This section of Silk Road Seattle's website provides, first of all, my annotated descriptions of and links to the websites of major art museums exhibiting objects of interest for the study of the Silk Road. Over time we will add to our coverage, and we apologize in advance if we have not yet described what is to be found in a particular collection. Recommendations are always welcome.
It is important to remember that museum websites change rapidly; so the information provided here may become quickly dated and may under-represent what you may find when visiting a website several months hence. In recent years almost overnight collections which had not been represented on the Internet suddenly have a major presence. Museums are realizing that making a generous selection from their collections available in digital form is an important service. The flexibility of the Internet allows the juxtaposition of objects from different parts of collections and any number of enhancements through descriptive material and such features as the ability to zoom in on a picture to see small details of an object. Users of museum websites should realize, of course, that viewing the object digitally is no substitute for actually seeing the object. One can hope that the use of a museum website will encourage a visit to the museum itself.
The second important component of our museum pages is collections of photographs of objects in certain museums. The choices here have emphasized providing coverage that the museums themselves may not yet be doing on their own websites, although over time that situation is changing. Where we have identified a museum page for the same object illustrated here, we provide a link. Most of these photographs are ones taken by Daniel Waugh in the normal process whereby visitors are allowed to photograph in a museum. None of these images have been reproduced from copyrighted sources. Using the images for non-profit educational purposes is acceptable, but we cannot provide high quality scans that would be suitable for printing--even if the originals are in a format that would allow this. Should users wish to obtain a high-quality image for printing, that must be done in negotiation with the museums who own the objects and would be subject to their copyright restrictions.
A note is in order regarding the quality of these photographs. Even in collections that are mounted and lighted in exemplary fashion, photography may produce very mixed results. Generally flash is forbidden. Museum lighting may be deliberately dim in order to protect the art (especially where textiles or manuscripts are involved). Often there is a color cast due to the artificial lighting, something that we have not entirely been able to correct. It is especially noticeable in museums still using old-fashioned flourescent light, which tends to impart a greenish cast; but also incandescent light will impart an orangish cast in some cases. Only my most recent photographs, taken in Berlin and Ulaanbaatar in the summer of 2004, have for the most part been made with a digital camera, which to a considerable degree can correct for the artificial lighting. However, I am still mastering the technique of optimizing results. Where the photographs were quite dark in the original, often the process of photoshopping cannot restore the brightness of the colors of the objects; it is often difficult to balance areas in heavy shadow with the intensely-lit portions of many objects. Photographs of objects behind glass may show some reflection from the glass.
With these considerations in mind, I have elected to include some photographs which are far from ideal--while many are of excellent quality, some are slightly out of focus, many certainly do not represent colors well. The decision on what to include has been governed by consideration of whether or not even a second-rate photo will nonetheless be useful for someone who may not have access to another image of the particular object. For purposes of studying iconography, for example, it may not be essential to have a studio-quality image. Many of the objects found here have been photographed by the museums or others in studio conditions and those high-quality copyrighted images are available in publications or possibly on the Internet. However, images of many objects represented in my photographs are not readily available, if at all. In some cases, the specific close-up detail of the photos here may be unique. It is worth noting, however, that even studio photos of objects in published albums may not necessarily accurately represent colors. My impression is that often they have been digitally enhanced, so that what one sees is not necessarily a reproduction of the original but a "restoration" of how it may have looked when the colors were fresher. Photographs of the same object in different books often vary considerably in quality and faithfulness; any photo really needs to be adjusted with direct reference to the original object, something which has not been possible for what we are presenting here on the Internet. Without spending an inordinate amount of time on it, I have tinkered with color adjustment, but the results are quite uneven.
-- Daniel C. Waugh