This is the first in a series on the Iris about interesting and unusual arts careers. We begin with Rand Eppich of the Getty Conservation Institute, who has combined his skills in architecture, photography, technology, and teaching into a unique career path.

Rand Eppich floats a camera attached to a balloon over Spiral Jetty.

Rand Eppich floats a camera attached to a balloon over Spiral Jetty.

What is your job at the Getty?

I’m involved in documentation of architecture and archaeological sites for conservation in the Field Projects Department at the GCI. Documentation is gathering information, photography, surveys, drawing, geographic information systems, and maps in order to help architects, conservators, and managers craft a conservation plan. It encompasses a wide range of tools, hardware, software, and techniques.

Tell me about one of your recent projects.

I just got back from the Spiral Jetty, an earthwork by Robert Smithson. Francesca Esmay from the Dia Art Foundation came to the Getty about two years ago and was looking for a way to monitor the Spiral Jetty because the water fluctuates depositing sand and silt, people disturb the rocks , and they’re thinking about drilling for oil nearby.

So we developed a simple system of attaching a small camera to a balloon and floating it over the Spiral Jetty to capture pictures. This can be done very easily. Francesca can fly to Salt Lake City from New York, pick up the helium, visit Spiral Jetty, inflate the balloon to record it, and then over a series of years she can compare year to year and monitor its health. Of course the image processing is more involved.

How did you think up this method?

It’s one of the oldest forms of aerial photography—it’s just about making it very simple and cost effective. The entire setup including the camera is only about $750. At the GCI we have several projects in which this would be a very useful, simple, and economic technique to obtain a site plan. We’re currently working on disseminating this information to others who work at archaeological sites.

What else are you working on?
I’m working on revised version of a book about documentation techniques, which is part of a larger project to improve documentation knowledge within the field of conservation. I’m finding experts on different techniques and working with them to write short case studies on how they use them—balloon photography, kite photography, infrared, thermal imaging, geographic information systems, surveys, ground penetrating radar, etc. We have 16 case studies and we’re adding 5 more. I’m encouraged that the book is being used at about 20 universities and training programs as a textbook.

Is there a favorite project that you’ve had?

Besides Spiral Jetty, my other favorite project is the education program in documentation with ICCROM, a center for conservation training in Rome, where I teach a course on documentation. Participants from around the world spend four and a half intense weeks focusing on documenting a site that will be conserved. Since 2003 we have been working at the church of Santa Cecilia. It’s very rewarding because you get to share knowledge and experiences with people from around the world. I’ve become lifelong friends with many of them.

What project would you like to work on in the future?

I’m hoping that some of the techniques I’ve developed will be used in the GCI field project for the conservation of urban centers.

How did you prepare for this career?

I went to architecture school and worked on several historic theaters in Hollywood and in the San Fernando Valley. I really love old buildings, and I think we should do everything we can to save and reuse them.

After obtaining my architectural license I went back to school to get my graduate degrees from UCLA. The person who hired me at the GCI was an architect, and he understood that I worked on historic buildings and also had talents in documentation, technology, and photography, so it all fit together.

What additional education do you recommend for this field?

If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to take courses on teaching. I think I would also have told myself to study foreign languages a little bit harder. I’m studying Spanish now.

If you weren’t working in conservation, what do you think you would have pursued?

Well, I always wanted to be an architect. I enjoy and appreciate well-designed spaces and I love experiencing them. I still get a thrill coming to the Getty Center. It’s a beautiful environment and we’re very lucky. Seeing it through a visitor’s eyes, you see how it’s just such a great facility.

Do you have a favorite building?

The Getty Research Institute is my favorite part of the Getty Center. I like the circular design and the courtyard and that the building stands alone. It can be seen as a whole. I particularly like the scholar offices across from the garden; I also like the helipad.

What’s your favorite part of the job?

I really enjoy working with a variety of intelligent people from different backgrounds. I look forward every year to the summer interns. I’m getting along really well with our current intern, Carolyne, and enjoying her enthusiasm and attitude. I really like working with people who care about the same things.

Another thing is the work itself: knowing that you’re making a difference.

What advice would you give to someone interested in working in this field?

Patience. Education. Being open-minded.

When I first graduated, I was so focused on becoming a traditional architect that I didn’t open myself to other possibilities—that’s what I mean by being open-minded. By opening myself to other possibilities, it led to me accepting a position here at the Getty, which has made me a much richer person.

That’s the big piece of advice: be driven and dedicated to a goal and reach that goal, but don’t have blinders on. Always consider other possibilities.