The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
From 2002-2005, a unique archive of video tapes was compiled by the Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) at UCLA, with the goal of studying a relatively new social phenomenon—the complex and often stressful lives of middle-class, multiple child, dual-earning, multi-tasking families. In a conference held a month ago, researchers presented findings on five themes—family aspirations, family consumerism, family intimacy, family responsibilities, and family resilience—based upon their analysis of the 1,540 hours of video tape that were shot in thirty-two Los Angeles area homes.
The $9 million study, funded by the Albert P. Sloan Foundation, offers up a surprisingly rich database of images and information. As Thomas S. Weisner, a professor of anthropology at U.C.L.A, described it, the video archive holds “up a mirror to people. They laugh. They cringe. It shows us life as it is actually lived.” Videos revealed, for example, that mothers spend nearly 27 percent of their time at home doing housework, compared with 18 percent for fathers and 3 percent for kids. Couples were alone in their home for only 10 percent of waking time. The whole family gathered in one room together only 14 percent of time.
“Entering these middle-class homes,” CELF’s project director Elinor Ochs said, “where privacy is conceived as a cultural entitlement of the highest sort, is a fearsome challenge.” But, as we’re seeing in our increasing video-taped and surveilled culture, what was once considered private is more and more willingly being offered up in public. The sanctity of family life, some argue, was shattered with the 1973 broadcast of An American Family, a 12-part, 1973 PBS documentary (edited down from 300 hours of shot footage) that tracked the lives of the Louds, another Southern Californian family, and startled viewers by revealing that family’s willingness to present themselves—warts and all—for national scrutiny and attention. It took a while longer before for the legacy of feel-good mid-to-late 20th century family sit-coms, like Father Knows Best (1954-60) and The Brady Bunch, (1969-74) would so give way to wince-inducing, guilty-pleasure reality show entertainments like The Osbornes (2002-5) and the current and successful Real Housewives franchise on cable TV.
Clearly, both the times and family life are changing. “I would never volunteer for a reality series,” said Ms. Repath-Martos, a CELF project participant, who is an administrator at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who was quoted in recent New York Times article on the UCLA study. “But I was curious. And I thought that—well, this is going to sound crazy—I thought that it wouldn’t be that invasive.” And so she, her husband and their two children received $1,000 for their participation and welcomed a small film crew (and a researcher armed with a handheld computer, who documented each family member’s location and activities at 10-minute intervals) into their 943-square-foot house to prove that when it comes to archiving data about who we are, and what and who we care about, there’s no place like home.
- Weegee on news photography: “I will walk many times with friends down the street and they'll say, ‘Hey, Weegee. Here's a drunk or two drunks laying on the gutter.’ I take one quick look at that and say ‘They lack character.’ So, even a drunk must be a masterpiece!” (and while you’re at it, go check out Carol Squiers’ click! story that features his photography).
- A new way to track down all the squinty-eyed, taken-by-surprise, unflattering pics of yourself on the Internet. TinEye, a “reverse image search engine” allows you to upload an undesirable example and then uses layered comparison to find photos of you that you don’t want around. [via Effie Kapsalis, SPI]
- A bibliography that covers everything you ever wanted to know about digital curation and preservation. [via Ten Thousand Year Blog]
- The CyberCemetery—where government websites go to die…
- Forgotten and lost notes and the online community they create.
- The National Geographic Tumblr blog is a new (for me) and appreciated daily photo distraction.
- I remember a few months ago when a Grateful Dead archivist position opened up (of course, at UC Santa Cruz) and made the rounds online as many archivists’ dream job. Now, items from that archive are on display at the NY Historical Society, including the skeleton marionettes used in this awesome video:
Some of you may recall the symbol of the United States Forest Service fire prevention program, Smokey the Bear. Perhaps I am dating myself, however I distinctly recall posters and television commercials between Saturday morning cartoons depicting the almost human looking bear wearing his park ranger hat and blue jeans, with shovel in one hand and stern finger pointed with the other, convincingly proclaiming, “Only you can prevent forest fires . . . only you!” Using a bear to warn against the danger and destruction of forest fires makes perfect sense—bears live in the forest, and are pretty intimidating and powerful in appearance; only a fool would challenge a bear, especially if the bear has the ability to speak! Herein is the story of a living, breathing bear who became known as Smokey, and lived at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, DC from 1950–1976.
Smokey was born in 1950 in the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico. He was found by members of the New Mexico Game and Fish Department during the aftermath of a fire that raged through forest, clinging to a charred pine tree, the soles of his feet badly burned, and his hair singed. He weighed all of five pounds, and his future appeared dim. Despite the poor odds for survival, he was nursed back to health by veterinarians in Santa Fe, NM and in June of 1950 was given to the federal government with the stipulation that his life be devoted to forest fire prevention and wildlife conservation.
Transporting Smokey to the National Zoological Park proved to be a challenge. Commercial airlines would not allow Smokey in the passenger cabin, and would not permit a person to accompany him in the baggage compartment. Fortunately, the Piper Aircraft Company became aware of this dilemma, and offered a Piper Pacer to serve as Smokey’s private airplane. Traveling in personalized style, the plane was adorned with a mural of Smokey with his paw in a sling and ranger hat on his head. The St. Louis Zoo reserved a special room for Smokey during an overnight fuel stop, and several hundred spectators, including members of the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, photographers, and media were awaiting his arrival in Washington, DC on June 27, 1950.
Smokey was a popular attraction at the National Zoo, and received millions of visitors during his twenty-six year residency. He became so popular in fact that he received more than 13,000 letters a week and was granted his own zip code. He developed a love for peanut butter sandwiches, in addition to his daily diet of trout and bluefish.
Goldie, a female black bear, was brought to the National Zoo in 1962 as a mate for Smokey. Unfortunately, no offspring were produced. Little Smokey, who also was born in the Lincoln National Forest but was not the victim of fire (he was orphaned and rescued from starvation by the Forest Service) was added to the zoo in 1971. Little Smokey would carry the torch of his namesake, who was nearing retirement (Smokey would turn 25 in 1975, which is the equivalent to roughly 70 human years, the mandatory retirement age for federal employees).
Smokey officially retired on May 2, 1975 in a ceremony which anointed Little Smokey as Smokey Bear II. Smokey remained at the National Zoological Park until his passing on November 9, 1976. A Congressional resolution of 1974 stipulated that Smokey’s remains would be returned to New Mexico, where he would be buried at the Smokey Bear Historical Park in Capitan, NM, not far from where he was found twenty-six years prior. More than 250 people were on hand for his memorial service, and he received an official obituary on the front page of the November 11, 1976 edition of the Wall Street Journal. During his lifetime, his likeness appeared on millions of pieces of fire prevention literature and products, and countless hours of broadcast advertisements.
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