The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Cities/Places
When people look back at this year’s inauguration ceremonies, they will remember an iconic image of that day. These images help us remember what happened, but also try to convey the mood and emotions that witnesses to the historical event feel. These images help tell our history. But what about the photographers behind the lens? How do they interpret the day and decide on what stories to tell?
Recently, I sat down with Smithsonian Institution Archives photographer Michael Barnes to find out. This year he will be photographing his fourth inauguration and has learned the best way to score the shot he wants.
Bellizzi: What inaugurals have you photographed?
Barnes: Both of President George W. Bush’s and President Obama’s first.
Bellizzi: What was your experience photographing your first inauguration?
Barnes: For the first [George W.] Bush Inauguration, I was stationed on 14th street and Pennsylvania Avenue. It was cold and rainy, and I had to get there super early. I made the mistake of not taking my gear home, and had to try and get to the Smithsonian to get the equipment. This was a good lesson to learn; now I always have my gear the night before. The roads get blocked off and it is difficult to get where you need to go. You have to get there early. At this inauguration I missed the swearing-in, because I was stationed for the motorcade shot. At this Inauguration the Smithsonian had about seven or eight photographers at the event and we had official stations and you could not leave your spot for hours. So, you could only take images from that spot. I tried to capture the general feel of the day, but stood there for hours to get the few seconds of the President passing by. I was told by secret service to leave, but showed credentials so I was allowed to stay. But, standing on marble for a few hours, it gets really cold.
Bellizzi: What was your second inauguration like?
Barnes: For the second one I was able to float in the crowd. I was just looking for people shots. People shots show the different reactions to the event and the day. I like to try and capture the joy of the moment.
Bellizzi: What was the most recent inauguration experience like?
Barnes: For Obama’s Inauguration I was on the National Mall. I wanted to capture the [Smithsonian] buildings to record them as the historical witnesses to the event. The Smithsonian is connected to historical events. I worked with Ken Rahaim that day. He wanted to get on to the top of one of the buildings, but anything on top of buildings has to be cleared. So he worked with Smithsonian security and secret service to get all of the permissions cleared. One of the challenges of the Inauguration is dealing with secret service and security. Security teams were in the towers of the Castle, and Ken had the clearance, but at the last minute the security team would not let him go, so he had to figure out an alternative location. I decided to take photographs on the [National] Mall between the Castle and National Museum of Natural History.
We spent the night before at the National Museum of American History. I had learned from previous inaugurations to spend the night. So I went and took shots of the Mall that night.
On Inauguration day, people were very nice. They did not stand in the gravel so I could still get around. It was cold that day. I wanted to show the people photographs again. Show the story of mother and kids trying to stay warm. She had the kids wrapped up, but got them up for the actual swearing in. The expressions on people’s faces were great. I wanted to capture people during specific moments of the speeches and their reactions to it.
Bellizzi: Was the cold a challenge from a photographer’s point of view?
Barnes: Dealing with the cold, equipment can get changed. When you go from inside the building to the outside, things can fog up. You need to adapt the camera to the element. Even though it was cold, things were fine that day, because I kept moving and was well prepared with lots of layers.
Bellizzi: Are there any other challenges to photographing an inauguration?
Barnes: Getting to where you need to be for the shot. Too many people, too many check points. The challenge is to get to the shot that you want to capture in time. But I like the challenge of roaming around and I will do it again this year.
Bellizzi: Do you work with other photographers to capture the event?
Barnes: We work out beforehand who will cover what area. But we work independently during the event. Photographers have different viewpoints. We have a plan of certain ideas of the types of images that we want to get. We try to get those, but the event also presents the opportunities for the images.
Bellizzi: Why do you think it is important for the Smithsonian to have these types of events covered?
Barnes: Because it is right at your doorstep. The events tell history, and we are about history. Anything that happens near the buildings, these images tell the story of the buildings’ history and the events that help shape it. The buildings set the scene and witness the event. For example there are so many marches for different causes. Whether you agree or not, it is important to know what the story is and capture the event so that there is some type of record.
Back in October, I caught an HBO documentary about Ethel Kennedy; chronicling her public and private life. It was cool seeing all of the archival footage, photographs and hear the stories, but one really caught my ear.
Apparently Ethel and Co. kept quite a menagerie at their home, Hickory Hill, in McLean, Virginia. Mostly, it was what you would expect to find on a big place in the country – horses, dogs, goats, etc. Then, one of her children mentioned a seal, followed by shuddering over the memory of feeding it whole fish and removing the eyes and where these migrated. As the story wound down, however, it was revealed that the seal (as a pet) didn't last long on the farm and was eventually sent to the National Zoo. Really!?
First thing the next morning, I checked various seal/sea lion Latin names so I could access the animal records at the National Zoo (Record Unit 386 - National Zoological Park, Animal Records, 1887-1976). I found a Californian sea lion, Zalophus califorianus, named "Sandy," that was deposited by Robert F. Kennedy, Chain Bridge Road, McLean, Virginia on December 18, 1959 and it was later formally donated to the Zoo by Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy on March 30, 1960. It further was memorialized in the National Zoo's 1960 annual report, p. 133 as follows, "Robert F. Kennedy gave a young California sea-lion which had been sent to his children as a Christmas present and had been living in their swimming pool."
Later, Theodore Reed, the Zoo's Director, provided an update on Sandy's progress in his thank you letter to Mrs. Kennedy:
May I say again how delighted we are to have Sandy, and how much the National Zoo appreciates your generous gift. He is a great addition to our seal colony, which is one of the most popular attractions here at the Zoo.
You will be interested to hear, that when I inquired of his keeper this morning how he was adjusting, was told that Sandy was happily swimming in his pool, had eaten his supper of smelts with gusto, and already was looking with interest through the fence at the other seals in an adjoining pool. He will be put in with them as soon as acquainted, and then can swim happily with the pack.
Please tell the children we are sure Sandy is happy, but look forward to their visits is and hope they come soon.
Record Unit 326, Box 79, Folder - Animals Acquired – Gifts, 1941, 1957-1970, 1977
As far as I was able to determine, Sandy swam happily with pack and dined on smelts (could not tell if these were sans eyes) with gusto until June 25, 1967 when his death was recorded in the daily reports of the Animal Department.
So that's the story of Sandy, but he was not the only celebrity to come and live at the Zoo. Over the years the Zoo has provided a home to some of Admiral Richard E. Byrd's sled dogs; Ham, the first chimp who flew in space; and, Pig 311 who survived the atomic tests associated with Operation Crossroads.
- Ethel - HBO Documentaries
- Record Unit 326 - National Zoological Park, Office of the Director, Records, circa 1920-1984, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 386 - National Zoological Park, Animal Records, 1887-1976, Smithsonian Institution Archives
This is the first part of a three-part series on George C. Wheeler and the relationship of science and tourism in the Caribbean by the Archives' former Research Fellow, Blake Scott.
On May 31st 1924, a young scientist by the name of George C. Wheeler boarded a steamship in Brooklyn, New York. Five days later, he was in the Caribbean for the first time. He writes:
June 4, Docked at Havana at about 7:30 a.m. The city is beautiful from the harbor in the morning. One of the first things one sees is the huge electric sign ‘Ford’ on the assembling plant. One gets a good view of Morro Castle on entering the harbor.
Went on an automobile sight-seeing trip with the cruise passengers… University – beautiful buildings. Old cathedral. New cathedral. Paseo de Marti. Parque Central. Parque de la India. Cigar factory. Malecón (seawall). Piña Colada (strained pineapple juice) very good – 20 cents.
Next stop – beer garden near the cervecería where Cerveza Tropical is brewed. The beer is free here and freely do the Americans imbibe. Next to the country to see pineapples and bananas growing. Country magnificent. Mariano district – beach.
In his journal, in shorthand, George C. Wheeler reveals himself to be a man of science and also a man on vacation. On his first day in the Tropics, he went sightseeing and drinking with a group of tourists. The next day, June 5th, he was in the field collecting ants on the outskirts of Havana. He was on a research fellowship with the United Fruit Company (UFCO) to study and collect insects. Over the course of three months, Wheeler studied and toured his way across the Caribbean – from Cuba to Costa Rica to Panama.
The record of that trip (Record Unit 9560 - Oral history interview with George C. Wheeler, 1989) is part of the Smithsonian Institutional Archives. It includes George C. Wheeler's travel diary, personal correspondence and photos, along with scientific pamphlets, maps, and an oral interview. As a predoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution Archives, I studied the tropical travels of U.S. scientists to better understand the relationship between science and tourism in the Caribbean. During the summer of 1924, George C. Wheeler traveled and drank with tourists, studied with fellow scientists, and relied on countless locals and foreign nationals to produce his travel experience.
Entangled History, Science and Tourism
Wheeler's Caribbean trip highlights an important yet overlooked aspect of U.S.-Latin American history. Social and natural scientists often think of scientific fieldwork and tourism as distinct kinds of travel. Wheeler's personal journey, however, shows science and tourism to be deeply entangled in the early twentieth century.
His presence on a tourist steamer was not an anomaly. U.S. scientists and tourists shared modes of transportation, labor, and information throughout the twentieth century. On the ships of UFCO's "Great White Fleet" passengers luxuriously traveled and mingled on the upper "Promenade," "Cabin," and "Saloon" decks. Down below – on those same ships – billions of pounds of bananas, coffee, and cacao returned to markets in the United States. Tourists and scientists followed the same lines of transportation that brought bananas to U.S. consumers and colonial officials and businessmen to Latin America.
The microcosm of Wheeler's experience – as a 27 year-old white-male scientist traveling in the Tropics – illuminates a larger history. With the War of 1898 and the building of the Panama Canal (1904-1914), the U.S.' southern "frontier" moved to the forefront of public interest. In the 1910s and 1920s, there was an immense thirst for knowledge about newly acquired territories in the Caribbean region: Puerto Rico, Haiti, Cuba, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica. In this context, U.S. teachers and researchers with international experience became important sources of information. How could one govern, exploit, or enjoy the fruits of U.S. expansion without knowing about the region's culture and nature? Scientists like George Wheeler had the infrastructural and financial backing to travel, in large part, because of the Caribbean's heightened geopolitical and commercial relevance to the U.S.
The knowledge scientists gained from their travels was useful to the U.S. government, the scientific community, U.S. companies, and also future tourists. When Wheeler returned home to Syracuse University, he became a recognized expert – a sort of local celebrity. Newspapers published flattering articles about him and he received a number of invitations to share his story. For the student Science Club, he gave a lecture entitled "Biological Work in Central America." For the Faculty Club, he gave a similar presentation with "illustrations."
Wheeler brought the Tropics home to a domestic audience. Although the specific notes from his lectures are not in the Archives, a collection guide at Rice University – "George C. Wheeler: Correspondence, Scrapbook, and Biology Lecture and Laboratory Notes, 1915-1957" – affirms that Wheeler's travel experience supplied him with lecture material and entertaining stories for decades to come. His journal, which is at the Archives, documents some of his more memorable travel encounters. Personal observations and photos, supplemented with maps and scientific data, became the basis of a new tropical expertise.
Travelers like Wheeler were more than objective men of science. During the first decades of the twentieth century, entertainment was interwoven into science and teaching. Scientists became cultural leaders, introducing the U.S. public to new and old ideas about the Tropics.
To learn more about Wheeler's travels, see the upcoming Part II of this article, "From Plantations to Islands of Science: Travels in Costa Rica and Panama."
- Record Unit 9560 - Oral history interview with George C. Wheeler, 1989, Smithsonian Institution Archives