The Museums of the North West Photogrammetry Hub highlights the potential of creative partnerships with universities

AIM spoke to the University of Liverpool’s Dr Ardern Hulme-Beaman and Garstang Museum Curator, Dr Gina Criscenzo-Laycock along with Elsa Price, Curator of Human History at Tullie House – a partner museum in the hub – to find out more.

Supported by a £40k investment from Art Fund, the Museums of the North West Photogrammetry Hub: building virtual 3D futures project draws on university knowledge, expertise and equipment to train museum staff in digital 3D recording, preservation and presentation with the eventual goal of constructing virtual exhibitions.

But what is Photogrammetry and how can it help museums? Dr Ardern Hulme-Beaman, who leads the University of Liverpool’s Photogrammetry Team, explains:

“Photogrammetry involves taking multiple photographs of an object from different angles, stitching the resulting images together through coordinates, then bringing those coordinates together to reconstruct an object’s geometry.

The initial concept is probably 180 years old. With the earliest camera technology came the realisation that you could take measurements by adding a scale, and in the 1900s the first equations were drawn up to figure out geometry – at that time for aerial photography to build landscapes.

As a technique it allows researchers, and the public, to get close to unique items regardless of COVID closures.”

The process has really taken off in the last ten years due to increasing computer power but offers more than simple digital documentation according to Garstang Museum Curator Dr Gina Criscenzo-Laycock.

“It makes objects more accessible, particularly delicate objects that shouldn’t be handled too often. If you have good enough quality images you can zoom in to details that are very difficult to see with the naked eye. So, you can get more information from some of these models than you can from looking at the original.

Things like photogrammetry can often be completely out of reach as many smaller museums don’t have the resources. What we want the project to do is to demystify the process; show people how this technique works and help them develop related skills. It also offers potential in terms of public engagement, particularly during COVID, when they can’t come and visit.”

Although it’s still early days for the project the Liverpool team hopes they can help in upskilling the North West museum sector, ultimately helping facilitate the development of a digital exhibition and build collaborations for researchers and students.

For Elsa Price, Curator of Human History at Tullie House, one of the Hub partners, ensuring this opportunity feeds into wider strategic plans is key, alongside the solutions and rich engagement opportunities the technique can offer.

“We undertook a basic skills audit and identified a gap, and this appeared to be a great opportunity to fill it. Like many we have some collections storage challenges – we’ve lots of stoneworks, altars and so on – and are considering how 3d scanning can help us solve those.

We’re also keen to see how this work can fit in to the wider aims of ‘Project Tullie’, our ten-year plan. With limited resources any digital work must be linked to the Business Plan or greatly enhance engagement, collections care or our business model.”

Elsa also values the collaborative approach a hub can offer, and the development of regional networks of shared resources and expertise it can inspire.

“The people in this first phase of this project will be communicating with each other regularly and as one of the larger museums in our region Tullie may be able to support smaller organisations Cumbria-wide too. As museums we have to work in partnership, we can’t do it all ourselves.”

Click here to see the 3d models>>

To find out more about the project click here>>

Pictured: Garstang Museum Ancient Egyptian bronze statuette of a cat. The 3D model shows a pierced ear which would have once held a gold ring. An incised necklace and collar is also visible around the cat’s neck and repair patches on the body and head.