Monday, February 14, 2011

Book-o-Mat, 1949

So much loveliness in one photo!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Hidden Mothers in Early Photography

1/9 plate Civil War era "hidden mother" tintype

Accidental Mysteries has a great blog post about the "Hidden Mothers" phenomenon in early photography. The blogger writes:

PHOTOGRAPHY BUFFS may already know about the “hidden mother” in early photographs, but some of my readers may not.... You see, most infants during that time were photographed with their mothers holding them. The intended picture was ultimately headed for a frame or mat, so the child would sit in the mothers lap for the photo. When the picture was taken, the mother simply was cropped out to serve as the backdrop.

Flickr has a pool of tintypes and cabinet cards to see examples

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Civil War tintypes and ambrotypes

The Library of Congress's Flickr collection includes 700+ high-res scans of ambrotype and tintype photos of US Civil War soldiers. "These fascinating photographs represent the impact of the war, which involved many young enlisted men and the deaths of more than 600,000 soldiers. The photos feature details that enhance their interest, including horses, drums, muskets, rifles, revolvers, hats and caps, canteens, and a guitar. Among the rarest images are African Americans in uniform, sailors, a Lincoln campaign button, and portraits with families, women, and girls and boys."

Visit Civil War Faces.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review of Preserving Archives & Manuscripts

Preserving Archives & Manuscripts

My review of Preserving Archives & Manuscripts by Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler.(Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2010).
Published in Journal of Academic Librarianship, forthcoming.

Preserving Archives and Manuscripts is an authoritative guide for those responsible for the preservation of archives, manuscripts, and historical collections, encompassing a range of materials found in such repositories and addressing practical means of implementing preservation programs. Ritzenthaler, Director of the Document Conservation Division at the National Archives and Records Administration, explains that preservation is “an integral component of all archival issues, functions, and decision making….Guidance is provided on optimum practice while recognizing that progress, of necessity, is usually made in slow steps based on institutional resources and the relative value, use, and stability of records within large holdings” (9, xviii). Noting that preservation is “a core management function and a primary ethical responsibility” of the custodians of historical records, the book accentuates the integration of preservation and archival management with special attention given to changing the way materials are handled and processed (xvii).

Chapters address the implementation of a preservation program, archival materials as physical objects, causes of deterioration and damage, creating a preservation environment, handling archival materials, storage and housing, integrating preservation and archival management, copying and reformatting, and conservation treatment. Appendices include a glossary, a bibliography and selected readings, basic preservation procedures, supplies and equipment, regional conservation centers, funding sources, and other topics. Notes Ritzenthaler, “The goal [for preservation programs] is to approach and understand archival materials in a way that combines intellectual interest in their content with a curiosity regarding their physical nature” (94).

The book is meant to be an institutional handbook where “preservation is addressed from programmatic perspectives that emphasize decision making and balancing multiple priorities” and “not a manual of preservation techniques” (xviii). However, the book abounds with technical information, and a reader new to the subject is challenged to connect the technical minutia into a cohesive whole.

The new edition emerges at a time when digital records are gaining importance, while the care of paper-based materials are a continuing concern. Unfortunately, the realities of the hybrid environment are not addressed adequately. As the author explains, “Electronic media are addressed briefly. The rapidly changing technology governing the creation, use, and preservation of electronic records is the subject of a growing body of specialized literature, to which there are references in the bibliography” (xix). While digital preservation poses different challenges than the preservation of analog materials, a book published in 2010 is expected to cover the breadth of preservation of archival materials.

The book’s strength is the history, construction, and care of paper manuscripts and books. Comparatively, photographs and audiovisual material get brief mention. However, Ritzenthaler’s other recent book, Photographs: Archival Care and Management co-authored with Diane Vogt-O’Conner, covers all aspects of photographic access and preservation.

Preserving Archives and Manuscripts is the final title in the Society of American Archivists’ Archival Fundamentals Series II and is the lengthiest of the six-volume series. Overall, the book presents information to create an effective, efficient preservation program, given an institution’s resources. Ritzenthaler believes that when records of enduring value are treated with care throughout their lifestyle, the amaranthine balance between preservation and access is achieved.

Monday, January 10, 2011

In E-Book Era, You Can’t Even Judge a Cover

Reading on the Subway

From a recent New York Times article:

Bindu Wiles was on a Q train in Brooklyn this month when she spotted a woman reading a book whose cover had an arresting black silhouette of a girl’s head set against a bright orange background.

Ms. Wiles noticed that the woman looked about her age, 45, and was carrying a yoga mat, so she figured that they were like-minded and leaned in to catch the title: “Little Bee,” a novel by Chris Cleave. Ms. Wiles, a graduate student in nonfiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College, tapped a note into her iPhone and bought the book later that week.

Such encounters are becoming increasingly difficult. With a growing number of people turning to Kindles and other electronic readers, and with the Apple iPad arriving on Saturday, it is not always possible to see what others are reading or to project your own literary tastes.

You can’t tell a book by its cover if it doesn’t have one.

Read more here.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Turning Old Books into Art

Dictionary carving

Julia at Hokey Stokes! takes old books, carves out the covers and turns them into art, like this vintage dictionary.

See more here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Britain's Smallest Library

Britain's smallest library

From the Daily Mail:

Cunning villagers have found a novel way to cope with the shortage of libraries in their area by turning an old red phone box into a book exchange.

The former BT phone kiosk has been transformed from a telephone exchange to Britain's smallest library by cunning residents and now stocks around 100 titles.

Villagers rallied together to set up the book box after their mobile library service was cancelled.

Read more here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Black Dahlia Archives

The Black Dahlia Files

I recently read D. H. Wolfe's 2005 The Black Dahlia Files: The mob, the mogul, and the murder that transfixed Los Angeles. (New York: ReganBooks). I've read just about every book about Elizabeth Short (the Black Dahlia), but I never thought about where the files about the case are archived. The book notes:
As a rule of law, unless there is an indictment that stems from a Grand Jury investigation, the files are sealed and never made public; however, in the Black Dahlia case, some of the Grand Jury investigation material inadvertently became accessible in 2003 when the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office established its archives and opened up to researchers some of its files on notable twentieth century criminal cases. Among these files was a portion of Grand Jury investigator Frank B. Jemison’s file on the murder of Elizabeth Short. This unintentional disclosure of Grand Jury proceedings and testimony proved to be a windfall of new information that had been hidden from the public for more than half a century.

In speaking to a former file clerk who handled the assembly of the files for the archive, I learned there had originally been sixty-five file boxes of accumulated Black Dahlia investigative material, which included the files for the LAPD, the Sheriff’s Department, and the District Attorney’s Office. The file clerk recalled that the sixty-five boxes were culled through in the early months of 2002 and reduced to thirty-five boxes, which remain in the LAPD warehouse. But two file boxes involving Jemison’s 1949 Grand Jury investigation into the Black Dahlia case were among those placed in the archives of historical criminal cases at the D.A.’s office (267-8).
Some of the material found in Elizabeth Short’s lost luggage by the Examiner was returned to [her mother] Phoebe Short, but many of the photos of Elizabeth ended up in the Examiner Archive, which was donated to the Special Collections Department of the University of Southern California in 1988. Most of these photos vanished from the USC Library in the early 1990s and were eventually auctioned off on eBay in 2002 (footnote 6, 86).
Some of the images of her in the book cited the Medford Historical Society because she grew up in Medford, Massachusetts; the Delmar Watson Archives, the LA-based new photographer; and UCLA Department of Special Collections/John Gilmore Collection. Gilmore has written about the Black Dahlia, and the collection has an fascinating finding aid.

I also found an article about the Black Dahlia being the most-researched topic of the USC collection.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Digital Image Banks

Historical photographic collections in archives, libraries, and museums have been influenced by the two billion dollar a year global stock photography industry. The images, used in marketing, advertising, editorials, multimedia products, and websites, are filed at an agency that negotiates licensing fees on the photographer’s behalf in exchange for a percentage, or in some cases owns the images outright. Pricing is determined by size of audience or readership, how long the image is to be used, country or region where the images will be used, and whether royalties are due to the image creator or owner. The images are generic and decontextualized with flat, rich color and blank backgrounds, acting as “the wallpaper of consumer culture” (Frosh 2003, 1). Image banks “distort the nature of the imagery, treating them as if photography were a kind of universal Esperanto” (Ritchen 1999, 90). Cartier-Bresson notes that an image bank “will never match the work of an author. On one side is a machine: on the other is a living and sensitive being” (Dorfman 2002, 60).

Getty Images and Corbis, the two largest digital image banks, represent 70% of the images used in advertising and marketing (Frosh 2003). Getty Images was co-founded by Jonathan Klein and Mark Getty, grandson of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty. Corbis is owned by Microsoft founder Bill Gates. In some countries, Getty’s 25% market share would be considered illegal (Machin 2004). Machin (2004) writes that stock photography companies are changing visual perceptions of “the photograph as witness, as record of reality, to one which emphasizes photography as a symbolic system and the photograph as an element of layout design, rather than as an image which can stand on its own” (319). He continues:
We should be concerned about the effect of this increasingly stylized and predictable world on audience expectations of what the visual representation of the world should look like. We should be concerned about the fact that we no longer flinch when we see a posed, processed, stylized, colour-enhanced, National Geographic image of a woman and child taken from Getty and placed on a page in The Guardian for a documentary feature on the Kashmir conflict (335).
More worrisome for information professionals is the fact that image banks have also acquired historic photographic archives. Getty contains the Eastman Kodak Image Bank, the Hulton Picture archives, and the National Geographic image collection, among others (Ramamurthy 2009). Corbis absorbed the Sigmund Freud archives and the photo archives of UPI, the defunct news wire service (Aalto 2008; Dorfman 2002). It also bought the Bettmann Archive in 1995, which contains more than 16 million photographs, one of the world’s largest private depository of images. Batchen (2001) notes that many of the images owned by Corbis are historically significant:
Remember Malcolm X pointing out over his crowd of listeners, the airship Hindenburg exploding in the New Jersey sky, that naked Vietnamese child running toward us after being burned by napalm, Churchill flashing his V-for-victory sign, Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, Patty Hearst posing with her gun in front of the Symbionese Liberation Army banner, LBJ being sworn into office aboard Air Force One beside a blood-spattering Jackie? Corbis offers to lease us electronic versions of them all. It offers to sell us, in other words, the ability to reproduce our memories of our own culture, and therefore of ourselves (150).
Corbis has digitized only the previously top best-selling 225,000 images. The rest are stored in an Iron Mountain underground cold storage facility, inaccessible to researchers. Lister (2009) notes that, “In these processes of acquisition and selection a kind of digital ‘editing of history’ is at stake” (344). By neither digitizing images nor making them accessible for research, scholars are deprived from the cultural heritage of visual records.

Works Cited

Aalto, B. (2008). Industry in transition. Applied Arts 23(2), 10.

Batchen, G. (2001). Each wild idea: Writing, photography, history. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Dorfman, J. (July/August 2002). Digital dangers: The new forces that threaten photojournalism. Columbia Journalism Review 60-63.

Frosh, P. (2003). The image factory: Consumer culture, photography and the visual content industry. New York: Berg.

Lister, M. (2009). Photography in the age of electronic imaging. In L. Wells (Ed.), Photography: A critical introduction. (pp. 311-344). London: Routledge.

Machin, D. (2004). Building the world’s visual language: The increasing global importance of image banks in corporate media. Visual Communication 3(3), 316-336.

Ramamurthy, A. (2009). Spectacles and illusions: Photography and commodity culture. In L. Wells (Ed.), Photography: A critical introduction. (pp. 205-256). London: Routledge.

Ritchen, F. (1999). In our own image: The coming revolution in photography. New York: Aperture.