The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Photo History
- Please helps us move on to the next round of the Smithsonian Summer Showdown, by voting for the icon, the will of our founder, James Smithson!
- Where does metadata fit in, the quantity vs. quality quandry of digitized material. [via American Libraries Magazine]
- At the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, the "stud book" plays a key role in the conservation effort of rare animal species. [via Washington Post]
- The DC Public Library recently established the DC Punk Archive to document the history and culture of DC music. [via Marguerite Roby, SIA]
- A look back at what is was like for photographers at the very beginnings of the digital photography revolution. [via Lens, The New York Times]
- President Warren G. Harding's love letters to his mistress, Carrie Fulton Phillips, are now open to the public at the Library of Congress. [via The Library of Congress blog]
- Information about the private lives of early Americans are being discovered in the church records stored in basements and attics, file cabinets, safes and even coat closets. [via The New York Times]
You voted, we listened. For the next installment of our adventures with miscellaneous archival folders we opened up Record Unit 363 - National Museum of Natural History, Office of Exhibition, Records, circa 1955-1990. The folder that you voted for after our last adventure, was “Miscellaneous Photographs,” and a more appropriate title for a folder never existed. When I first opened the file I was overwhelmed by the randomness of its contents, so much so, I was not even sure what to write about!
The photographs in this folder cover a wide range of events, objects, and people. Some of the images document the annual Regent’s Exhibit. The Regent’s Exhibit, was an exhibit created to showcase the different activities around the Smithsonian for the Board of Regent’s Annual Meeting. It appears that up until the early 1950s the exhibit was a small endeavor, cobbled together a few days before the meeting. However, in a memo from 1953, Smithsonian administrators discuss the possibility of increasing the time spent on the exhibit. “It is felt by most that previous exhibits have been too numerous, much too crowded, often confusing, and not well-attended by the Regents…We think it would be more effective to limit the exhibits to a few appropriate phases of the Institution’s activities.” It seems their plan worked. The images found in this folder document the exhibits from the 1960s and they are sleek, well organized, and even stayed up for public exhibit inside the Smithsonian Institution Building’s Great Hall.
Other images found in the folder are photographs of collections and buildings around the Smithsonian. These images include everything from a picture of an elephant at the National Zoo, to schematics showing fabric and wood veneered panels of a third floor corridor in the National Museum of American History. Many of these images are negatives placed in smaller envelopes within the folder. The outside of the folders often have notations indicating what a print of the negative might look like. For example, the image of the elephant’s envelope reads “1-12 HIGA matt.” One could venture a guess that these images were reprinted on larger scales to display in the various exhibits the office was producing.
The most interesting images included in this smorgasbord are the photographs that give a behind-the-scenes look at the exhibits staff and their work. These images capture the detailed work it took Smithsonian staff to create exhibits that not only labeled the objects, but placed them within a larger historical context. From climbing into an exhibit to carefully creating a floor that looks like sand, to painting the leaves to set the scene for collection items, the artistry and skill utilized by Smithsonian staff never ceases to amaze me. It is great that this work, sometimes overlooked because of its seamlessness, is captured in these images to show an interesting side of the Smithsonian.
If you would like to see inside more of our miscellaneous collections, let us know what you would like us to open next. Comment below, or message us on Facebook or Twitter with Folder A for a look at a miscellaneous folder from Record Unit 548 - National Museum of Natural History, Division of Meteorites, Correspondence, circa 1970-1988 or Folder B for a look into a folder from Record Unit 50 - Smithsonian Institution, Office of the Secretary, Records, 1949-1964.
- Record Unit 363 - National Museum of Natural History, Office of Exhibition Records, circa 1955-1990: Box 7, Folder: Miscellaneous Photographs, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 50 - Smithsonian Institution, Office of the Secretary, Records, 1949-1964: Box 148, Folder: Regents Exhibit 1953, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- 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]
There is a remarkable figure in the Smithsonian’s history that doesn’t get much of the spotlight; Thomas W. Smillie. He served as the Smithsonian’s first official photographer from 1870 until his death in 1917, and additionally became the Smithsonian’s first photography curator in 1896. Smillie amassed a collection of photographic equipment starting with the purchase of the daguerreotype camera and photographic apparatus used by Samuel Morse for $23. He documented the Smithsonian’s collections and activities ranging from art to history to science. He was a skilled experimenter, and a successful one at that. In the spring of 1900, Smillie accompanied a team of scientists to document a solar eclipse in Wadesboro, North Carolina. The goal was to document the solar corona, so he mounted cameras to several telescopes and successfully took eight stunning glass plate negatives.
In a series of cyanotypes, he documented the Smithsonian’s collections, many still in the collection today (see slideshow below). Currently, Smillie's work is in the Cold Vault at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Today, we are still documenting the incredible collection that Smillie created.
- The Smithsonian’s First Photographer, The Bigger Picture
- Smillie and the 1900 Solar Eclipse, The Bigger Picture
- This rooftop photo from the 1920s may be the first group selfie. [via PetaPixel]
- The life of Lucky Luciano and other prisoners in New York get illuminated as prison records are digitized and made available online. [via The New York Times]
- What happens after . . . The story of what happens to objects when a temporary exhibition is taken down. [via O Say Can You See? blog, NMAH]
- Software on floppy disks, videotapes, and other obsolete technology pose a risk to the history that is stored on them. [via Popular Mechanics]
- For your research pleasure - The full catalog of USGS topographic surveys is now all on one site and searchable by city. [via Citylab, The Atlantic]
- Museum's acquisitions of digital objects provides a discussion of what it means to have the "original" copy of that digital object and what should be done with it. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- Smokey the Bear taught us that "Only YOU can prevent forest fires!" and it was in June 1950 that the cub known as Smokey Bear arrived at the National Zoo. [vis Smithsonian Collections Blog]
- A crowdfunded research project at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama seeks to study white band disease, which is responsible for destroying up to 95% of two threatened reef-building coral species in the Caribbean. [via Experiment]
- Raise a Glass to History with the Smithsonian Channel and the National Museum of American History as they celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner with cocktails inspired by our past. [via Smithsonian Channel and NMAH]