The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Film/Video
Collaboration. It's the one word that during almost every conference and pan-institutional discussion, everyone says, and hears, a lot. In fact, it's the theme of this year's Archives Month! But why is it so important to collaborate? Because collaboration allows for people with different knowledge and skill sets to come together to solve a common problem. At the Archives, we often work with other Smithsonian divisions and outside groups to solve complex problems in the field of audiovisual (AV) digitization and preservation.
A perfect example of collaborative work at its best is the AV Hack Day from this year's Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) annual conference in Savannah, Georgia. During Hack Day, programmers and archivists came together to create open source tools that tackle common preservation problems that have been identified in the field of AV archiving. Some of the tools created include Hack Day Capture, a tool that works with a Blackmagic capture card and ffmpeg to digitize analog video, Video-Sprites, which eases the process of making web video more accessible, and Characterization Compare, which allows the user to see the outputs from EXIFtool, MediaInfo, and ffmpeg side by side. These tools and all of the others created during Hack Day are available on the AMIA Open Source Github page.
For the past several years, members of the Archives have worked with other government agencies to form a group called the FADGI (Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative). The primary goal of this group is to create guidance for the digitization of still image and audiovisual materials that other archives, public or private, can use when making decisions on how to best preserve their materials. Last month, FADGI released file format comparison charts for still images and analog videos, as well as a set of case histories contributed from eight different units that detail how they are dealing with born digital audio and video content within their collections. The comparison chart for analog audiovisual materials provides information on sustainability, cost, and system implementation for the various codecs and wrappers that are currently being used to create preservation files.
Smithsonian divisions often collaborate with each other as well. Since the majority of the equipment in analog AV archiving can be hard to find, the AV archivists group (AVAIL) here at the Smithsonian created an internal registry of the different equipment owned by each of the divisions, so that we can work together to share resources. The list includes information on the number of decks of a particular type owned by a given division, as well as whether or not they are currently in working condition. This makes it so that when I come across a Hi8 tape in our collections, a format that we do not have a deck for, I can simply consult the registry and contact the appropriate division to see if their deck might be available for me to use. Through the AVAIL listserv, we have also shared our knowledge of different migration errors to help each other solve unusual problems.
Ultimately, it's important to collaborate with others in and outside your field because the knowledge of the many is often more comprehensive than the knowledge of few. Additionally, we are all working towards the same goal of preserving our collections in the best possible way, so working together allows us to optimize our resources and our time. How has collaboration helped you in your field of work?
- Smithsonian AV Archivists Tumblr
- The End of the Beginning: A Born Digital Survey at the Smithsonian Institution, The Bigger PIcture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Audiovisual conservation resources, Library of Congress
- Archives Month across the Smithsonian
Every year the Archives receives a variety of digital video for its permanent collections. Contents include Smithsonian Channel programming, museum events, and special ceremonies. The timing of one such video from Accession 13-266, Smithsonian Institution, Video Recordings, c. 2001-2009 was a nice surprise, as it is the 2-hour video of the opening ceremony of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) from September 21, 2004, in Washington, D.C.
President George H. W. Bush signed legislation in 1989 creating the National Museum of the American Indian as part of the Smithsonian. The National Museum of the American Indian Act (NMAIA) allowed for a museum in New York, a storage facility in Maryland, and a flagship museum in Washington, D.C. The New York museum opened as the George Gustav Heye Center in 1994, which is named after the founder of the Museum of the American Indian in New York City in 1916. The Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland, which opened in 1999, serves conservation and collection storage needs.
Opening day of the Washington, D.C., museum featured a Native Nations Procession along the National Mall with thousands of indigenous peoples participating from all over the Western Hemisphere. There also were special remarks by Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, U.S. lawmakers, and Smithsonian officials. The First Americans Festival also featured various musicians and entertainers. The opening brought together the largest known gathering of Native American communities in history.
U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell said at the opening, “Senator Dan Inouye, my friend and colleague, to whom we owe so much, often says that Washington is a city of monuments and yet, there is not one monument to the native people of this land. This magnificent structure, which we are going to open today, is that monument and in it we will tell our story.”
The limestone building itself is curvilinear and was the initial design of GBQC and Douglas Cardinal Limited. The project was further developed by Jones, House, and Sakiestewa, along with the architecture firms Jones & Jones, SmithGroup in collaboration with Lou Weller (Caddo) and the Native American Design Collaborative, and Polshek Partnership Architects. There also was input from Native American communities. Important requirements were that it be a “living museum,” resulting in an east-facing main entrance, a dome that opens to the sky, and a 4.25-acre landscape that includes many plants and trees, as well as some ducks.
The cost of the museum was $199 million and it had 1.4 million visitors in 2013. The three facilities have the world’s largest collection of Native American art and artifacts from North, South, and Central America.
Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations launches on the anniversary of the museum’s opening on September 21.
Enjoy some of the highlights from the procession. Please note that some of the clips have some glitches in playback.
- National Museum of the American Indian history, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- National Museum of the American Indian opening, September 21, 2004, C-Span
- National Museum of the American Indian website from the Grand Opening Celebration, October 12, 2004, Internet Archive
I cannot, I feel, have any regrets about my accomplishments. What comes from art will just come. I don’t feel any need to strive. - John N. Robinson
One of my favorite parts of working in an archive is the opportunity to immerse myself in other people’s worlds, to learn more about their stories and experiences. One such person I encountered recently was John N. Robinson, a native Washingtonian and dedicated artist. Featured in Volume II, Edition 2 of the Here at the Smithsonian production series, Robinson’s artwork documents not only the regional history of Washington, D.C.'s Anacostia neighborhood’s growth and development, but also the personal history of his family, often featuring his wife, children, and grandparents. The episode features Robinson interacting with a group of fifth graders at the Anacostia Community Museum.
As I watched the video footage, I was struck by his dignity and gentle character, which is also conveyed to the viewer through his art. His style is one of celebration, encouraging the viewer to reflect on the beauty found in little things.
Born on February 18, 1912 in the Holy Hill community of Georgetown, Robinson was raised by his grandparents following his mother’s death when he was only eight years old, his father having abandoned him and his four siblings not long after. Their grandmother, Anna Barton, took in laundry to help support the family. Robinson and his siblings would assist her by delivering the clothes around Georgetown. Robinson remembered his grandmother as a “warm, lovely person.” Her husband, Ignatius Barton, was a U.S. Army veteran and had been a Buffalo Soldier in the Spanish-American war. Robinson described him as a kind man with a gruff exterior.
Robinson enjoyed doodling and sketching in his spare time - and sometimes while on the job. He had to leave junior high school to begin working, due to the family’s financial situation. His grandfather arranged a job for him, dusting automobiles at the garage where Barton was employed. It was while at this job that a chauffeur noticed Robinson’s sketches on a discarded time card and showed them to his sister, Elizabeth Thompson. She brought them to the attention of James Herring, art professor and founder of the Howard University art department. Recognizing Robinson’s talent, Herring arranged for Robinson to receive art instruction at Howard for a time, free of charge. Robinson studied under the tutelage of James Porter, though he wasn’t able to stay long-term, due to financial hardship.
When he was seventeen, Robinson’s grandparents moved to the Anacostia neighborhood of Garfield Park. His new next door neighbor was Gladys Washington, with whom he fell in love; they married in 1934. Together, they had seven children, six of whom lived to adulthood. It was also after moving to Garfield Park that Robinson began to devote more time to painting, including religious murals in community churches. Robinson went on to be employed in food service at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, eventually rising to management. He retired in 1970.
Outside of his family and community, Robinson didn’t gain much notoriety as an artist until later in life. In the 1940s, he displayed his work at Lafayette and Franklin Parks, through the Outdoor Art Fairs sponsored by the Times Herald. Later his work was featured at the Barnett-Aden Gallery, a haven for multicultural diversity and one of the first black-owned art galleries in America. He exhibited a one-man show at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1976, at a time when few blacks were welcomed there, through a partnership with the Anacostia Community Museum. Another one-man show followed at the Anacostia Community Museum in 1983. Other exhibitions included ones at Howard University, the National Museum of Natural History, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Atlanta University, Xavier University, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Oxon Hill Public Library, and the Washington Project for the Arts.
On October 17, 1994, John Robinson passed away. A family man, he mused that perhaps he could have been more ambitious in promoting his art earlier in life, but he also recognized success is not just in material things, but sometimes is seen best in “the happiness of those we love.”
- Accession 00-132 - Office of Telecommunications, Productions, 1982-1989, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
- “Here, Look at Mine!” exhibition records, Anacostia Community Museum Archives
- John N. Robinson artist file, Smithsonian Libraries
As a volunteer in the Digital Services Division of the Archives, I have the pleasure of digitizing archival materials ranging from field notes to videos. Not long ago, I digitized almost an hour and a half of unedited video of the 1940 Smithsonian-Firestone Expedition to Liberia. At the time, I didn’t know much about the expedition but I was intrigued by what I saw - Liberian towns, dense jungle, and exotic animals.
Having just returned from a trip to South America, National Zoological Park Director, Dr. William Mann, led an expedition to Liberia to obtain animals for the zoo in Washington, D.C. He sought several rare species including the pygmy hippopotamus, potto, okapi, and Jentik’s duiker, among others.
As the newly digitized video shows, the Manns travelled luxuriously in Liberia with an entourage of guides and assistants and they were treated to special receptions in several villages. Often, the Manns were carried in hammocks as they travelled. More information on the journey wasn’t hard to find thanks to Lucile Quarry Mann’s travel notes, which are housed here at the Archives. Lucile, the wife and frequent travel companion of Dr. Mann, left descriptive accounts of the people, places, and things that she and her husband saw while searching for animals and insects in Liberia.
Along with overseeing the addition of several animal enclosures, Dr. Mann’s specimen collecting left a lasting mark on the National Zoo. Knowing that collecting wild animals can be a very difficult task for a small party, the expedition leaders offered a reward to villagers who could capture and bring in live animals. The plan worked; Lucile wrote “as we retraced our steps, we found that in almost every village . . . one or two small animals were waiting for us.”
Though the Manns were known for raising baby animals in their Washington, D.C. apartment, Lucile’s account largely leaves out the time that she and her husband spent with animals in Liberia. Fortunately, the expedition video captures what Lucile chose not to dwell on in her writing. But, with a growing collection of animals as the expedition travelled through Liberia, we see her feeding and playing with a number of different animals they collected including chimpanzees, hornbills, and a baby pygmy hippo.
This newly digitized footage preserves both the institutional history of specimen collecting expeditions, but also the personalities of two of the National Zoo’s greatest proponents.
Check out the video below to see clips of William and Lucile Mann in Liberia.
- A World Apart: Smithsonian Expeditions to Alaska and Liberia, Field Book blog, Field Book Project, Smithsonian Institution Archives and National Museum of Natural History
- A Life on the Wild Side: Lucile Quarry Mann, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 7293 - William M. Mann and Lucile Quarry Mann Papers, circa 1885-1981, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- William M. Mann related materials at the Smithsonian Institution Archives
- The Smithsonian's Folklife Festival this year featuring China and Kenya is over now, but you can relive some of the festival in the video below. [via Torch, SI]
- Every wonder what the work of a conservator looks like? Check out 5 Days of Preservation to see what conservators work on on a daily basis. [via Nora Lockshin, SIA]
- Some images from the Apollo 11 mission to the moon which celebrated its 45th anniversary last week. [via PetaPixel]
- Speaking of anniversaries, the NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory celebrated its 15th anniversary this week. [via Smithsonian Science]
- The University of California Libraries Digital Collection Project to create a shared system for managing and providing access to the digital content from the ten UC campus libraries celebrated its halfway point this month. [via InfoDocket]
- Web archivists and other digital sleuths are unraveling the mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. [via Washington Post]
- Check out this video to learn more about the Europeana Newspapers project. [via InfoDocket]
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