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kyle cassidy

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The Case of the Missing Mummy [Aug. 6th, 2014|06:46 am]
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When I heard that whafford was hot on the trail of a missing mummy, I knew I wanted in. (Technically it wasn't a mummy, but it's more exciting to say mummy.)

He'd been reading through Sir Leonard Woolley's notes from the excavation at the city of Ur for years, so new finds and theories were frequent dinner conversation (my favorite previously were the diary entries in reaction to the dig site getting a Victrola. Some of the potentates really liked it, others thought it distracted the workers, Woolley wrote that the Arab music the staff was listening to was "a cacophony".)

Last week I got a chance, under high security and a strict embargo, to see and photograph the 6,500 year old human remains, lost for 85 years in the basement of a museum.

I won't write about the mummy, it's loss, or it's discovery, because Randy Lobasso does a great job of that right here in the Philly Weekly.





Cover of this week's Philadelphia Weekly.
You may clickenzee to read the article.



As of right now (early in the morning August 6th) it looks like the story is going big. The Daily Mail picked it up last night but neglected to credit me for my photos (what else is new). We were trending in Google's top stories.




It's going big....
You may clickenzee to embiggen



I can talk about the photography though.

Tell it with shadows

Shadows are how we identify things, they tell stories, they show detail. The best time to photograph the moon, for example, is not when it is full, because there are no shadows, so there's no texture to the surface.

I'd heard that the mummy was in a crate and it was difficult to photograph, so I brought a lighting kit with a whole bunch of experimental options for getting light inside a box (including iPads, which I wrote a Videomaker article about using as light sources) -- since this guy was a person, I wanted to light him like a person, the way I would if they'd sent me to photograph some Senator. It's important to be able to get the light close to your subject and I was worried about the tall sides of a crate (If you haven't, now is the time for you to read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's story Lot 249 about an Oxford student who has a mummy in a crate and it wakes up and does all sorts of terrible things.)

I wanted to get a relatively close raking light with soft shadows across his face.

Dr. Brad and Dr. Janet (not kidding) took me down to a room that actually says "Mummy Room" on the door and I was relieved to see that the crate had very low sides. This was going to be easy. I set up a Photek Softlighter II (the small one) on a very low light stand and pretended it was an ordinary portrait. Brad & Janet started talking about various bits of the mummy, so I turned the light up and lit them and did a few photos like that as well. I used a Leica D800, with a Sigma 12-24 and a 50mm f1.8.

But take a look at this side-by-side:




With a grazing soft light, and with ordinary overhead lighting.
You may clickenzee to embiggen



Here's the difference between a close, angled, directional light, and the overheads that were already in the room. You can see the overheads don't really cast much in the way of shadows and the detail is harder to see and, I think, our guy has less of a human personality. I have a Videomaker article coming out soon that discusses the difference between something being "well lit" and something being "properly lit".

Good photos, in my biased opinion, are important in getting people to pay attention. (So is a well written press release, and they had that too.) The Google Alerts have been going off like fireworks.

Here's what it looked like in the Mummy Room with the natural light.

Thoughts on mummies, museums, lighting, archaeology or anything related? Let's hear it.




Behind the scenes in the mummy room.
You may clickenzee to embiggen








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Comments:
[User Picture]From: buboniclou
2014-08-06 06:30 pm (UTC)

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Dr. Janet is super cool, she spoke at ALA midwinter at the Anthropology discussion group. I like her work.
[User Picture]From: ms_violet
2014-08-06 06:52 pm (UTC)

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I love Dr. Brad. He's so cool.

Last night we were out having pizza and this story came up on TV news. We couldn't hear it and there was no closed-captioning, so instead we made up a whole story to go along with the news item, that Dr. Brad was in the storage room looking for coffee filters and found it.
[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2014-08-07 02:55 am (UTC)

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that's pretty awesome.
[User Picture]From: ms_violet
2014-08-07 01:07 pm (UTC)

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"And then a mysterious little man in a red suit danced out from behind the copier, and said, "Eyule neede a kroew Barr."

Ask Dr. Brad if he wants a playwright to talk to about his experience. There's about 12 genres that could be exploited/exploded here.
[User Picture]From: silveringridd
2014-08-06 07:05 pm (UTC)

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you crack me up!
hello, dr. brad! congrats on finding the mummy! (i know, it's not a mummy.) you two buy yourselves some shots of whiskey on me!

the photos of the dude with your lighting versus the overhead lights are crazy! they look like two different dudes! you are so talented! no wonder you're so famous!
[User Picture]From: lois2037
2014-08-06 08:52 pm (UTC)

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I can't possibly convey how incredibly, amazingly cool this is! I hope you'll follow up with CT results, etc. How rewarding to find real treasure in a basement! Thanks for including the shadow example. It's something that I sometimes forget (to the detriment of my pics), that lighting makes such huge differences.

Which camera did you use…? You said Leica D800, and I'm pretty sure they don't make one of those, though I didn't look it up.
[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2014-08-07 02:56 am (UTC)

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they're going to do a lot of other stuff with it i think, CT in the next couple of months.

if leica won't make a d800, its up to you to put a red dot on your camera and rebadge it!
[User Picture]From: lois2037
2014-08-07 05:20 am (UTC)

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I have to agree on the camera. I'm going to be justifying that particular extravagance for some years to come. If a little red logo dot will make it even more impressive, I'm in!

I'll be really interested to see the CT results. What a fine reason to look through archeology sites and magazines.
[User Picture]From: boutell
2014-08-06 09:46 pm (UTC)

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Holy smokes, what an effective treatment of the subject. And of the subject of the subject.

Edited at 2014-08-06 09:46 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2014-08-07 02:57 am (UTC)

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it came out pretty nicely didn't it? you can really see how he's in the wax and plaster there.
[User Picture]From: tsarina
2014-08-06 10:38 pm (UTC)

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You get to do the coolest stuff. I love it. Especially when you explain some of the Secret Magic of Lighting.
[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2014-08-07 02:58 am (UTC)

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hey you! good to see you!

i figure the lighting magic is really all i'm qualified to talk about. everybody else has all the other stuff down.
[User Picture]From: maleghast
2014-08-07 09:58 am (UTC)

Top stuff!

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Hey Kyle, what an awesome story, and as others have commented, excellent explanation of the lighting - I really do love it when you share those little gems :-)

As for the Daily (Hate)Mail, they are bunch of utter asshats, but I would urge you to contact their picture editor with an invoice for usage, even if you are pleased with the audience / reach as they need to be reminded that being the busiest newspaper website in the world does not mean that they can steal copyright... Clearly it's up to you in the end and I could understand not wanting the hassle, either way, great pictures mon ami! :-)
[User Picture]From: platyg
2014-08-07 11:11 am (UTC)

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It's amazing how much the lighting changed the picture. It doesn't even look like the same subject!

Seriously though, how cool. Like someone else said, you get to do the coolest stuff. Seems like there is never a dull moment (and if there is, Roswell will fix that)!
[User Picture]From: ladycelia
2014-08-07 04:38 pm (UTC)

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Wonderful job. The right lighting makes such a huge difference.
[User Picture]From: zaarwin_devolve
2014-08-08 09:25 pm (UTC)

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Wow. I was just in Ur a few months ago! The history there is palpable. I wish I could see these remains in person. Oh well. This will suffice. ;)
From: wrayb
2014-08-09 04:18 am (UTC)

ok, now you've done it.

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absolutely totally jealous of your opportunities and work. Congratulations, not about getting me jealous, but about getting such interesting amazing opportunities and making so much of them. And for remaining totally accessible to us wannabees so we can get a glimpse of what it takes, what it involves.

Oh, and now I need to go read about the guy from Ur.

[User Picture]From: nagasvoice
2014-08-09 06:41 am (UTC)

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Wow, such a huge difference in the results from the lighting changes. Congrats on the project, it sounds completely awesome and I hope you get to document some more cool stuff about it.
Side note, I recall you have injured a few things lately, and something interesting came up when somebody kindly commented elsewhere on somebody's injury, namely a peroneal tendinitis, which is apparently of a type very common to runners. The commenter posted a link to this website, which diagrams muscles and pressure and massage methods to help heal the injuries faster. Sounded to me like something you might be interested in?
http://www.athletestreatingathletes.com/self-muscle-massage/self-muscle-massage-pt-8-shinouter-ankle/

Edited at 2014-08-09 06:42 am (UTC)
[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2014-08-09 11:30 am (UTC)

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Luckily I've been injury free for over a year now. I've been using a foam roller a lot.