Hello! My name is Hannah Winn. I’m passionate about using the latest digital technologies for restoration, preservation and dissemination of cultural heritage. To this end I’ve been experimenting with non-invasive imaging techniques such as photogrammetry and the latest scanning technologies – working on internal projects within small and national museums as a staff member and freelancer and working on projects with teams like FactumArte and ScanLab.
I came to 3D in an unconventional way. During my degree in Conservation (objects and decorative surfaces) at City and Guilds of London Art School I realised that I didn’t want a career in practical conservation. I knew that my choice was simple; I would either choose a career in conservation science which would mean staying on at university and doing a masters and PhD, or branch slightly away from conservation.
I had a difficult time at university and was not ready to carry on studying immediately after graduating. After a lot of thought it became apparent that, in fact, computer science was more my science than chemistry and material science. Plus, I had always had a love of systems and enjoyed solving problems. I therefore investigated possible career options that allowed me to combine conservation and digital technologies. I was particularly interested to learn about how digital technology was being applied in regions of conflict and natural disaster.
Immediately after graduating I won a fellowship to run my own project in one of the remotest corners of the Himalayas in conjunction with The Courtauld Institute of Art, digitally documenting a very rare Stupa – the only one of its kind remaining and significant due to its rare pigmentation and design. The Stupa had been built by Kashmiri Buddhist artisans before Kashmir was invaded and established as Islamic. This project involved training locals of the village to operate smartphone cameras, laptops and solar chargers. Many of them had never held a smartphone or digital camera. The village, Zangla, is one of the remotest villages in the world and most of its inhabitants didn’t have access to electricity. The King of Ladakh (who owns the Stupa) was intrigued and excited about increasing access to cultural heritage in the region. It was a bit of a struggle as a white western woman asking the local men to listen and follow my instructions but they respected the project and did a great job.
I continued to teach myself programming, researching different software as well as trying to consume as much knowledge as possible about this new and growing industry. Going to conferences and working freelance wherever possible until finally landing a job at The Postal Museum in the digital team. My big break was when I was given the opportunity to build useful and innovative applications to interact with their collections. For example, I built a VR game with embedded photogrammetry that allowed players to interact with the collection, thereby offering a more memorable experience. I not only built photogrammetric models but also went a step further and gave them a context. Similarly to many other museums, The Postal Museum did not have the budget to invest any money in the development of a VR game. Working within the museum as part of the team, rather than as a freelancer meant that this ambitious project was economical as well as an exciting project for a new museum in its first year of opening, pushing digital technology.
Beyond 3D for Conservation and Preservation
Beyond exploring 3D applications in conservation and preservation, I am currently working freelance for Connect: North Korea (A UK charity, helping North Korean refugees settle in the UK). I am building and designing the first interactive pop-up exhibition about North Korean refugees – describing their trauma escaping North Korea and how their struggles continue once they have reached the UK. This is an exhibition that will travel the globe, starting in Canada. The project will use video footage and the latest photogrammetry techniques to recreate experiences in VR. Using never seen footage of North Korea, I will re-create photogrammetric models of the environment, and place them into Unity, allowing people to experience momentarily what it might feel like to live inside North Korea – the most secretive and closed off nation on the planet. Currently I am working closely with the UN to verify stories and gain backing on an international stage. Most recently I have been invited to talk about the project at the UN Women conference in New York.
Approach to 3D Digitization
Many works of art are being destroyed faster than they can be physically restored. We are increasingly interacting with cultural heritage differently. Most people are quickly moving towards online platforms to experience and learn about culture, heritage and works of art. We live in a world where we expect anything to be accessible anytime and anywhere in the world. Museums, archives and memory institutions are beginning to realise that to stay relevant and continue to be the first place that people visit to interact with history and learn about the past, they must keep up to speed with this digital revolution. Digital technologies are changing the cultural landscape, presenting new ways to create, store and share museum and heritage assets. However, there is currently no clear method for how museums and heritage organisations should engage with these technologies. To further complicate matters, legal protocols and procedures have not adjusted to these new realities, and usually act as an obstruction to new practice.
It has been a challenge to integrate the latest digital technologies into an industry that specialises in the past. While some aspects of cultural heritage are as modern and state-of-the-art as they come, other areas of heritage practice have stood still for decades. Often, it’s a challenge to find the funding, resources or support in institutions to push exciting digital projects forward. Although digital applications are valuable in the field of restoration and preservation, further practices can be researched, improved, and implemented. Examples include: digital reconstructions, virtual restorations, representations of heritage that has been damaged or destroyed, 3D printing missing portions of art and artefacts, or even exploring the artistic evolution of other forms of art.
Through advances in technology and connectivity, we now have a revolutionary opportunity to enhance learning, creativity and innovation, and to reach new audiences worldwide, through the reproduction and sharing of works of art and cultural heritage. Sketchfab is a platform that allows museums and cultural heritage practices the opportunity to do this for free.
For cultural institutions that have collections to benefit the public, the opportunity to provide open access now or in the future to cultural heritage in a digital format is an exciting new frontier in their mission to preserve and disseminate knowledge, culture and history for present and future generations. Such challenges also present responsibilities. Digital records need to be responsibly created and safeguarded for the long term to ensure integrity as well as retrieval and reuse by future generations. Additionally the means and skills needed to use and access digital technology are unevenly distributed around the world; thus it is essential for those with the capacity to do so to provide support and training to those with fewer resources.