Footwear Digitisation Project Update
The Alfred Gillett Trust’s footwear digitisation project has now been running for 10 weeks, so it seems a good time to publish an update on our progress. We have encountered our fair share of teething problems, but to date we have photographed 224 shoes, producing 1,602 high quality digital images. The process of preparing the shoes for photography has given us the opportunity to assess and report on their condition, and as well as being photographed they are being cleaned and repacked before transfer to the new, purpose-built collections archive.
We have established a process which firstly involves capturing six ‘standard’ images showing both sides, the top, sole, heel and toe of each shoe. Next we take a ‘cover’ shot at an oblique angle, designed to display the overall shape of the shoe and highlight important details, such as decoration or damage. Any detail that does not show up in these images we cover with a close-up shot. Most of the collection comprises single shoes, but there are also large numbers of shoes in pairs, and for these the cover shot features the pair together. Usually we arrange them as if being worn, but if a particular pair has an interesting feature not visible at this angle we ‘pose’ them so that the feature can be seen clearly on at least one of the shoes.
The result of this is that for each of the shoes in the collection we capture a minimum of seven shots, which we process electronically, retouching the images to remove dust and make any necessary adjustments. We also create a ‘contact sheet’, containing small copies of all the shots we have taken of a particular shoe or pair, before backing up and storing the images. We have around 25,000 shoes, so by the time the project is complete we will have a library of over 175,000 digital images, a fantastic resource that will greatly improve access to the collection.
We have started with the shoes from the 1940s as these were the most requested by the Clark’s design team, and because the majority are relatively robust and in good condition. In the first phase of the project we are planning to work our way up to the end of the 1960s; after this we will move onto the 1900s through to the 1930s, before tackling the historic and ethnographic shoe collections and finishing off with more modern shoes of the 1970s and later. Each phase brings its own difficulties. Ethnographic and historic shoes are frequently fragile or poorly preserved, while modern shoes incorporate many plastics and artificial materials in their construction, which pose problems as they deteriorate in ways that are not well understood. We aim to publish regular updates here to document the progress we make and challenges we encounter, and also to show off some of the weird and wonderful footwear from our collection, so watch this space for further news!