcobo and Francis Ntsikithi work as a team on the Inotec Scamax machine. The machine operates differently to the standard form feed scanners. It is belt driven, which makes it very gentle on aged paper

Africa Media Online team members, Nkanyiso Ngcobo and Francis Ntsikithi work as a team on the Inotec Scamax machine. The machine operates differently to the standard form feed scanners. It is belt driven, which makes it very gentle on aged paper

That changed, however, when Grant Stott of First Coast Technologies introduced me to the Scamax machine at an ICADLA Conference at Wits. Scamax is manufactured by German company InoTec and true to the German reputation for high-quality engineering, the Scamax machines are not only incredibly robust and therefore long-lasting, but they use a unique belt-driven technology that is wonderfully gentle on pages. It is also surprisingly versatile managing the widely mixed materials in terms of paper quality and size that is par for the course in an archival collection. I did my homework, researching a number of leading high-speed systems, but I kept coming back to the Scamax as the only real contender for the kind of work we do.

Scamax has a reputation of being the “Rolls Royce” of form-feed scanners and it carries a price tag to match, so we have had to wait a number of years for a project to come along that was large enough to merit the investment. That project arrived for us when a further phase of the digitization of the ANC Archives at the University of Fort Hare in Alice was approved. Our team has been on-site in Alice for over a year now and is digitizing over 2,500 pages a day. In high-speed scanning terms, that is not huge volume, but we are not simply dealing with plain paper, but with a complex archive of very mixed materials. So that is a really good pace.

Africa Media Online team member, Steven Ntsikithi, prepares a folder of items dividing various items into one of three workflows - rare and fragile manuscripts are captured by an overhead camera, bound manuscripts by a v-cradle capture device, and plain paper by the Scamax machine

Africa Media Online team member, Steven Ntsikithi, prepares a folder of items dividing various items into one of three workflows – rare and fragile manuscripts are captured by an overhead camera, bound manuscripts by a v-cradle capture device, and plain paper by the Scamax machine

Preparing the collection for digitization has been no small task. When we started the project no one really knew the number of pages in the archive because the collection had only been itemized down to the folder level and not the item level. To prepare it for digestion, however, we had to undertake the enormous task of creating an inventory of the archive down to the item level, assigning an accession number to each item, removing duplicates in the process, and then arranging each folder into items that will go through the Scamax machine, bound items that need to go through a V-Cradle capture device, and very fragile or unusual items that need to be captured by an overhead camera. In undertaking this task over the past year we have discovered that what we thought would be an archive of 840,000 pages is actually an archive of over 1.9 million pages!

By the time the project ends we expect to have captured over 1.4 million archival pages on the Scamax machine so its robustness and gentleness will have been fully put to the test. With close to 450,000 pages captured to date – so far, so good!

Kingswood College is the first school in Africa to benefit from Africa Media Online’s 100 Megapixel Phase One digital camera. The Africa Media Online team was on site at Kingswood College in Grahamstown for two weeks in June 2016 to capture over 4,700 photographic prints, paintings and building plans. A significant number of the photographic prints were framed prints hanging on the walls of the school. Kingswood provided a team of assistants to remove the pictures from the walls all around the school and transport them to the museum where they were captured using our Alpa 12 FPS technical camera together with the Phase One IQ3 100 digital sensor.

The team loading framed prints onto the table beneath our digitization rig in the Kingswood College Museum

The team loading framed prints onto the table beneath our digitization rig in the Kingswood College Museum

Kingswood College suffered a fire in one of its main buildings some years ago and so are highly aware of the risk of losing the irreplaceable historic record contained in the historic photographs spread around the school and gathered in the school Museum. If you lose such history, a significant element of the value of the perceived value of such an institution is lost which has significant implications for the marketability of the school to say nothing of the intrinsic value of preserving the record of the thousands of scholars and staff that have passed through the school gates since its founding in 1894. With this in mind, Kingswood College’s Business Manager, Steve Gardner, was insistent from the start of the process of looking at the digitisation of the school’s heritage, that the digitisation of the school’s photographs and the building plans were of the highest priority.

The Alpa 12 FPS camera with a Rodenstock lens and Phase One IQ3 100 digital back suspended on our digitization rig above a framed print

The Alpa 12 FPS camera with a Rodenstock lens and Phase One IQ3 100 digital back suspended on our digitization rig above a framed print

The Phase One digital back with the Alpa camera made the rapid capture of large paintings, plans, framed photographs and loose photographic prints all possible. We had given ourselves two weeks to have the task done and although we had to work to midnight on the final evening, we managed to capture every framed print in the school along with all their plans, all the large paintings of their headmasters and over 1,000 loose prints. In fact over 1,000 loose prints were all captured in the last 12 hours. That just would not have been possible if we were still operating on the scanner technology that we used to work with.

Our Broncolor lights were set at 45% to the glass. This together with the high ceiling in the Museum meant we were able to avoid reflections

Our Broncolor lights were set at 45% to the glass. This together with the high ceiling in the Museum meant we were able to avoid reflections

We were somewhat concerned about the quality we would be able to achieve having to shoot the framed prints through the frames. It just was not economically viable for Kingswood College to have thousands of photographs, mostly with associated printed names, unmounted. So the decision was made to simply capture them as they are. With that in mind, as we began to capture, what was thrilling was to see the quality of capture that we were able to achieve, even through the glass of the frames. Having our Broncolor lights at the right angle and the height of the museum ceiling meant we got almost no reflection in the glass. The camera captures in full 16-bit per colour channel and the specially designed Rodenstock lenses meant there is no need to correct for lens distortion at all. It was only when there was dust or moisture behind the glass that we could not get brilliant quality out of an image. Even in those cases, however, we were often able to unmount the images and reshoot it. For the vast majority, though, we were able to simply clean the outside of the glass and shoot them as they were.

Timothy Zuma and I with Kingswood College Archivist, Shirley Fletcher and her team of assistants at a tea Shirley organized for us to say thank you on the last day of capture

Timothy Zuma and I with Kingswood College Archivist, Shirley Fletcher and her team of assistants at a tea Shirley organized for us to say thank you on the last day of capture

As with most projects, the capture of the images was the smaller part of the task. The greater task, which has taken many months, has been the capture of all the associated metadata with each image. For thousands of images it meant capturing literally every name of every person in a team photograph or a photograph of the school staff or school band. Although we harnessed Optical Character Recognition (OCR) where we could, it was still a mammoth undertaking, one which we have only completed recently. Yet for a school like Kingswood College, that wants to engage their past pupils, it is absolutely essential, because it means an old boy or old girl can go on to the school’s digital archive, search for their name and every image with them in it will be returned in the search results – a powerful means of engaging interest from past pupils. And it is the engagement of past pupils that is so often the key to future developments in any school.

In May 2016 I was in Johannesburg to pick up the first 100 Megapixel digital camera back in Africa from Brett May, Phase One’s representative here in Africa. We had purchased the Phase One XF camera with the IQ3 80 Megapixel back toward the end of 2015 and less than a month later Phase One announced the launch of the IQ3 100 Megapixel back. Phase One had a backlog of orders for the IQ3 80 Megapixel and so when delivering our XF camera, they delivered it with a stand in IQ2 80 Megapixel back. So we had not even received the back we had ordered by the time the new back was announced. Not to be outdone, I got in touch with Brett to enquire what would it take to take delivery of a IQ3 100 Megapixel rather than the 80 Megapixel we ordered. Brett worked hard to get a good deal on the upgrade for us and so in May we did the swap, the IQ2 80 Megapixel for the first IQ3 100 Megapixel in Africa.

Opening the box - the Phase One IQ 100 Megapixel digital back arrives at our offices in Pietermaritzburg.

Opening the box – the Phase One IQ 100 Megapixel digital back arrives at our offices in Pietermaritzburg. A first in Africa!

So what can 100 Megapixels contribute to the service we can provide at Africa Media Online? Well, a single shot from the camera in 16 bit produces a 600 MB file. That is almost the size of a CD per shot. And this is on a medium format camera system which already significantly outplays 35mm camera systems in the capture of fine detail. Our use of the camera so far, in a range of projects, has given us a taste of the incredible detail that can be captured. It has to be seen to be believed really and we hope to showcase what it can do in future posts. We now have the capacity to fully conform to Metamorfoze Strict and FADGI 4-Star standards, two standards for colour accurate digital capture of heritage resources. In the case of Metamorfoze, we can now capture at Metamorfoze strict at significantly larger than 2AO size. The camera also takes the new CMOS technology to a level that has never been seen before in a commercially available camera. CMOS technology has some significant advantages over the older CCD technology, particularly in allowing less noise at higher ISO. The back also allows of an industry leading 15-stops of dynamic range.

In terms of serving our clients in capturing natural and cultural heritage collections, two further significant features are, firstly, unlike 35 mm equivalents, the back captures in full 16-bit per colour channel giving incredible subtlety in colour rendering, and secondly, the latest firmware update enables an electronic shutter on the camera which means that captures can be made without any moving parts. That is highly significant for the capture of very fine detail in natural and cultural heritage collections such as when focus stacking. The camera has been used in many and varied projects over the past 9 months and still it amazes me every time I zoom into the fine detail of a heritage object or a natural history specimen.

The 80th South African Museums Association (SAMA) Conference took place in Pretoria from November 1 – 3, 2016. It was a privilege to be there and witness the commitment and dedication of so many museums professionals to their profession and their community. At the banquet on the final evening, all surviving Presidents of SAMA were invited to attend and be part of blowing out the candles on the 80th birthday cake in celebration of a significant achievement.

Here is a gallery of pictures that were taken at the conference which you are free to download free of charge for your own use or for use by your museum: SAMA National Conference 2016.

Cutting the SAMA 80th Birthday cake. South African Museums Association (SAMA) National Conference 2016 was held at Diep in Die Berg in the East of Pretoria from November 1-3, 2016 and included visits to Freedom Park, Fort Schanskop, Maropeng and the Cullinan Diamond Tour. The event also marked the 80th anniversary of SAMA and all surviving past presidents were invited to the banquet on the closing night as part of the celebration.

Cutting the SAMA 80th Birthday cake. South African Museums Association (SAMA) National Conference 2016 was held at Diep in Die Berg in the East of Pretoria from November 1-3, 2016 and included visits to Freedom Park, Fort Schanskop, Maropeng and the Cullinan Diamond Tour. The event also marked the 80th anniversary of SAMA and all surviving past presidents were invited to the banquet on the closing night as part of the celebration.

One paper presented at the conference that really struck a cord with me was by Bonginkosi “Rock” Zuma who argued eloquently that South Africa should aim at being an intercultural society rather than a multicultural society. This is the right kind of thinking for nation building – forging new identities in the wake of dealing with the inequalities of the past and seeking to build a united society where we are on the road to realising the ideals contained in the Freedom Charter. There was significant discussion at the conference about the role of Museums in this nation building, helping our people to deal with the past and move on into the future as a united people. Certainly, museums, along with the Media, are powerful institutions in this process if the mandate is taken seriously.

On the “Day of Reconciliation,” (December 16) I was listening to a debate on SAfm. It was a discussion about race relations in South Africa. The question was asked by one caller: “Where are the White people who are reaching out to their Black neighbours?” He went on to say he personally knows of no one, and he does not see any examples in the media. I thought to myself, how tragic. It is tragic on two accounts. Firstly because it is true, so many in South Africa can live their whole lives without having a positive interaction with a White person. And secondly, because those White people who do reach out to others are indeed hidden.

Bonginkosi "Rock" Zuma receiving an award at the SAMA Conference banquet from Riana Mulder.

Bonginkosi “Rock” Zuma receiving an award at the SAMA Conference banquet from Riana Mulder.

I suspect that what Bonginkosi was saying plays a significant role in why the caller had never experienced a really positive interaction with a White person in South Africa. Apart from the overtly racist White South Africans, who are given high visibility in the media, whenever they are exposed, in my experience the vast majority of White South Africans, particularly middle and upper-class English-speaking White South Africans, are happy to pursue the vision of a multicultural society where different groups exist side by side, interacting at the points of necessity, such as in the marketplace, as long as the interaction does not require us to change in any way. We are happy for people of other race groups or cultures to be included in our social swirl as long as the person went to the “right” school or tertiary institution, earns the “right” level of income, and knows how to conform to the social mores of our clique. In other words, you can become one of us if you have what we have and behave like we do. If you are not part of our circle the best of us will interact with you as poor souls who need a leg up in some way, and the worst of us will simply use you as means to the goal of accumulating as much wealth as we can to increase our standing among our peers in our social class!

His T-Shirt says it all! Mlungisi Shangase from the Durban Local History Museums at the end of a tour of Freedom Park as part of the South African Museums Association (SAMA) National Conference 2016 was held at Diep in Die Berg in the East of Pretoria from November 1-3, 2016.

The T-Shirt says it all! Mlungisi Shangase from the Durban Local History Museums at the end of a tour of Freedom Park as part of the South African Museums Association (SAMA) National Conference 2016 was held at Diep in Die Berg in the East of Pretoria from November 1-3, 2016.

Of course as with the middle class the World over, for this group, this is less a matter of race than a matter of class.  In fact, quite often, someone of the same race group, who is not of the same class, is even less acceptable than someone from another race group who is of a different class. The latter can become a curiosity, the former has no redeeming attributes! Upwardly mobile South Africans of all races understand this. I meet as many White South Africans making great sacrifices to get their children into leading private schools (the more expensive the more status) as I do Black South Africans. Belonging in the global middle class is about being associated with institutions of prestige and immersion into the “acceptable culture” those institutions nurture. Wealth alone and the right address will not buy you acceptability, and with acceptability, the wealth of opportunities that come with it!

Fort Schanskop beside the Voortrekker Monument was the venue for one of the outings at the SAMA Conference 2017. The fort was built as part of a series of forts to defend Pretoria after the Jameson Raid. For centuries now, South Africa has been a contested space, particularly over access to land and mineral resources. Greed has lain at the heart of most of South Africa's historic conflicts, and it is no less so today.

Fort Schanskop beside the Voortrekker Monument was the venue for one of the outings at the SAMA Conference 2017. The fort was built as part of a series of forts to defend Pretoria after the Jameson Raid. For centuries now, South Africa has been a contested space, particularly over access to land and mineral resources. Greed has lain at the heart of most of South Africa’s historic conflicts, and it is no less so today.

So perhaps we need to push Bonginkosi’s interculturalism further and speak about interclassism. I hardly have to be a prophet to predict that the vision of an intercultural and interclass society where members of different cultures and class groups interact as equals and are willing to change and grow toward one another, sharing resources and opportunities and forging a new identity that is shared to a greater or lesser extend, will be perceived as greatly threatening to middle and upper class South Africans of any colour. For many such privileged people in this country, if talk goes in that direction, they will leave… because they can… and because they honestly believe it has been their hard work and skill that has enabled them to accumulate the wealth they have. They tend to overlook the fact that for many of them the looting and plundering of colonialism, apartheid (and to a not insignificant degree in the post-apartheid era) has set them up for the privilege they enjoy.

You do not have to study news reports on the new political elite for long to discover that protecting wealth and privilege is not behaviour unique to Whites. Of course, those who are “in” are not “in” on the basis of their school tie, but on the basis of their struggle credentials. As with any elite, the World over, they too can be seen to change the rules to maintain their privilege and power.

One of the groups of young people from all over South Africa and other parts of the World with whom we played "The Power Game" as part of a programme called the Frontier Year Project.

One of the groups of young people from all over South Africa and other parts of the World with whom we played “The Power Game” as part of a programme called the Frontier Year Project.

African Enterprise once developed a game that we used to play with students we were teaching. The “Power Game” was a trading game where participants traded imaginary resources. After the first round, they were divided into three groups according to the number of resources accumulated, Group 1 being those who had accumulated most, Group 2, those who had accumulated less and Group 3 those who had accumulated the least. Another round was played and the groups reshuffled again based on the results. Then in Round 3, Group 1 was given the ability to change the rules of the game. Without fail, every year that we played the game, we saw the same patterns emerging no matter the background or culture of the students. Group 1 would change the rules to maintain their position of privilege and power. Group 2 would seek to club together to get one of their number to succeed in breaking into Group 1 to bring reform to the rules. Of course, when that person got there they could not change the rules and more often than not they were coopted into the “winning” attitude of Group 1. And Group 3… well Group 3 gave up, or began to protest and refuse to engage in the game. Welcome to the inherent power relations within the global economy, and the South African economy in particular. Only, here in South Africa, it is accentuated because the groups are arranged along racial lines. No wonder 23 years after the end of apartheid nothing much has changed. And on the whole Group 1 will see no need for change and will wonder what Group 3 – students, the poor and the workers – are going on about!

Children from Mseki Primary School in Guguletu township in Cape Town on a "rights of passage" weekend in the mountains above Kleinmond. My wife, Rosanne, taught at the school for three years. The majority of children had no fathers and this "rights of passage" weekend was part of a number of interventions. We still maintain contact with some of her pupils 20 years on.

Children from Mseki Primary School in Guguletu township in Cape Town on a “rights of passage” weekend in the mountains above Kleinmond. My wife, Rosanne, taught at the school for three years. The majority of children had no fathers and this “rights of passage” weekend was part of a number of interventions. We still maintain contact with some of her pupils 20 years on.

That is not the end of the story, however. Every now and then, while playing the Power Game with students, we came across a student who had made it into Group 1 who fought hard to change things. Mostly they quickly found themselves sidelined and dropped into Group 2 and even Group 3, but on occasion, they made an impact in some way or another.

This brings me to the second reason the SAfm caller’s testimony of not knowing of one case in his life or in the media where a White person reached out to a Black person is tragic, is because all over this country there are many who are doing so, often at great cost to themselves. And this is not just about White people reaching out to Black people but people of any colour not being content to keep the life of privilege to themselves, but being willing to sacrifice to see others uplifted.

Shareholder in Africa Media Online, Rouen Bruni, is a homeopath who started an organization providing care for families infected and affected by HIV/AIDS in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

Shareholder in Africa Media Online, Rouen Bruni, is a homeopath who started an organization providing care for families infected and affected by HIV/AIDS in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

I know many of these people. People who stood against apartheid at great cost to themselves, even when there was no incentive to do so – because they were actually privileged by it, yet they fought against it because they believed it to be unjust – and people who in the post-apartheid era have stood for justice, particularly for the disenfranchised and the vulnerable.

I once worked with Charlie Bester who went to prison for a number of years because he refused to take up arms against fellow South Africans and serve in the SADF in what he believed was an unjust war. Angela Kemm worked for years in solidarity with a squatter community in KTC. Together, their effort eventually won the Tambo Square community land and houses in the buffer zone between Mannenberg and Gugulethu in Cape Town, a community now called Tambo Village. Piet Dreyer gathered over 50 churches in Pietermaritzburg in the early 1990s to respond to the refugee crisis created by the Seven Day War between Inkatha and ANC in the Edendale Valley. Their feeding scheme was eventually feeding 40,000 people a week in the greater Pietermarizburg area and the organisation, Project Gateway continues to this day to provide job skills development and access to markets for peri-urban communities.

Project Gateway is resident in the Old Prison in Pietermaritzburg. For over two decades it has played a pivotal role in the city in mobilizing churches, businesses and community organizations on behalf of vulnerable communities in and around the city.

Project Gateway is resident in the Old Prison in Pietermaritzburg. For over two decades it has played a pivotal role in the city in mobilizing churches, businesses and community organizations on behalf of vulnerable communities in and around the city.

I am a trustee of an organisation founded by Benson Okyere-Manu, a Ghanaian. He pioneered Community Care Project to assist those affected and infected by HIV/AIDS working with tens of thousands of young people in KwaZulu-Natal. Suzannah Farr started an organistion called Generation of Leaders Discovered (GOLD) to help vulnerable youth reach their potential. Annette Ntombiyenkosi Muchache (nee Landman) from a conservative Afrikaans Northern Transvaal farming family left the SADF to work among the rural poor in Northern KZN and then in southern Mozambique adopting several children of various colours, starting three schools and an orphanage for children affected by the war in Mozambique and eventually marrying a Shangane man. Together with Bridget Walters she started Nansindlela Primary School in Ingwavuma which over the decades attracted many teachers who had graduated from top universities, to teach in that rural community. Every year the top 50 places in the Dusi Canoe Marathon are dominated by young men from the Valley of a Thousand Hills who are beneficiaries of Martin Dreyer’s efforts to raise up World class athletes in the Change a Life Academy.

And this is to say nothing of the many, many families I know who have adopted children across the colour bar. The point is that South Africa is full of many amazing people of all colours who are doing exceptional things, often at great cost to themselves, to build a humane society in which all South Africans are treated with dignity and respect as articulated in the Freedom Charter. It is true, these stories seldom make the headlines – good news seldom does! A politician mouthing off in a divisive way, is far more emotive, and so sells more newspapers than a middle-aged couple from your community who has decided to adopt a child, found a few days earlier in a pit latrine, as their very own – giving two to three decades of their life and the resources to match to nurturing the child. Or the grandmother with meager resources who dedicates what should be her retirement years to raising her grandchildren because the parents are deceased or absent.

I documented the work of my father, Dr JV Larsen MBchB (UCT) F.R.C.O.G. in his final week working at Eshowe hospital having worked as an obstetrician and gynaecologist for 40 years among rural women. In order to ensure an integrated health care referral system for pregnant mothers in Zululand, he chose to work part time for KwaZulu Health and part time for Natal Provincial Administration. While that decision, along with such sacrifices by his colleagues, saved the lives of literally hundreds of women and babies, (the infant mortality rate in the region dropped dramatically over the decades of their service), it came at a personal cost - part-time staff do not get pensions like their full-time colleagues - a cost he knew about at the time, yet was prepared to pay for the sake of others! In his retirement he began to work at the Howick AIDS Clinic for a number of years. Now, however, in spite of being in his mid-70s he is back bringing his half-century of experience to working as a consulting obstetrician in rural clinics in the KZN Midlands.

I documented the work of my father, Dr JV Larsen MBchB (UCT) F.R.C.O.G. in his final week at Eshowe hospital having worked as an obstetrician and gynecologist for 40 years among rural women. In order to ensure an integrated health care referral system for pregnant mothers in Zululand, he chose to work part time for KwaZulu Health and part time for Natal Provincial Administration. While that decision, along with such sacrifices by his colleagues, saved the lives of literally hundreds of women and babies, (the infant mortality rate in the region dropped dramatically over the decades of their service), it came at a personal cost – part-time staff do not get pensions like their full-time colleagues – a cost he knew about at the time, yet was prepared to pay for the sake of others! In his retirement, to sustain himself and my mother, he began to work at the Howick AIDS Clinic for a number of years. Now, however, in spite of being in his mid-70s, he is back bringing his half-century of experience to working as a consulting obstetrician in rural clinics in the KZN Midlands.

These, however, are the ordinary heroes among us who are daily living out the promise of the new South Africa. Certainly, the media and the heritage community, particularly museums, have a significant role to play in highlighting these stories as an inspiration to us all, stories gathered from the tens of thousands of South Africans of all colours who have not stopped short at multiculturalism, but have pressed on to the greater goal of interculturalism and even interclassism.

The Forum for School Museums and Archives (FSMA) will be holding its 2nd National Conference at St Stithians College in Johannesburg on Saturday February 26. The conference starts with a cocktail party at 6 pm on Friday February 25 and there is the option of a tour to Soweto and Johannesburg on Sunday February 27, but the real business happens all Saturday with a conference dinner in the evening.

I will be presenting a workshop in one of the afternoon sessions on Managing your Born Digital files: from capture to digital archive aimed at helping school archivists to manage the overwhelming plethora of digital files that are being gathered by schools.

The programme, put together by Robyn Gruijters, archivist at Michaelhouse, promises to be varied and engaging. Nic Wolpe from the Lilliesleaf Trust will be the keynote speaker. Although it is in its infancy, the FSMA now has chapters in a number of provinces in South Africa and is playing a vital role in supporting the critical work of school museum curators and archivists, who play a critical role in the life of any school, but whose contribution is so often undervalued by the powers that be.

Click here to download the registration form and conference programme.

For three months in the middle of this year I had the amazing privilege of looking closer at natural history collections than I had ever looked before. I and my colleagues were able to see mind-expanding detail on the creatures – the hairs on the legs of a fly or the scratches on the exoskeleton of a beetle. Yet nothing quite prepared us for Thembeka Nxele’s excitement at what we were uncovering.

Thembeka Noelle places an earth worm specimen below our Alpa 12 FPS camera so that it can be digitized.

Thembeka Nxele, curator of oligochaeta at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum, places an earthworm specimen below our Alpa 12 FPS camera so that it can be captured, as Timothy Zuma, one of Africa Media Online’s digitisation assistants, looks on.

Thembeka is a World authority on African earthworms. She is based at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum. We were capturing the internal sexual organs of earthworms, a procedure which involves peeling open the skin of the earthworm and getting a view inside its “head”. Thembeka was looking over my shoulder at our large Eizo monitor. She had asked me to zoom into a particular area of the image. As we zoomed in to the fine detail, suddenly Thembeka became so excited she was dancing on the spot. When she had calmed down a little, she explained what we were looking at. What we were seeing clearly in the image, what looked like tiny little coils attached to the body wall of the specimen, were sexual organs that in all her years of research she had never actually seen with her own eyes. She had only seen them in textbooks and published articles by colleagues from other parts of the World. She went on to explain the significance of this for her work. “Now I can publish the paper I have been preparing, because I have the evidence,” she said, referring to putting forward an article on her research to scientific journals.

Africa Media Online Digitization Assistant, Willem Snodgrass, lining up a mammal skeleton for capture at the Durban Natural Science Museum.

Africa Media Online Digitization Assistant, Willem Snodgrass, lining up a mammal skeleton for capture at the Durban Natural Science Museum.

What Thembeka was benefiting from was the incredible resolving power of the Alpa 12 FPS technical camera fitted with Rodenstock lenses and the power of a Phase One medium format digital sensor. Together this was giving significantly more magnifying power than the microscopes the scientists at the museum had available to them. We were at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum carrying out a pilot project to digitise type specimens in a National Research Foundation (NRF) funded project. A type specimen is the original individual of a species that was used to first describe the species as a whole. At the KwaZulu-Natal Museum we were capturing type specimens of flies, earthworms, snails and even a frog. A couple of weeks earlier we had been at the Durban Natural Science Museum capturing birds, bats, shrews and mammal skeletons.

Dr Igor Muratov looks on as Africa Media Online Digitization Assistant, Timothy Zuma, lines up a mollusk specimen. Dr Muratov gave valuable input in the correct alignment of such specimens.

Dr. Igor Muratov looks on as Africa Media Online Digitization Assistant, Timothy Zuma, lines up a mollusk specimen. Dr. Muratov gave valuable input in the correct alignment of such specimens.

The first use we were able to make of our new Alpa 12 FPS technical camera with Phase One medium format back was at the Durban Natural Science Museum. Ornithologist, David Allen was our guinea pig, offering his collection of carefully stuffed bird skins to the enquiring eye of the camera. One challenge of medium format sensors is the shallow depth of field, particularly when the lens is set to the optimum f-stop of 5.6 or 8. For research purposes the goal is to have the entire specimen in focus so that researchers can see every detail. That, however, cannot be achieved in a single shot. The specimen has to be shot at different focus points and then the various images stacked in focus stacking software to produce a single fully-in-focus image. In the case of David’s bird skins, this was manageable with just 3-4 shots per view (we captured 3 views – top, back and side). When it came to Kirstin William’s far smaller pinned beetles, however, that leaped dramatically to 15 or so shots per view, and by the time we came to fly specimens and Igor Muratov’s tiny shell specimens at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum we were easily doing over 50 shots per specimen times up to five views. It took weeks to do what we had expected would just a few days and the processing work post capture also proved intense.

The image of a small mammal skull appears on our Eizo monitor. Numerous shots were taken of the skull at different focus points and then stacked together to produce one fully-in-focus image.

The image of a small mammal skull appears on our Eizo monitor. Numerous shots were taken of the skull at different focus points and then stacked together to produce one fully-in-focus image.

All that hard work certainly paid off, however, in stunning images of valuable specimens from KwaZulu-Natal’s two foremost scientific collections.

An image to give you a sense of the size of a holotype Neolophonus seymouri species from the KwaZulu-Natal Museum. One of the views after this fly was captured on our Alpa 12 FPS camera using a Rodenstock lens and Phase One back is presented below.

An image to give you a sense of the size of a holotype Neolophonus seymouri species from the KwaZulu-Natal Museum. One of the views after this fly was captured on our Alpa 12 FPS camera using a Rodenstock lens and Phase One back is presented below

An unsharpened image of the side view of a holotype Neolophonus seymouri species from the KwaZulu-Natal Museum. The image is at 5% zoom in Photoshop.

An unsharpened image of the side view of a holotype Neolophonus seymouri species from the KwaZulu-Natal Museum. The image is at 5% zoom in Photoshop.

An unsharpened image of the side view of a holotype Neolophonus seymouri species. The image is at 12.5% zoom in Photoshop.

An unsharpened image of the side view of a holotype Neolophonus seymouri species. The image is at 12.5% zoom in Photoshop.

An unsharpened image of the side view of a holotype Neolophonus seymouri species. The image is at 50% zoom in Photoshop. These images were created from 18 separate images of this view taken at different focus points.

An unsharpened image of the side view of a holotype Neolophonus seymouri species. The image is at 50% zoom in Photoshop. These images were created from 18 separate images of this view taken at different focus points.

An image of the side view of a holotype Neolophonus seymouri species. The image is at 100% zoom in Photoshop. This image has been given minimal sharpening in line with recommendations for heritage collections.

An image of the side view of a holotype Neolophonus seymouri species. The image is at 100% zoom in Photoshop. This image has been given minimal sharpening in line with recommendations for heritage collections.

When we made the decision last year to invest in a medium format camera system we researched the major offerings in the market and settled on Phase One’s XF camera system with what was at the time the medium format digital sensor with the most megapixels in a single-shot system, the IQ3 80 Megapixel back. At the same time, I knew that the kind of work we were doing in digitising a diverse range of collections at the highest level from museums, archives, media organisations and historic schools was going to require a camera with more versatility than the XF could provide. My extensive research convinced me that the XF camera would be the very best in the World in terms of both quality and speed for capturing museum objects and other materials in a studio setup. The IQ380 back, however, opened up to us significant possibilities for high quality and high throughput capture of flat materials from large posters and maps to negative and positive film and glass-plate negatives. Such flat materials ideally require the use of a technical camera. So that began a whole new research venture looking at various technical camera systems that could harness the Phase One IQ380 digital back.

The Alpa 12 FPS in action at the Durban Natural Science Museum. The Phase One digital back is mounted on the back of the camera.

The Alpa 12 FPS in action at the Durban Natural Science Museum. The Phase One digital back is mounted on the back of the camera.

Part of that research was to seek an answer to the question, what are the World’s most precious heritage materials and manuscripts captured on, such as the earliest copies of the Christian and Hebrew Scriptures? One obvious place to go to answer that question is the Dead Sea Scrolls, a project I had heard about from Simon Tanner, founding Director of King’s Digital Consultancy Services (KDCS) at King’s College London. I also happened to be doing some work for the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Razia Saleh from the Foundation told me about a photographer, Ardon Bar-Hama, who Google had employed to capture extensive parts of their collection including a wide variety of materials. Ardon was the photographer who captured the Dead Sea Scrolls. I had heard about him years before and the remarkable quality and throughput he was able to achieve, two elements we were set on achieving. In fact hearing about his work had originally inspired the journey to switch to camera-based systems that were so obviously getting the lions share of research and development in comparison to scanner systems that seemed to be falling by the wayside with many high-end scanner manufacturers ceasing production of what had been the World’s leading scanning systems – Heidelberg, Kodak, Fuji and others.

The Alpa 12 FPS technical camera with a Rodenstock Apo-Rodagon-D lens mounted on the front of a Novoflex Balpro 1 Universal Bellows. This setup allows us to capture very small objects including natural science specimens such as flies or small shells

The Alpa 12 FPS technical camera with a Rodenstock Apo-Rodagon-D lens mounted on the front of a Novoflex Balpro 1 Universal Bellows. This setup allows us to capture very small objects, such as slides and negatives or natural science specimens including flies and tiny shells

Ardon had not only captured the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nelson Mandela collection, but also the Aleppo Codex, the earliest surviving copy of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Codex Vaticanus, the earliest surviving complete copy of the Christian Bible. And he did it on an Alpa camera system. I knew that Alpa had already teamed up with Phase One to produce the A-Series for the highest quality capture in a mirrorless camera system. So I began to interact with Alpa as well as with other manufacturers of various technical camera systems. Alpa took time to listen to what we needed to accomplish with a technical camera system and put forward the Alpa 12 FPS as the solution that would give us the quality we were looking for in a package that would enable us to capture the most diverse materials in a highly productive manner.

In spite of amazing reviews, such decisions are hard to make from afar, which is why my trip to New York last November to attend the Phase One Cultural Heritage Practitioner training was so important. By then we had already placed a Phase One XF camera system on order. I got to look closely at other technical camera systems while I was there and was determined to get to see the Alpa 12 FPS. Alpa put me on to Jeff Hirsch of Foto-Care in New York who supply capture systems to many of the leading heritage institutions in that city, including The Metropolitan Art Museum. Jeff was able to let me handle the Alpa 12 FPS. What finally convinced me that this was the way to go was not only the quality of capture that could be gained from it – all the technical camera systems could do that – but its incredible versatility. There is perhaps no other camera platform that is as diverse, that allows us to put almost any medium format camera back on it, including Phase One, Hasselblad and Sinar and almost any professional camera lens including Canon, Nikon, Zeiss, Leica, Schneider Kreuznach and Rodenstock.

The Alpa 12 FPS attached to our motorized Kaiser copy stand. The copy stand is an essential part of what makes the camera system highly productive providing for precise and predictable placement of the camera

Looking like nothing one has ever seen before, the Alpa 12 FPS attached to our motorized Kaiser copy stand. The copy stand is an essential part of what makes the camera system highly productive, providing for precise and predictable placement of the camera

Having made the decision to go with Alpa, the Alpa team in Switzerland began to put together a specific offering for us that would allow us to capture the range of materials we said we wanted to have the capacity to capture. In the end, that included three Rodenstock lenses, including the leading German lens manufacturer’s sharpest lens, the Rodenstock HR Digaron-S 60 mm f/4, and Novoflex bellows. It was a steep learning curve to get the camera into production. Getting a remote trigger working on the system required some jury rigging to get it going, but the Alpa team was certainly supportive.

So where has all of this got us? Not only do we have the first Alpa camera in Africa, we have a mirrorless technical camera with lenses, the sharpness of which I have never seen before, and an industry leading digital back able to produce digital reproductions at the very highest standard comparable with the very best in use anywhere in the World. This brings to the capture of African cultural and natural heritage collections the quality and productivity we have always dreamed of. That has certainly been wonderfully gratifying and the results just thrilling.

The Heritage Digital Campus 2016 should have been called the Natural Heritage Digital Campus. With 10 participants from the Durban Natural Science Museum and the KwaZulu-Natal Museum, not only did the 5-day programme focused on building a digital collection of natural science specimens, but the event was also held at the Hilton Bush Lodge on the edge of the Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve and the Riets Valley Conservancy.

Participants in Africa Media Online's Heritage Digital Campus 2016

Participants in Africa Media Online’s Heritage Digital Campus 2016

Once again we had digital imaging consultant, Graeme Cookson, out with us from London, bringing with him experience of working with the Science Photo Library and the Royal Botanical Gardens. Graeme’s emphasis was assisting participants to understand the fundamentals of digital imaging and colour. My emphasis was helping all to understand the process of building a digital collection.

 

Oligochaeta (earthworms) expert, Thembeka Nxele, from the KwaZulu-Natal Museum presenting group work during the Digital Campus.

Oligochaeta (earthworms) expert, Thembeka Nxele, from the KwaZulu-Natal Museum presenting group work during the Digital Campus.

We worked hard to make the course as hands-on as possible. With a room full of scientists it helped that we ran the Campus at the Hilton Bush Lodge on the edge of the beautiful Umgeni Valley. We even had a chance to get out and about in the Riets Valley which flows into the Umgeni and a number of participants took the opportunity to collect various specimens for their collections.

 

Zama Mwelase of Durban Natural Science Museum (left) and Chrizelda Stoffels of KwaZulu-Natal Museum (right) exploring the Riets Valley.

Zama Mwelase of Durban Natural Science Museum (left) and Chrizelda Stoffels of KwaZulu-Natal Museum (right) exploring the Riets Valley.

In January 2016 we had the privilege of working with The Brenthurst Library for a week digitizing a rare collection of papers of the last Commander of the Dutch garrison in the Cape, Robert Jacob Gordon. The project was a collaboration between The Brenthurst Library and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The Rijksmuseum have Gordon’s paintings and digitization offers the opportunity to bring the whole collection together without having to move the originals.

As Africa Media Online we had just recently invested in a Phase One XF camera with IQ3 digital back (seen here syspended above my colleague Nkanyiso Ngcobo) and Broncolor lighting. The Gordon project was the ideal project to work on as the Rijks Museum required conformance to Metamorfoze standards. Our Broncolor Scoro E power pack with two Pulso G 3200J lamps provided beautifully consistent lighting.

Africa Media Online at the Brenthurst Library digitizing the Gordon papers as part of a collaboration between The Brenthurst and the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam. We had just recently invested in a Phase One XF camera with IQ3 digital back (seen here syspended above my colleague Nkanyiso Ngcobo) and Broncolor lighting. The Gordon project was the ideal project to work on as the Rijks Museum required conformance to Metamorfoze standards. Our Broncolor Scoro E power pack with two Pulso G 3200J lamps provided beautifully consistent lighting.

To do this, though, the work needed to be done at the highest standards of color fidelity. The Rijksmuseum are using the new European standard developed by Hans van Dolmoren called Metamorfoze. The Metamorfoze standard sets the minimum parameters for the capture of digital manuscripts where one needs to not only preserve the information contained in the manuscript, but the appearance of the manuscript itself as it was at the point in time it was captured. An essential element in this, apart from creating a custom profile that matches exactly to the capture target used, is bang-on consistent lighting. For some time we have been looking for a lighting system that is geared for the colour consistency needed when digitizing natural and cultural history collections. While in New York last November I had the privilege of interacting with Jeff Hirsch from Fotocare who advises many of the large cultural heritage institutions in New York including The Metropolitan Museum of Art. He pointed me in the direction of Broncolor, the World’s leading lighting system when it comes to colour fidelity. After investigating various systems, we realized that if we are going to be capturing the most significant collections in Africa, we needed to invest in the best when it comes to lighting. So we took the leap and invested in the Broncolor Scoro E 3200 RFS power pack with two Pulso G 3200J lamps.

One of our two Broncolor Pulso G 3200J lamps. Swiss company Broncolor is the World's leading lighting company when it comes to consistent colour temperature, which is why many heritage institutions have invested in their system.

One of our two Broncolor Pulso G 3200J lamps. Swiss company Broncolor is the World’s leading lighting company when it comes to consistent colour temperature, which is why many heritage institutions have invested in their system.

Broncolor uses a unique patented technology called Enhanced Colour Temperature Control (ECTC) that ensures the constant color temperature so critical in capturing cultural history collections like that of the Brenthurst Library. It certainly did not disappoint in the Gordon project, producing beautifully consistent lighting right across the entire collection.

The staff at the Brenthurst Library certainly expressed delight at the results. Apart from being pleased with the quality and consistency of the results, Jennifer Kimble, the Brenthurst Library’s point person on the project spoke of Africa Media Online’s involvement in the project saying: “They worked quickly and efficiently with good results. I liked their work methodology, they handled the manuscripts with the care they required and met the standards as requested. I was very impressed with the overall service and will recommend them to similar institutions.”

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