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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.

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Craig Stewart, me and Henri van der Merwe at a beach demonstration at the Strand in 1989 led by Alan Boesak. We were students at UCT at the time. Craig recruited students to teach in the Khayamnandi Boys Home in Langa, Cape Town for the Baptist Student's Union, which I was involved in, and went on to found The Warehouse, an NGO that tackles poverty and injustice in Cape Town.” width=”600″ height=”397″ class=”size-full wp-image-2410″ /> Craig Stewart, me and Henri van der Merwe at a beach demonstration at the Strand in 1989 led by Alan Boesak. We were students at UCT at the time. Craig recruited students to teach in the Khayamnandi Boys Home in Langa, Cape Town for the Baptist Student’s Union, which I was involved in, and went on to found The Warehouse, an NGO that tackles poverty and injustice in Cape Town.

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.”

I had the privilege of being in New York in November 2015. I was there to attend a course being run by New York based company, Digital Transitions, in collaboration with Phase One. Phase One teamed up with Digital Transitions to take their exceptional quality camera technology available to the capture of heritage collections. In many respects Phase One are the current leaders in medium format digital camera technology and are well known for creating systems for aerial photo cartography as well as for high end fashion, landscape and documentary photography.

In class at Digital Transitions, New York in the Phase One Digital Heritage Practitioner course together with practitioners from museums and heritage institutions across the US.

In class at Digital Transitions, New York in the Phase One Digital Heritage Practitioner course together with practitioners from museums and heritage institutions across the US.

Their open system, that allows their systems to interface with other technology providers, has meant they have been able to create some innovative partnerships. Their partnership with Digital Transitions for systems applicable to the heritage sector has been one of those. This partnership has led to some wonderful innovations specific to the digitization of heritage collections from digitization rigs and lenses to a cultural heritage version of Phase One’s award winning software, Capture One that includes such innovations as linear scientific colour profiles that ensure exact color fidelity, auto-cropping that ensures high productivity, and the ability to determine the exact dots per inch of the camera setup.

Nice to see a familiar face! Trevor Noah was plastered on bus stops and at tube stations - clearly a hit in the US.

Africans telling Africa’s story! Trevor Noah was plastered on bus stops and at tube stations – a humorous African perspective on the World is clearly a hit in the US.

While in New York I was able to do research on systems being utilized by a number of the leading heritage institutions and by the end of the trip, as Africa Media Online we took the decision to invest in a XF Camera body, IQ3 Digital Back, Schneider Kreutzach lens and Capture One CH software all from Phase One and Golden Thread colour targets. Added to that I qualified as the first Phase One Cultural Heritage Practitioner on the African continent. That qualifies me to capture at Metamorfoze and FADGI 4-Star standards.

I also got to spend some time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and took in three significant African exhibitions, Kongo: Power and Majesty on art from the Kongo Kingdom; In and Out of the Studio, photographic portraits from West Africa and and exhibition by fellow South African Jo Ratcliffe, The Aftermath of Conflict, images from Angola and South Africa – a real privilege!

Kongo: Power and Majesty, a major exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, November 2015. Crucifixes from the Kongo Kingdom, evidence of Christian influence in the Kingdom. These figures are from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

Kongo: Power and Majesty, a major exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, November 2015.
Crucifixes from the Kongo Kingdom, evidence of Christian influence in the Kingdom. These figures are from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

In and Out of the Studio: Photographic Portraits from West Africa, an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, November 2015.

In and Out of the Studio: Photographic Portraits from West Africa, an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, November 2015.

The Aftermath of Conflict, exhibition by South African photographer Jo Ractliffe - pictures from Angola and South Africa at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, November 2015.

The Aftermath of Conflict, exhibition by South African photographer Jo Ractliffe – pictures from Angola and South Africa at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, November 2015.

 

Toward the end of last year we were excited to take delivery of a brand new Phase One XF camera with an 80-Megapixel CCD digital back. For some years now we have been looking to a more versatile high end medium format camera technology to our existing scanner technology . Camera technology generally has been receiving far more of the research and development dollars in the industry as a whole than scanning technology and so we were on the hunt for a system that could take our digital capture to a new level.

Right out of the box - our new Phase One XF camera with an 80 megapixel back and Schneider Kreuznach 80 mm lens

Right out of the box – our new Phase One XF camera with an 80 megapixel back and Schneider Kreuznach 80 mm lens

We looked at systems from the World’s best medium format camera manufacturers. Finally we settled on Phase One as the system that could both deliver very high quality 16-bit per colour channel digital images with the high throughput of a single shot system ensuring we can deliver the best images in a cost effective way.

Our first project on the new system was the digitisation of maps and posters at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum. We had developed a custom rig to hold the camera in place and were able to set it in a position that produced an image of any item on the surface of the copy table at exactly 300 dpi. We were amazed at the colour fidelity and sharpness of the final images, noticeably sharper than what we have been able to produce on scanner systems in the past. The blue ring Leaf Shutter lenses produced by Schneider Kreuznach of Germany are a brand new innovation and certainly live up to the hype with resolving capacity of over 100 megapixels.

The AMO team working on digitising maps and posters at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum. The Phase One XF can be seen at the top of the picture suspended above Nkanyiso Ngcobo's head.

The AMO team working on digitising maps and posters at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum. The Phase One XF can be seen at the top of the picture suspended above Nkanyiso Ngcobo’s head.

While setting up the rig correctly takes many hours, once it is in place our productivity was significantly higher than comparative scanning systems. The KwaZulu-Natal Museum project showed us that we can now confidently bring to the heritage sector here in Africa the best of the best in terms of digital imaging on a par with the best in the World.

We are excited to announce that during the course of 2015, 51% of the ownership of Africa Media Online passed into the hands of Not-for-Profit trusts set up for the benefit of formerly disadvantaged communities, which is very much in line with our overall vision to enable “Africans to tell Africa’s story.”

Generation of Leaders Discovered seeks to empower youth, particularly in South Africa's townships, to make the choices that can lead to a bright future.

Generation of Leaders Discovered seeks to empower youth, particularly in South Africa’s townships, to make the choices that can lead to a bright future.

A 26% stake is now owned by Kabusha Youth Development NPC. The Trust has two beneficiaries.

  • GOLD is an organisation which has a vision to see a generation of young African leaders confronting the root issues of both HIV and youth risk behaviour, through uplifting their communities and imparting vision and purpose to present and future generations. The organization is led by a personal friend of ours, Susannah Farr.
  • St John’s College in Mthatha, the 135 year old high school that has produced many of South Africa’s leaders including former President Thabo Mbeki.

A 25% stake is now owned by the Africa Leadership School Trust set up to train emerging leaders in rural and periurban areas in KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and further afield.

When we started Africa Media Online in 2000 we started a business… a business with social impact at its heart. We set it up as a business because we believed we could create something that could be self sustaining and not always require hand outs from others. At the same time, though, profit was not our primary objective. At the heart of the organisation was a desire to have a social impact. Enabling African’s to tell Africa’s story was our primary goal. We were wanting to be a part of changing the discourse about Africa by enabling African voices to be heard on a global stage. But further than that, we wanted to create jobs and nurture home grown experts here in Africa by being on the cutting edge of the digital revolution.

While we recognise we have a long way to go, this step, of having Not-for-Profits as majority shareholders in the company is a thrilling development. These are all organisations we have had relationship with as part of our personal involvement over the years in rural and peri-urban communities. Having them as partners helps to keep the social element at the heart of Africa Media Online in the midst of serving paying markets as any business must do. Practically it means more than 50% of any profits in Africa Media Online are given to benefit disadvantaged communities!

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