Archive for the 'Behind The Scenes' Category

What Does Identity Mean?

Posted by on Aug 27 2014 | Behind The Scenes, Exhibitions, Exploring the Archive, History, Other, Photography

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose — by any other name would smell as sweet.” Shakespeare wrote these lines for Juliet to speak in the play “Romeo and Juliet” and the question they pose is sometimes relevant to the cataloguing of a photograph.

Images such as “Migrant Mother,” “Powerhouse Mechanic,” and “Afghan Refugee Girl” are familiar to us by these acquired names, sometimes merely descriptive, sometimes alliterative and even poetic ones.

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895 - 1965). Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936, printed ca. 1973. Gelatin silver print. George Eastman House. Gift of Robert J. Doherty.

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895 – 1965). Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936, printed ca. 1973. Gelatin silver print. George Eastman House. Gift of Robert J. Doherty.

But it is also human nature to want to look behind the curtain, to know the narrative behind the iconic image, “just the facts, Ma’am” (as Sgt. Friday on the TV show Dragnet would say), the who, what, when and where of that image.

In the past year or so, new information about the identity of a solemn, bearded man in a brimmed hat in a Lewis Hine photograph has brought both clarity and resolution as well as prompting some consideration about the significance of a title and of inscriptions and the overall meaning and impact of certain historical photographs.

The portrait, now titled by Eastman House “A Yemenite Jew from Palestine” and dated 1926 in the exhibition Lewis Hine-from the Collections of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film was the springboard of these discussions. The image is a powerful one and like the familiar saying it “speaks a thousand words.”

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874 - 1940), A Yemenite Jew from Palestine, 1926. Gelatin silver print. George Eastman House. Transfer from Photo League Lewis Hine Memorial Committee; ex-collection of Corydon Hine.

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874 – 1940), A Yemenite Jew from Palestine, 1926. Gelatin silver print. George Eastman House. Transfer from Photo League Lewis Hine Memorial Committee; ex-collection of Corydon Hine.

In the case of this man’s portrait however, this road led to conflicting pieces of information for the cataloguer, creating, for a time, more confusion than clarity.

In 1901, Hine was one of several mid-westerners that progressive educator Frank Manny brought with him when he took over the position as supervisor of the Ethical Culture School in New York City. Hine began to photograph at Ellis Island in 1905 and wanted his pupils “[to] have the same regard for contemporary immigrants as they have for the Pilgrim who landed at Plymouth.”

As former Eastman House curator Alison Nordstrom tells us, “he was not on assignment in those years and he did not expect to make a living at it. His photographs were not “mug shots,” he strove to enoble-and not to accuse. He established a connection with his subjects and wanted the resulting images to tell their stories.”

We also know that in response to the new US government imposition of immigrant quotas, he returned to Ellis Island to make the same kind of portraits of new-arrivals in 1926.

The Eastman House’s Lewis Hine archive contains over 7000 photographs and 4000 negatives, along with manuscript and other materials and is generally acknowledged to be the most comprehensive collection of his work in the world. However, one should not be surprised that his work is widely represented in other museum collections and at historical sites, including the New York Public Library, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the University of Maryland and other places. Photography is, after all, a reproductive and a disseminating medium, and one negative can yield up many prints. What gives significance and value to most photographs is not that it is the only one, but that it is a vintage one, made by the photographer himself or under his close supervision, around the time the negative was exposed. And, not incidentally, a good print in fine condition will be valued over a poor one.

There are 2 small negatives of the bearded man at Ellis Island in the Eastman House Collection, each taken from a slightly different angle, probably moments apart. There are also 2 vintage photographs that correspond to each of these negatives.

This particular image is generally known through past exhibitions and their catalogues by the title “Armenian Jew, Ellis Island” and is sometimes dated 1905 and sometimes as 1926. An enlarged image in the second floor Great Hall at the Ellis Island National Monument bears the evocative caption, “Armenian Jew, Ellis Island” 1926, followed by: “This Armenian Jew probably left his native land to escape the Turkish persecution of the post-war period.”

Eastman House cataloguers were contacted in April 2010 by a visitor to Ellis Island, a man with an interest in Turkish history, who questioned this caption information on multiple fronts and argued dispassionately and persuasively that all of these facts could not be right at the same instance: nationality, religious affiliation, date, and historical events in the sequence and timing of last years of the Ottoman Empire.

The information written on the 4 portraits of this man by Hine in the Eastman House did little to resolve the issue and his concerns, since the information Hine had written on the prints was indeed “Armenian Jew Emigrant at Ellis Island 1926” but in contrast, he had written on the envelopes containing the negatives “Syrian Jewish Immigrant, Photograph by Lewis W. Hine, Ellis Island, 1905” With 2 nationalities and 2 dates, one is left with 4 distinct possibilities for the title. We knew from experience with Hine’s conflicting notations on the material at Eastman House that this was not unusual: The same portrait of an elderly woman could be identified as “Slovakian Grandmother”, “Jewish Grandmother” or “Polish Grandmother for instance and all could be variously dated from his two forays into Ellis Island. Hine did not recorded the identity of the subjects he photographed, although in some cases (as with children working in factories), he noted their height or other physical attributes.

The question of the identity of the portrait of the bearded man was raised again from a different source in late 2013. A family from New York City who had long believed that the Ellis Island enlargement was a relative (and even posed under it for snapshots), decided to come forward after seeing the image used in a review of the Eastman House exhibit on Lewis Hine at the International Center of Photography, published in the Wall Street Journal. The Goldzweig family contacted the newspaper and one of the staff writers, Angela Chen recognized a good story and took on the project.

Naomi and Yitzchak Goldzweig seated, with Ariella, far left, and Mazal Goldzweig, look at photos and information about their loved one Adrienne Grunwald for The Wall Street Journal.

Goldzweig family look at photos and information about their loved one. Photo credit: Adrienne Grunwald for The Wall Street Journal.

Cataloguing staff were naturally cautious. An identification made on a resemblance alone is often a subjective judgment and people often disagree, perhaps especially when the stakes are high (think… a portrait that “looks like” Abraham Lincoln). But in the end, all of the information provided by the family lined up nicely, and the “mug shot” (in this case) on a May 6, 1926 “Document of Identity to an Applicant who cannot obtain a National Passport” was compelling.

His passport picture. Photo credit: Adrienne Grunwald for The Wall Street Journal

His passport picture. Photo credit: Adrienne Grunwald for The Wall Street Journal

So, much was gained through this communication. The bearded man was Rabbi Shalom Haim Nadoff. He was the son of Rabbi Meir Elnadaf of Jerusalem and his wife Bedur who had immigrated to Palestine from Yemen around the time of his birth in 1901. His family had produced generations of Torah scholars, some of whom had worked to preserve Yemenite Torah and religious works and heritage during the early waves of immigration to Palestine.

He was trained in the customary Yemenite order of Torah study before pursuing advanced studies at Yeshivat Etz Chayim in Jerusalem, with its emphasis on the analytical methods of the Eastern European yeshivot. He was ordained there in 1922.

He was also a graduate of Bezalel Art Institute in Jerusalem where he trained as a silversmith. He was an accomplished designer and craftsman of jewelry and religious articles, who exhibited at the British Empire Exhibition in Wembly, England in 1925.

Hine had noticed and photographed an educated young married man, an ordained Rabbi and a graduate of a prestigious school for craftsman. One might add that Rabbi Nadoff exhibited his works in silver at the Sesqui-Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1926. He became a naturalized United States citizen in 1933. He and his wife Mazal Sofer Nadoff and their five children initially resided in Brooklyn, New York before moving to Chicago, Illinois where in 1933, he displayed his work at the Century of Progress Exhibition. In Chicago, he established himself as the senior rabbi of the Sephardic Congregation of the Portuguese Israelite Fraternity, where he served for the next forty years. During this period, the congregation grew to include Sephardim of Middle Eastern and Northern African extraction, in addition to the original Spanish-Portuguese constituency. Although of Yemenite heritage, he was familiar with Sephardic and Ashkenazic culture and practice. He did not favor Yiddish and conversed only in Hebrew, English and Arabic. He was also able to use some Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) with his congregation.

He was a dedicated proponent of the establishment of a Jewish State and in 1974, he and his wife became residents of Bayit VeGan in Jerusalem, where they lived for the rest of their lives. He died there in 1986, four months after the death of his wife.

All of this information is now in the catalogue record of the Eastman House Data Management System.

However, as noted above, the title of the photograph is “A Yemenite Jew from Palestine” rather than the name of this man. The cataloguer’s reasoning was that this was also Lewis Hine’s photograph and the photographer was taking these images not as “mug shots” as stated above, not even as individual portraits (though he surely sought out an evocative face), but really to “ give a face” to the experience of an Immigrant to America in 1926.

The conflicting captions needed to be resolved, of course, as well as the misleading narrative used in the Ellis Island Caption. Both of the correspondents, the man with interest in Turkish history and the family of Rabbi Nadoff expressed satisfaction over these decisions. This information was shared with both the New York Public Library and the Ellis Island site. The Wall Street Journal published Angela Chen’s article, illustrated with photos of the Goldzweig family and using quotes from Eastman House on December 15, 2013 under the heading ”Rightly Identified – At Last.”

As a final note, the world was intrigued by the National Geographic documentary when photographer Steve McCurry returned to Afgahnistan after the removal of the Taliban government by American troops and local allies in 2001. He eventually located the subject of his compelling photograph, Sharbat Gula, then around the age of 30. Nevertheless, the photograph itself will probably never be known as “Sharbat Gula.” Like other iconic images, it stands for our collective, human identity, which in the best cases, transcends the identity of an individual.

Steve McCurry (American, b. 1950). Afghan Refugee Girl, ca. 1985, printed later. Chromogenic development print. George Eastman House. Courtesy Steve McCurry. © Steve McCurry

Steve McCurry (American, b. 1950). Afghan Refugee Girl, ca. 1985, printed later. Chromogenic development print. George Eastman House. Courtesy Steve McCurry. © Steve McCurry



 
The exhibition Lewis Hine is on view though September 7, 2014 George Eastman House. This major retrospective of the celebrated documentary photographer, reformer, and educator features more than 150 original prints dating from 1905 to 1937, including “A Yemenite Jew from Palestine.”

 

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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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