Frank Davis Memorial Lecture

Digital Imaging as Disciplinary Practice: Photography and Art History

Speaker: Emily Pugh - Digital Art History Department, Getty Research Institute

Art historians are increasingly reliant on digital images of artworks and archival objects in virtually every aspect of their day-to-day work, from research to publication to teaching. Yet the details of digital imaging and its related infrastructures—precisely how digital images are made, for example, the standards that guide their creation and post-processing, or how they are catalogued and accessed—are generally not well understood by the scholars who benefit from their use. Moreover, scholars might not be aware of the specific ways digital imaging differs from analog photography, or of the significant differences between different types of digital imaging.

What should scholars know about digital imaging? And how might this knowledge facilitate a deeper, more critical engagement with the images and image infrastructures they use every day? These are the questions I will address in this talk, using examples of digital imaging at the Getty as the starting point for an exploration of the implications image digitization has for art-historical practice. Furthermore, I will situate my investigation of digital imaging within a longer history of the use of imaging technologies for art historical research and scholarship that stretches back to the nineteenth century. My goal will be to give scholars a peek behind the scenes of digital imaging at an institution like the Getty, and in doing so, to provide critical frameworks for their use of digital images in their work as art historians.

Emily Pugh received her PhD in Art History from the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City, where she focused on architectural history, as well as digital art history. Since 2014, Pugh has led the Digital Art History department at the Getty Research Institute, overseeing research activities in connection with technology initiatives on projects like “Ed Ruscha Streets of Los Angeles” and “PhotoTech,” a project to digitize portions of the GRI’s Photo Archive. She is the author of Architecture, Politics, & Identity in Divided Berlin (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014), as well as essays for the International Journal of Digital Art History and the forthcoming edition of Debates in the Digital Humanities. 

Organised by Dr Stephen Whiteman (The Courtauld) and Dr Austin Nevin (The Courtauld) as part of their Frank Davis Memorial Lecture series titled ‘Art History Futures: At the Junction of the Digital and Material Turns’. 

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19 Oct 2021

Tuesday 19th October, 6.00pm - 8.00pm BST

Free, booking essential


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Image showing part of a portrait of a woman on the left side and an X-ray image of this on the right hand side.
Left: Mummy Portrait of a Woman (detail), about 100–110 CE, from the J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa collection (81.AP.42). Right: X-ray fluorescence map showing the distribution and relative concentration (red=high, blue=low) of lead-based pigments across the portrait. Photo: J. Paul Getty Museum. Image: GCI.