The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Photo History
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]
In the summer of 2013, my family and I took a vacation that was decades in the making. I actually consider it a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. More than 20 years ago my father and I talked about going on a Route 66 road trip, but it did not happen as life got busier with careers, moves, children, and other daily routines. We decided that it was finally time to do it – even if it meant only part of the 2,400-plus-mile road would be traveled due to time, expenses, and other constraints. The Mother Road goes from Chicago to Los Angeles (or Santa Monica Pier, depending on whom you ask).
My husband and I previously had traveled the iconic road from Chicago to St. Louis in two trips. Of course, this was before the explosion of the Internet, GPS devices, digital cameras, and apps that can make traveling easier. The road was decommissioned in 1985 and had been on the decline for decades as interstates made travel faster.
The 10-day journey comprised three generations in a borrowed family vehicle. The starting point was San Bernardino, California, taking a pass on Los Angeles this time. We went about 800 miles into Arizona and New Mexico on the route most the time (a decommissioned road means some rough spots and mysterious or missing segments). There were side trips to the Grand Canyon and El Morro National Monument in New Mexico. We were treated to beautiful landscapes, wild burros in Oatman, Arizona, iconic Route 66 signage, and lots of old roadside lodging and diner options you won’t find near the interstates. My boys even got to enjoy a movie at drive-in theater for the first time.
Not only are vacations about places but people as well. My father and I had a nice conversation with Mauricio Perez of Seligman, Arizona. The family runs a popular gift shop, and his father-in-law is Angel Delgadillo, 87, who is considered one of Route 66’s biggest supporters through his efforts to revitalize the highway after its decommissioning. We even talked about how the Delgadillo family is featured in the America on the Move exhibition at the National Museum of American History. Perez said they needed to take a trip east to Washington, D.C., to see it.
The allure of Route 66 has grown in the decades since its closing and attracts visitors from all over the world. Delgadillo, who is a barber, was giving a haircut to a filmmaker from Spain working on a Route 66 special while we were there.
Of course, we tried to document as much as we could through our cameras, resulting in lots of digital photos (there were more cameras than travelers). I did upload the images to my computer as soon as I got home and also printed the ones that I considered special for display. But a year later I still need to finish the job of deleting some of the images that I don’t need to keep and were missed during a first review (blurry ones, duplicates taken from inside the car by the youngest passengers, etc.), as well as making sure metadata is there.
There also are steps you can take before and during the trip to get the most out of the memories you are making:
- Get to know your camera/s before the trip especially if it is new. Most digital cameras have multiple options these days that you might want to use, such as a timestamp on the image. Some cameras and smartphone cameras also have GPS capability, which will note in the metadata of where the image was taken as a geotag. Take the instruction manual along if you have space for it.
- Delete blurry photos when you have down time (waiting for lunch, waiting at the airport, waiting to go on an amusement park ride, etc). Digital cameras allow us to take more pictures than with film, which can be a mixed blessing.
- Try out apps that can track your trip to create a map of the route that can be saved, if you have a tablet or smart phone.
- Write or type up observations while they are fresh in a travel journal/blog.
- Collect impressions of others who travel with you either by video or audio recording or writing them down.
- Consider purchasing some old-fashioned postcards to round out the images especially if you forgot to take some at a particular spot.
Now we just need to complete a St. Louis, Missouri, to Gallup, New Mexico, leg.
- Route 66: The Road and The Romance, online exhibition, The Autry
- The Mystique of Route 66, by David Lamb, Smithsonian Magazine
- Smithsonian Secretary Charles D. Walcott at the Grand Canyon, Record Unit 95 - Photograph Collection, 1850s - , neg. no. 83-14116, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Using a combination of clever sculpting and well-timed strobes, artist, Takeshi Murata created what appears to be a perpetually melting sculpture. [via PetaPixel]
- Think you have a lot of data on your computer, tablet, or phone . . . the federal government has real big data that it needs to manage. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- Librarians make lasting impacts on people and their respective organizations everyday, take library analyst Eilene Galloway, who helped launch the National Aeronautics and Space Administration [via The Library of Congress blog]
- When we think of the internet we tend to think of its invisibility and ever present nature around us, but it takes a real and substantial presence to make all that cloud computing and connectivity work. Timo Arnall, a designer and artist from London, takes a look at the machinery of the internet. [via Wired]
- In 1863, at the age of 48, Julia Margaret Cameron, received a camera as a gift. Her subsequent photographs are awesome! [via PetaPixel]
- This week saw the passing of two important and influential people: Author and poet, Maya Angelou, and designer, Massimo Vignelli. [via InfoDocket and Core77]
- 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]