The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Photo History
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art recently released 400,000 hi-resolution digital images online that you can download and use for non-commercial purposes. [via Colossal]
- When digitizing still images, here is a comparison of the different formats you can choose from. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- There are 35,144 active museums in the United States, double the last official estimate in the 1990s. [via InfoDocket]
- The Archives Center at the National Museum of American History recently acquired the personal papers of Don Herbert, who was better known as Mr. Wizard and who brought science education to kids from the 1950s to the 1980s. [via Smithsonian Science]
- May and June bring about graduation season at high schools, colleges, and universities across the country. NPR has a new online database of commencement speeches to peruse and C-SPAN has a collection of 677 speeches as well. [via InfoDocket]
- Due for an inspection - with the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall scheduled to be redone, Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis will be lowered for inspection and conservation. [via AirSpace, NASM]
- Album covers, a disappearing fixture of our music experience, photographer Jim Cummins took hundreds of images that made were used for covers at Atlantic Records. Now he is in the process of restoring some of those photos from his archive of 2500 images. [via PetaPixel]
- 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]
- Back in the news in a big way - Andy Warhol digitally created art comes back to life, resurrected from floppy disks from 1985. [via Core77]
- Meet the man who invented the cell phone - Martin Cooper. [via O Say Can You See?, NMAH]
- The American Museum of Natural History has made available some 7,000 archival photographs, rare book illustrations, drawings, notes, letters, and Museum memorabilia in the new online database Digital Special Collections [via AMNH blog]
- As Preservation Week comes to an end the Smithsonian Institution Libraries offers some advice on how to best maintain your paper based collections. [via Unbound, SIL]
- Perhaps the end of an era - This may be the last year that the Smithsonian's Folklife Festival will be held on the National Mall after new rules and regulations were adopted by the National Park Service. [via Impact, The Huffington Post]
- Now open - The British Library's new $55 million Newspaper Reading Room. [via InfoDocket]
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?
- The World Wildlife Fund launched a new campaign to raise awareness of endangered species by using the #LastSelfie and Snapchat's self-destruct count-down method of viewing photos as a metaphor for the diminishing numbers of certain endangered species. [via PetaPixel]
- The New York City Dept. of Records added 30,000 newly digitized historical photographs to its online gallery. [via Jennifer Wright, SIA]
- Uncertain fate - The Rosa Parks Archives remains in a warehouse waiting to be sold. [via San Jose Mercury News]
- On a high note - William Grant Still's composition, "Grief," has been performed incorrectly due to an error that was introduced after the song was published. His daughter, Judith Anne Still, with the help of the Library of Congress' Music Division, was able to correct the error to his composition by finding the original unpublished manuscript that Still had deposited with the Copyright Office on June 15, 1953. [via Library of Congress blog]
- The Tate Museum releases a new digital audio archive that features 245 hours of material with over 1,640 artist interviews. [via InfoDocket]
- Let the computers do the work - Movement towards automated processing of electronic records. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- Setting the record straight - The National Museum of American History revised their exhibition label for a DNA model template to recognize the important work of scientist Rosalind Franklin which helped lead to the discovery of the structure of DNA. [via O Say Can You See?, NMAH]
- Moving to DC, the National Museum of Natural History welcomed the Nation's T-Rex this past week where it will find a home while it's on loan for the next 50 years for 50 years from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. [via Smithsonian Science]