The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Conservation
- Coming soon at the National Air and Space Museum - Hawaii by Air, an exhibition on history of air travel to Hawaii, one of the most isolated spots on Earth. [via AirSpace blog, NASM]
- Penn Museum’s Penn Cultural Heritage Center and the Smithsonian Institution partner together to offer emergency workshop, training, and support for Syrian museum collections. [via Penn Museum]
- The ephemeral meme and the work of internet librarian, Amanda Brennan, to catalog them. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- The Museum of Modern Art in New York added its first downloadable app to its collection this month: Björk’s Biophilia, which the singer released in 2011 along with an album of the same name. [via Marketplace Tech]
- Who would have known . . . a recent visiting researcher to the Archives sent us a photograph of him as a little boy shooting a commercial for the Smithsonian. [via Effie Kapsalis, SIA]
- Four years ago Instagram came out, browse through some of the first photos posted. [via PetaPixel]
- The National Postal Museum luanched a new augmented reality app to use in two of its exhibitions, Pacific Exchange: China & U.S. Mail and Mail by Rail. [via InfoDocket]
- The beauty of analog photography is on diplay in this video on the process of large format photography. [via PetaPixel]
- Last chance - The National Zoological Park announced that they would be closing its Invertebrate Exhibit on Sunday, June 22. [via Charismatic Minifauna blog, Wired]
- Skills required - Taking a look at the job requirements for digital archivists. [via hangingtogether.org, OCLC Research]
- Can't get there yourself? No problem, Google Street Art allows you to explore street art from around the world. [via Colossal]
- Still chugging away - An 80 year old film printer still contributes to preservation. [via Media Matters blog, NARA]
- Archival explorations at the New York Public Library - Lydia Maria Child, author, abolitionist, and advocate for human rights. [via NYPL blog]
- Discussions on preserving digital and software-based artworks from the National Digital Stewardship Alliance. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- A first - President Obama's scanned 3D portrait. [via The Torch, SI]
- Never too early to start - 5th graders archiving websites. [via The Archive-It blog]
- Recently we received a collection of Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory records from the Harvard Depository in Southborough, Massachusetts, home to some 10 million books. Here's a look at the facility. [via InfoDocket]
- Announced this week were the winners of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum's 2014 National Design Awards. [via Fast Company]
- For Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, the Library of Congress highlights a collection of photographs taken by photographer Ansel Adams at the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California. [via LOC blog]
- The Art Discovery Group Catalogue, a research resource that brings together items from leading art libraries around the world, launched this week. [via OCLC]
- New collections online - 90 years of University of North Carolina records, University of Michigan's 3D fossil collection, and the Civil Rights History Project Collection at the Library of Congress. [via Infodocket]
- The Smithsonian Institution is getting into online education with a new series of online courses. [via Washington Post]
- Conservators use knives? Indeed they do, here is a look at how knives are used and cared for in book conservation. [via Verso blog, The Huntington Library]
- Think you have a lot of photos to manage, take a look at the vault where Corbis Images' Bettmann Archive of 11 million images is stored. [via PetaPixel]
Today is "MayDay -- Do One Thing for Emergency Preparedness" sponsored by Heritage Preservation which encourages libraries, museums, archives, historical societies, and preservation organizations to set aside May 1 to "do one thing for emergency preparedness." As in past years, we are devoting a blog post to news and thoughts about emergency preparedness.
Recently, colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution have discussed the roles that we play in preventing, preparing, and responding to emergencies. Even with a robust disaster management program at SI, we discovered that we needed to do a better job of planning for emergencies that affect collections. We know that the offices charged with life safety at the Smithsonian will do a great job managing the people and many visitors at the Institution in an emergency, but what about the collections? Our team came up with a concept that we are bringing to the administration of the Smithsonian, called "PRICE" – Preparedness and Response in Collections Emergencies.
Each of the museums at the Smithsonian functions with its own set of plans for emergencies, but we recognized that at a big place like the Smithsonian there might be scenarios that require the help of the Institution at large. What if a museum needs help from a team of external conservation experts because it is overwhelmed with recovery? What if having a collections emergency recovery contract in place ahead of time, for instance, from a dry-freezing company, would spare a collecting unit from spending the valuable post-recovery time having to write and execute a contract? What if one unit has equipment and supplies needed by another unit? The PRICE concept would provide staffing, training, logistics and administrative support that pertain especially to collections before, during, and after a disaster.
At the Smithsonian we follow the Incident Command System (also known as ICS) for emergencies, and the PRICE concept would fit right into the structure as one of the reporting nodes to the incident commander. If you are not familiar with ICS, today would be a good day for you to look at an important publication on the topic: Implementing the Incident Command System at the Institutional Level: A Handbook for Libraries, Archives, Museums, and Other Cultural Institutions by David Carmichael.
We think that the model that we are proposing will help the Institution take care of its 137 million collection items. Stewardship of our collections must include ongoing review of collections emergency plans and put the emergency preparation, response and recovery experts in touch with one another.
- Museums Emergency Programme, International Council of Museums
- Cultural Heritage Disaster Preparedness and Response, International Council of Museums
- Select Resources for Disaster Prevention, Preparedness, and Response for Archives, Museums, and Libraries, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- May Day posts, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Talking and Doing About Emergency Preparation, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
As people versed in Integrated Pest Management, we're used to urgent emails that start, "can anyone identify this beetle invading my collection?" Recently, I received an inquiry regarding a very different species of invader. In February, everyone was talkin' 'bout the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' Invasion, or their arrival on the American shores to play the Ed Sullivan show (complete with its own hashtag #Beatles50). Beatlemania was alive again, especially in D.C., where the Fab Four had performed their first concert in the United States at the Washington Coliseum. Over at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, "on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the concert . . . archivists discovered a personal note on the back of a photo . . . written to [Harry Lynn, the owner of the Coliseum] and signed by the band." The only trouble was the archivists couldn't read it because the photograph was mounted to thick board – they could only see the impression of a couple of words, as you can see when Zachary Levine turns it in his hands as he shows it to the reporter in this news video (at about 1:23). So they contacted us to see if we could be of assistance, and sure enough I thought this would be a great way to test the limits of some techniques over at the Museum Conservation Institute's Imaging Studio.
I asked my colleague E. Keats Webb, if Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), a technique that enhances dimension of surface features in low profile, could be used to augment the profile of signatures. Essentially, RTI uses multiple images of the same object photographed with raking light from multiple angles, and then with software, layers and interpolates them to create a moving image that can be adjusted to enhance the visible dimensionality.
As Keats moves the green virtual mouse ball to change the direction of the raking light, and changes surface interpolation filters, you can watch the writing below the boys' heads emerge. You can observe that the largest, but also deepest, signature is John Lennon's. His signature literally makes a strong impression – in a detail at high resolution in the Flickr set, you can see that the pressure he exerted created almost arrow-like cracks in the baryta layer below the silver. From this we can surmise that either he had a naturally heavy hand, or possibly he signed his name over a softer surface than all the others – allowing the pen to sink deeper.
Showing opposite characteristics, you can see relatively how much less deep George Harrison's autograph lies; he either wrote with a light hand, or on a hard surface. Another interesting feature is seen in in Paul McCartney's autograph. Can you guess what it is? Not being the biggest Beatles fan in the room, as the image became clearer to my eyes, I gasped and asked aloud, "Is Paul McCartney left-handed?" This is apparently a well-known fact to all those who are saturated with images of Sir Paul holding his bass guitar in the opposite direction to his bandmates. I guessed at it by observing the slant, direction and loops in which the 'P' and 'a' and other letters were started and continued across his name, and confirmed my speculation with a swift Wikipedia search. This observation is of an individual characteristic of Mr. McCartney's handwriting. Lastly, from the matching directional slant, and the center placement of Ringo Starr's autograph, the evidence suggests that Ringo wrote the full dedication: "To Harry Lynn | with fond memories from the | BEATLES", signed it himself and handed the photograph off for others' signatures, seen below.
We also used hyperspectral imaging but the silver and the baryta layer blocked the non-visible wavelengths of light from passing through the photographic print to the ink. However, ultraviolet induced fluorescence photography did reveal a history of adhesives. Also in the Flickr set, you'll see both the residues of a typical address label on the front at lower left corner, and on the back, traces of the damaging so-called "magnetic" adhesive that is common to some photo albums. In fact, the item had been stored in "the sticky embrace" of one, as colorfully described in this lovely article about the provenance of the photograph.
This was a really fun project, but also one which raised serious philosophical questions. Some may ask, but why didn't you just take the backing off to see the autographs? Well, excavation and solvents carry risk for both the object and the conservator. In modern archaeology, sites may be investigated with remote sensing equipment, uncovered, documented, and recovered to protect the integrity of the site. Do we really need to dig for what is definitely there when we have non-destructive ways of seeing? Seriousness aside, can anyone tell me what is going on in this image with the bow and the stuffed cow?