Archive for March, 2012

Visuals and Accessibility

NGA touch-screen interface

Tufte's rejected touch-screen interface for the National Gallery.

After reading Edward Tufte’s Visual Explanations and our assigned web reading on Internet accessibility, as an art historian I was left wondering about the feasibility of communicating visual explanations about visuals to a visually impaired audience. The book includes several graphics that deal directly with art display and information. While Tufte’s design for a National Gallery touch-screen for navigating the museum (a strategy that he notes has since been somewhat displaced by technology like the iPhone) struck me as adaptable to a three-dimensional interface for the blind, I wondered about the galleries themselves. How can the design of physical and online exhibitions best translate the aesthetic experience of an art museum through the other senses?

I had actually been wondering about this question prior to our readings, when a professor on the Association of Latin American Art listserv asked about how best to accommodate a visually-impared student. Through some cursory Googling, I happened upon Art Education for the Blind, a non-profit that seeks to make aesthetic experiences available to the blind through touch and sound. This can entail:

  • In-depth audio narratives
  • Atmospheric sound compositions that approximate visual concepts like space and emotion
  • Tactile diagrams that allow visitors to feel aspects of an art work like line and brushstroke through representations with raised edges
Nighthawks original and tactile diagram

"Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper, left, and its tactile representation with raised edges, right.

It turns out major museums use a number of these strategies. The Museum of Modern Art offers Braille gallery maps, tactile diagrams and models, as well as “Touch Tours” of selected objects from the collection. In terms of digital media, they have recorded detailed visual descriptions of specific works, available both online and through the on-site audio guide. This seems like the most viable strategy for a website dealing with art, since sound is (so far) the only sensory experience available through the Web aside from sight.

In terms of my own work this semester, I am becoming increasingly aware of the importance of document flow, clear coding and alt text. While attention to these elements can aid screen readers, I think it can be just as relevant for any visitor looking for clean navigation and image descriptions. (Though I attempted to take David’s suggestion and download WebAim’s Screen Reader Simulation to test my own site, I was not able to use it on my Mac, even after downloading Adobe Shockwave. Can anyone offer any tips?)

Dork Short

On a related note, the tool I recommend checking out this week is designed to increase clarity within CSS3 coding. Sass was mentioned to me by a developer friend a few weeks ago. While it may be best reserved for further post-Clio experimentation, Sass is a kind of “meta-language” that aims to improve on the structure of CSS3. One of its improvements is selector nesting–instead of having to repeat div names each time you write a selector within one of them (for example, #nav, #nav li, #nav li a, #nav li a:hover…), Sass allows you to nest “child selectors” within their “parent selectors.” It also allows you to declare variables, such as a hex code that you keep having to copy and paste, by renaming them something simpler. Basically it addresses a lot of the redundancies that have been plaguing some of our coding, and I’m excited to give it a test-drive.

Addendum: This week I commented on Rosendo’s post.

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Image Assignment Up and Running

I will inevitably continue tweaking this all day, but for all practical purposes, my image assignment is now live.

Addendum: I commented on Celeste’s post about her image assignment and responded to Sheri’s comment.

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More Photoshop Practice

This week’s articles and tutorials highlighted both the promise of Photoshop’s photo restoration features and the problems that come with it. In order to get started on the impending image assignment, I began toying with levels, color channels, patch tools and the clone stamp (not without some help from friends).

I began working with some 1920s Parisian exhibition photographs that were passed on to me by Prof. Michele Greet. Once I determine the licensing permissions, I plan to incorporate some of the images into a small gallery database for my final project. The photos work well for this assignment because many are faded and several have tears and spotting. However, finding a useful example for hand-coloring was a little more challenging, since many of my images contain artworks, which I’d like to avoid messing with for obvious reasons.

One of my attempts involved coloring a group of artists participating in a 1930 exhibition for the group Cercle et Carré (below).

I cropped the image to include only part of the group because I was most interested in the grumpy looking gentleman in the foreground. I finally managed to identify him as Joaquín Torres-García, probably the most famous South American visual artist of his time.

I began to colorize the cropped image, with mixed results. Adjusting the black and white levels created too much contrast, so I plan to play with those a bit more. I also need to experiment more with brush opacity when applying skin tones to avoid making Piet Mondrian (second row, with mustache) look like he spent too long in a tanning salon. The group portrait is probably still not an ideal subject for retroactively applying color, but the process does bring out a kind of dynamism in the image that wasn’t present before.

I also worked on restoring a 1930 photograph of the Galerie Zak, which, either through printing or poor scanning, had developed a grid of yellow dots running through the entire composition. It also had a tear in the upper right corner. (You may have to click on the first image to see the damage.)

Galerie Zak, 1930 (original)

Galerie Zak, 1930 (after restoration)

I’m pretty happy with how this one turned out. The picture was taken during the Exposition du Groupe Latino-Américain de Paris, the first group exhibition of Latin American artists in Paris. The yellow dots and tear distracted from important content: a show and a venue that have been written out of histories of modernism. In order to eliminate the dots, I created a new black and white layer and used color filters to filter them out. I then applied the patch tool and spot-healing brush to eliminate the tear in the corner and other less noticeable damage.

These exercises and others made me more comfortable working with layers and toggling between tools. I found the Lynda tutorials that dealt with identifying problems areas in old photographs especially helpful, since I initially had trouble differentiating between kinds of damage. I also found myself returning to last week’s videos in order to prepare for uploading my finished products to the web. I’m looking forward to being proficient enough in Photoshop that I can start modifying photographs in still more historically meaningful (but ethical) ways.

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