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Using Technology to Page through Playing with Pictures


For the Art Institute’s current exhibition Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage, curator Liz Siegel researched photo albums created by Victorian women who had combined family photos with fantastical watercolor settings in a format and process similar to, but 150 years before, Photoshop. The exhibition had to strike a balance: showing as many of the images as possible while also preserving the albums. Unfortunately, leaving the albums open in the gallery, where visitors could flip through them, simply wasn’t feasible. In collaboration with the album lenders, certain pages were selected from albums for display in the exhibition as framed works, and for the remaining albums, Siegel turned to technology.

Enter the virtual album. Siegel wanted visitors to get the “white glove” experience of paging through the albums. And in today’s virtual world, there are in fact programs that mimic the look of a page while it is being turned. But in today’s museum world, there is not much of a budget for these programs. The solution had to be low cost, or, even better, no cost.

Over two years of planning, lenders to the exhibition were asked to have their entire albums digitally photographed. Michal Raz-Russo, research assistant for the exhibition, collected all of the digital photography and designed Web sites using Apple’s iWeb software. The result not only presents the eleven complete albums on five computers in the gallery but also gives each visitor the opportunity for a unique experience with the material in the exhibition. Siegel and Raz-Russo designed the virtual albums so that the interface is simple, elegant, and user-friendly, allowing visitors to look at full pages and also zoom to key details.

Be sure to visit Playing with Pictures and page through the virtual albums. Or, if you can’t join us at the museum, click here to flip through the Marvelous Album of Madame B.