Archive for the 'Behind The Scenes' Category

Music Cue Sheet Digitization Project

Posted by on May 28 2014 | Behind The Scenes, History, Motion Pictures, Other, Student Work

The experience of watching a silent film has never been truly noiseless. From the early teens well into the late 1920’s, silent films were almost always projected with some form of musical accompaniment, the nature of which varied according to the individual film and the scope of the theatre and clientele. Special releases premiering in big cities at important theatres were often accompanied by original scores performed by 40-plus piece orchestras, while screenings of the same film in smaller cities and towns might be accompanied by a single musician, usually a piano player or organist, improvising the musical accompaniment. Compiling, not to mention learning, enough appropriate music for countless reels of film was a formidable task that was resolved with two essential documents for the musician: music cue sheets and photoplay music.

Music cue sheets are highly detailed lists of musical suggestions, tailored to the narrative sequencing of a specific film. They were first produced by the Hollywood studios, but were also sold by musical entrepreneurs outside the studio system. Some, such as the “musical synopsis” for Across the Continent, simply listed the names of these musical suggestions along with their proper place in the film. Others, such as the “thematic music cue sheet” for Abraham Lincoln, featured the beginning melody of each suggested piece on a musical staff under the “cue” of an intertitle or action seen on screen.

Across the Continent

 

Abraham Lincoln

The second important element, photoplay music, is a sort of umbrella term. It is used to describe a series of compositions or musical arrangements, sometimes original but more often lifted from popular classical melodies, used to accompany a film. Photoplay music includes everything from venue and orchestra specific original scores for larger releases, to musical arrangements simple enough to be played by a single accompanist, but substantial enough to be fleshed out for small ensembles or large orchestras. Cue sheets suggested specific arrangements of photoplay music for a film but it was the conductor or accompanist who ultimately decided which photoplay music to purchase and what to play during the film.

Photoplay Example

Here at George Eastman House we have a valuable collection of both cue sheets and photoplay music, donated by the estate of the late Theodore Huff, a collector, archivist, professor, biographer, and silent film accompanist. Perhaps even more impressive than the sheer volume of this collection is the intersection between the two elements. An active silent film accompanist and music collector himself, many of Huff’s photoplay music scores correspond directly with the musical suggestions listed on his music cue sheets. And that’s where I come in.

Kate Scanning

I am a Masters student here at the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation and the University of Rochester and I have spent the past few months initiating the process of digitizing this important collection. Cue sheets are still used to accompany screenings of silent films, but they are also incredibly useful research tools for archivists and scholars by virtue of their meticulous cataloging of running times, footage counts, projection speed, cues between scenes and more. Take for example the cue sheet for The Famous Mrs. Fair, which on just the first page offers up a wealth of information about the film. This is especially important for lost films for which music cue sheets constitute an important point of access, both in terms of technical specifications and narrative atmosphere as indicated by the musical suggestions, to films we might otherwise know nothing about.

Famous Mrs. Fair 1 Famous Mrs. Fair 2

The scope of the current project addresses the collection of music cue sheets for nearly 900 films. Once completed, we hope to continue into a second phase of digitizing over 1,600 pieces of photoplay music – the actual music pieces suggested in the cue sheets – for a comprehensive digital library of silent film music that will be accessible to archivists, scholars, musicians, and others. It’s a daunting but an exciting project and I’m grateful for the opportunity to get the process started.

 

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’12 Years a Slave’: Solomon Northup’s Descendants Gather for Photo Shoot at Eastman House

Posted by on Mar 01 2014 | Behind The Scenes, Motion Pictures, Other

The Hollywood Reporter recently brought together five generations from the family tree of the real-life Solomon Northup portrayed in the film 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, US/UK 2013). Eastman House had the great honor of hosting the photo shoot for Northrup’s 26 upstate New York descendants. Similar gatherings were held for Northrup’s other family members in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
 
Nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, 12 Years a Slave tells the story of Northup, a New York State–born free black man who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C., in 1841 and sold into slavery. He worked on plantations in the state of Louisiana, suffering extreme cruelty and brutal torture for twelve years before his release. The film is based on a book of the same name written by Northup in 1853.
 
The Hollywood Reporter wrote:

It’s one of the most visceral depictions of American slavery ever committed to the screen. But it’s the fact that 12 Years a Slave is based on the real-life events of Solomon Northup’s kidnapping and eventual escape that makes the film truly powerful — especially for his descendants.

Eastman House was honored to be chosen as the venue for these Rochester-area family members to gather and reflect on Northrup’s powerful legacy. Here are the resulting photos and video testimonials captured in the Dryden Theatre:
 



Northrup_family

More photos and stories from the other cities can be found here.

 

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What is a Digital Negative?

Posted by on Jan 30 2014 | Behind The Scenes, Other, Photography, Tutorials

We’re excited about a new workshop at George Eastman House in February: Digital Negative Making. For years we have taught a growing number of photographers how to make their own photographic negatives on glass using historic processes. Realizing that not everyone is interested in going that route, we decided to look into a new approach for the rest of the world: the “digital” negative.
 
But what is a digital negative? A digital negative is a negative image printed onto a transparency film using an inkjet printer. Once the original image is in your computer it can be edited “to taste” and prepared for lots of really interesting alternative photographic printing processes. The digital negative bridges the gap between 19th and 21st century photographic processes. You can use old glass plate or film negatives, that last bit of type 55 Polariod film you love so much, or even a digital capture from a smart phone.
 
Once you’ve decided on a printing process, like salted paper, platinum, or gum printing, a series of test prints are made to create a “printing curve.” This curve will be applied to the file before printing to help optimize the negative for the selected processes. The printing curve is a layer in Photoshop that has been adjusted for the specific paper printing process you’ve chosen. The curve allows the print to have smooth continuous mid tones while still keeping strong black tones and clean white tones. Once these tests are completed you never have to look back as the final steps are a check list of settings which once set, can be saved and applied the same way every time.
 
Here are some examples of Digital Negative Making in action:
 

Two hand made salted paper prints. The negative used to print these were created from Instagram files from a smart phone.

Two hand made salted paper prints. The negative used to print these were created from Instagram files from a smart phone.


 
A digital negative printing on ink press transparency film, the green cast is added to help give the negative spectral density.

A digital negative printing on ink press transparency film, the green cast is added to help give the negative spectral density.


 
An albumen print from a digital negative. The original 4x5 negative was created using a hand made gelatin dry plate.

An albumen print from a digital negative. The original 4×5 negative was created using a hand made gelatin dry plate.


 
 Two hand made salted paper prints and the original digital file on the phone that captured it.

Two hand made salted paper prints and the original digital file on the phone that captured it.

Digital Negative Making is a technique that photographers could have only dreamed of in the past. Now we can easily combine the precision editing and tonal control of digital with the beauty and magic of alternative photographic printing processes. All this and more will be covered in our very first digital negative making workshop at the George Eastman House Museum next month. Sign up today! Hope to see you there!
 

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Q&A with Lisa Hostetler – Part II

Posted by on Dec 27 2013 | Behind The Scenes, Photography

This month, Lisa Hostetler, PhD, joined the Eastman House staff as Curator-in-Charge of the Department of Photography. This is Part II of a recent conversation with Hostetler about the current state of photography, her interests in the medium, and her plans for working with the Eastman House collection. Click here to read Part 1!

LisaH

GEH: Which artists’ or era’s photography have been most formative in the way you approach (or consider) the medium?
LH: I’ve always been particularly intrigued by street photography of the 1940s and ’50s. I wrote my dissertation on Louis Faurer, and the exhibition and book Street Seen: The Psychological Gesture in American Photography, 1940–1959 grew out of my research on that project.

Street Seen focused on the work of six artists—Faurer, Lisette Model, Saul Leiter, Ted Croner, William Klein, and Robert Frank—whose work conveyed the subjective edge that sliced through American art during the war and immediate postwar years. The raw power of their images is unforgettable, and the unique combination of brashness and vulnerability that characterized the best postwar street photography spoke volumes about the anxieties and aspirations that pervaded society during that period. The way that those photographers’ work conveyed a personal vision of the world while collectively suggesting something fundamental about the nature of everyday life in the 1940s and ’50s taught me a lot. It showed me that photography can be a private aesthetic journey and a socially significant activity at the same time, and that paying attention to both aspects of a photographer’s work is a profoundly rewarding way to consider his or her accomplishments.

William Klein (American, b. 1928). Gun 2, near the Bowery, New York, 1955, printed 1985. Gelatin silver print. George Eastman House. Museum purchase: Lila Acheson Wallace Fund.

William Klein (American, b. 1928). Gun 2, near the Bowery, New York, 1955, printed 1985. Gelatin silver print. George Eastman House. Museum purchase: Lila Acheson Wallace Fund.

GEH: What photograph or body of work have you experienced recently that surprised you, and in what way?
LH: Lately, I’ve been noticing that traditional photographic processes seem to be attracting a number of young photographers, who experiment with materials as they explore what is gained and what might be lost in the transition from analog to digital photography. I’m very excited about this work and look forward to seeing how this trend continues to develop.

GEH: To what extent do you see cinema and photography as reciprocal media? How do they influence each other?
LH: I see photography and cinema as related media in that they both have complex relationships to realism and to narrative. My favorite photographers and filmmakers often confound popular assumptions about their medium, especially when those assumptions involve the expectation of documentary truth or linear storytelling. That said, I think the urge to believe what we see in a photograph is practically a part of human nature by now, and the desire for a film to tell a story is equally strong. There is value in satisfying those instincts as well as in questioning them.

Photographers and filmmakers have been influenced by each other throughout history. I look forward to collaborating with my colleagues in the motion picture department to explore those connections and tease out their broader significance.

GEH: What aspects of the George Eastman House collections are you most looking forward to bringing to the public?
LH: At this point, I’m still looking forward to learning what all is in the collection! With over 400,000 objects, I have a lot of looking to do and many plans to make. I can’t wait to share what I find with the public. Also, I will be working with museum staff to make our entire photography collection searchable online, so that people can make their own discoveries as well.

 

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Q&A with Lisa Hostetler – Part I

Posted by on Dec 26 2013 | Behind The Scenes, Photography

This month, Lisa Hostetler, PhD, joined the Eastman House staff as Curator-in-Charge of the Department of Photography. We recently spoke with Hostetler about the current state of photography, her interests in the medium, and her plans for working with the Eastman House collection.

LisaH

GEH: What made you decide that joining us at George Eastman House was the right decision for you?
Lisa Hostetler: The opportunity to shape the future development of one of the world’s best photography collections was a key factor. The depth and variety of Eastman House’s holdings is impressive, and its legacy of important exhibitions— such as New Topographics—has made the institution an important player in the history of photography.

I want to build on this excellent foundation while working to raise the institution’s profile both nationally and internationally. In order to do this, I will focus on building a dynamic program that activates the collection, brings it up-to-date, and presents it in compelling ways. At the same time, I plan to support the development of new ideas and new voices in the field through temporary exhibitions and publications.

For me, the prospect of doing both historical and contemporary projects was especially appealing, as I’ve always been fascinated with all eras of photography’s history.

GEH: What do you think the role of photography collections and museums is today, given the medium’s ubiquity in our culture?
LH: Photography museums have an important role to play as our culture becomes increasingly saturated with photographic images. In this environment, visual literacy is essential, and good photographs hone our ability to see clearly and understand the world’s complexity. Photographers spend their lives thinking about seeing and com- municating their ideas, and we have a lot to learn from them. By preserving and exhibiting their work, photography museums allow audiences to benefit from their experience. In addition, sometimes a photograph’s scale and physical presence are as telling as its imagery, and museum collections are vital for preserving access to the insights original objects offer.

GEH: How does that affect what we should collect and exhibit?
LH: These factors directly inform collection and exhibition activities. We need to maintain our connection to photography’s history—where it’s been both materially and conceptually— in order to truly understand and appreciate its current situation. I hope to pursue acquisitions and exhibitions that have meaning in the present, but that are informed by an understanding of the past and open to future possibilities.

Read Part II of this Q&A!

 

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