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Marrying the Past with the Present

Digital Captures History

By Melissa Donovan

Rarely do we stop and slow down to appreciate the world around us. Artists typically do, and they provide the common viewer with a glimpse of what they’re missing. Some of the most celebrated artwork is preserved in environmentally controlled buildings and viewed on occasion by a limited number of lucky participants. Technology touches us every day. Digital capture coupled with giclée-quality wide format output now enriches the Japanese through a unique partnership between Canon Inc. and the Kyoto Culture Association (KCA).

 

If you attended Canon Expo 2010 you may have gotten a glimpse of the Tsuzuri Project, launched in March 2007. Kyoto is the center of Japanese culture and the association sought out Canon to help educate a new generation in the rich history of the country. Rare and treasured art such as folding screens and siding door paintings are seldom shown to the public to either protect from deterioration or because they are owned by museums in faraway countries. Through KCA and Canon, such obstacles no longer stand in the way.

 

21st Century Technology Brings 17th Century Art to a New Audience

A quality photo helps enthusiasts view original art, but the Tsuzuri Project and Canon seek to recreate the original with stunning accuracy. Japanese Washi paper, Canon optics, Canon museum-quality output with archival high gamut inks, and skilled gold leaf artisans are combined to provide inspiring replicas for viewing throughout Japan.

 

Using a proprietary scan back camera, Canon imagePROGRAF large format printers, and Washi paper developed specifically for the Tsuzuri Project, replicas of original Japanese art dating back to the 16th century are reproduced at 100 percent. To date, 15 works of art have been captured and preserved for public viewing. “It’s truly a hybrid of the new and old, a marriage of the 21st century and historical Japanese 16th and 17th century works. The Tsuzuri Project is based in promoting education and improving culture, not profit,” explains Ms. Sumiko Sawada, GM, social contributions division, external relations center, Canon Inc.

 

Mr. Koji Tanabe, director, KCA, says the group constantly searches for iconic Japanese artists whose work they feel would strongly benefit the public. In general, KCA approaches the appropriate museums after they have identified a particular object they are interested in preserving and presenting to Japan. To participate, the curator of a museum or whoever may make the decision, must understand a replica of the original artwork will be created through the use of 21st century technology. Meaning high-end capture and lighting devices.

 

At the Smithsonian

Dr. James Ulak, senior curator of Japanese art, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, located in Washington, DC, is a key participant in the Tsuzuri Project. According to him, the notion of going digital is not foreign to the Smithsonian, but rather a key element of the institution’s strategic plan. “Digital raises the act of seeing to another level,” says Ulak. “It engages the eye in a more disciplined type of viewing.” Although the eye of a camera catches certain details, basic knowledge and training is still necessary to understand what the viewer should be looking for.

 

The Freer Gallery of Art opened to the public in 1923, four years after Freer’s death. It was part of the promised gift given to the nation in 1906—a collection of art, the building in which to house it in, and the funds to sustain it. Freer’s interest in Japan was stimulated by his association with American artist James McNeil Whistler. Freer collected at a time when, because of Japan’s westernizing strategies, native art was readily available.

 

Freer’s original offer of a gift to the Smithsonian was met with bureaucratic obstacles, but thanks to his friendship with President Theodore Roosevelt, the Smithsonian accepted his collection. When the gallery opened, it contained 7,000 works of art; and today it houses approximately 26,000 objects, including nearly 200 Japanese screens.

 

A condition of Freer’s gift, codified in his will, did not allow for borrowing or lending from the entire collection. Thus, the importance of the Tsuzuri Project in this particular instance is clear. “The Tsuzuri Project is valuable for bringing many people of different backgrounds together,” shares Ulak. “We can now send high-quality replicas to Japan, encourage study, and promote friendship.”

 

Capturing Cherry Blossoms

In November 2010 several Canon executives, members of the KCA, and Digital Output attended the Smithsonian Freer Gallery of Art to witness the scanning of the most recent addition to the Tsuzuri Project, Viewing Cherry Blossoms at Ueno Park, by Hishikawa Moronbu, a folding screen created during the Edo period in 17th century Japan. The screen depicts an era of Japanese tranquility before a fire destroyed Tokyo. Reds and greens held up well for artwork over 350 years old. Experts believe it is because of mineral pigment inks.

 

At the museum, the six-paneled piece of art was captured digitally using a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III camera with a EF 300 mm F/2.8L Lens. Each panel was visually segmented into several units, with each photographed three times in RAW format. A color bar determined which of the three images was desirable for the final replica.

 

To shoot one panel took approximately five minutes. Once a panel was completed, the captured images were stitched together by proprietary software. According to Mr. Kazuhiko Sugawara, manager, photo production department, corporate media division, corporate communication center, Canon Inc., during the experimental stages of the project it took 15 to 20 minutes to capture each panel. Lighting plays a crucial role. The faster the shoot, the higher the guarantee that the lighting won’t change.

 

A rigorous color matching process began after all six panels were captured. Using a Canon imagePROGRAF iPF5000 17-inch printer to print proofs of each panel, several members of the project held up each proof to the original artwork to compare and contrast changes in color. Despite all of the technology available, this final stage still relied on the human eye.

 

The finished scans, once color approved, were brought back to Japan, where the final replica was printed on a 60-inch Canon imagePROGRAF and 60-inch Washi paper. During the early days of the Tsuzuri Project, these print outs would actually be sent back to the home of the original artwork to compare again for color accuracy. Today, with such sophisticated color matching technology, this step is no longer necessary.

 

Also at the Freer Gallery of Art was a professional gold leaf artisan, Rakusho Hiroto, from Japan. The original screen includes gold leaf patterns. He committed to memory the various specks found throughout the original—in both position and size.

 

On his return to Japan, he added a gold leaf pattern to the reproduction identical to the piece at the Freer Gallery of Art. Combining the traditional gold leaf technique with the digitally printed replica is truly a blending of 21st century technology with the past, adds Ulak.

 

A Project for the Greater Good

High-end technology allows for the utmost consideration when dealing with historical art. Ensuring that the original stays intact during the reproduction process is a large part of the project’s goals. Both preserving the past through a spot-on replica and respecting the original while it is subjected to unknown elements is a key message promoted through the Tsuzuri Project.

 

Canon, the KCA, and members of esteemed museums—such as the Smithsonian, are educating a new generation through this mission. “This partnership is a fusion of a joint desire to return works to Japan and introduce them to the public,” says Tanabe. Artwork throughout the globe can be brought back in a form that highly resembles the original.

Feb2011, Digital Output

 
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