IPCH’s Graham leads digitization project at the Center Church on the Green in New Haven

Documenting the headstone of John Whiting: l-r, Chelsea Graham, Ying Yang and Erin Mysak. Photo courtesy of the Center Church on the Green.
September 4, 2015

Last week, Chelsea Graham, Digital Imaging Specialist at IPCH led a digitization project at the Center Church on the Green in New Haven with colleagues Rich House from the Yale University Art Gallery and Professor Rushmeier and Ying Yang from Yale Department of Computer Science. IPCH scientists Jens Stenger, Erin Mysak, and Pablo Londero joined the effort to document headstones in the historic New Haven Crypt at the First Church of Christ via computational photography. Digitization techniques included a non-contact method of capturing how the surface of an object interacts with light called reflectance transformation imaging (RTI).

The First Church of Christ has a history that is closely intertwined with that of the city of New Haven. It was founded in the early days of New Haven Colony. The structure that stands today was erected in 1812 over a part of the graveyard.  The graves remain to this day, intact in the basement crypt of the church, in the manner they were originally oriented. The crypt contains the gravestones of some of New Haven Colony’s founders, first inhabitants, and other prominent colonists including the first wife of Benedict Arnold, Margaret; a founder of Yale, Reverend James Pierpont; and ancestors of President Rutherford B. Hays.

Volunteer Harold Peck and Church Historian Michelle Georgevich graciously provided access and historical background throughout the week. Groups of three worked to capture a series of images for each of nine headstones. In each image in a series, the headstone was illuminated by a standard flash projected from a different angle.

Headstone of Sewsanah White: l – acquisition photo taken with direct lighting, r – visualized in RTIViewer.

Afterward the images with different lighting were processed into visualization files that allow for user interaction. Viewers may change the direction from which light is cast across the surface of a headstone to aid in legibility of the inscriptions. This is helpful to historians and genealogists who are seeking to tell a more complete story about the past. The visualizations can also be helpful to those who wish to preserve the gravestones into the future. RTI can be used to document the state of preservation and deliver details related to structural integrity and erosion. In this way, RTI can be seen as an important documentation to monitor change in conservation practice.

Special thanks to the Center Church, Harold Peck, Michelle Georgevich, and collaborating colleagues Rich House (Yale University Art Gallery), Professor Holly Rushmeier and Ying Yang (Yale Department of Computer Science)!