Archive for the 'Exploring the Archive' Category

George Eastman and Bicycles

Posted by on Oct 06 2014 | Exploring the Archive, George Eastman, History

Far be it from me to compare myself to George Eastman, but there’s at least one thing we have in common: We both had stages of our lives in which we were enthusiastic about bicycling.

My enthusiasm started last year with the coinciding of ROC Transit Day and the breaking down of my car. I figured it was worth a shot bicycling the mile and a half to and from Eastman House. I saved up for a decent bike and gave it a try. I haven’t regretted it since. In addition to the 10 minute ride to work, I use my bike to meet up with friends, grocery shop, and get to Red Wings games.

Several employees and students at Eastman House commute regularly on their bikes. The racks are full on nice days.

Several employees and students at Eastman House commute regularly on their bikes. The racks are full on nice days.

Here are some neat facts about George Eastman and bicycles:

George Eastman bicycled to work – not just in his young banking days but even when Kodak was well-established. In her biography of Eastman, Betsy Brayer notes that “up until the turn of the century, Eastman rode a bicycle to work in good weather and parked it in the basement of the Kodak Office at 343 State Street.” The ride from Soule House (the residence he and his mother lived in before he built his mansion) to Kodak State Street was a 2.6 mile ride each way.

Eastman and his bicycle ca. 1910.

Eastman and his bicycle ca. 1910.

Eastman and some companions cycled throughout Europe several times in the 1890s. In addition to having fun with friends, Eastman used the trips to explore locations for potential Kodak branches.

Eastman also bicycled through the Berkshires of Massachusetts. Eastman had an endurance I haven’t built up to yet. A close friend of Eastman’s wrote him in July 1892 saying, “You must be having a very elegant time on your bicycle trip. You must be getting as strong as an ox, if you are making fifty-seven or eight miles in a day.”

On one of his transatlantic trips, Eastman met Albert H. Overman, creator of the Overman Wheel Company and Victor Bicycles. The two struck up a friendship that lasted over three decades. Eastman enthusiastically rode Victor Bicycles and bought them for friends and family. Eastman and Overman went in together on a hunting property in North Carolina called Oak Lodge. Eastman eventually purchased Overman’s share and vacationed there multiple times a year for the rest of his life.

Eastman’s horse carriage struck two cyclists in 1899: “a small boy” on Park Avenue and an older gentleman on State Street. Eastman was quick to point out in correspondence that neither accident was his fault – they had swerved into his carriage. Eastman paid for the young boy’s bicycle wheel to be repaired.

Kodak focused a great amount of advertising toward cyclists in the early days. Kodak had a line of Bicycle Kodaks. Just as cyclists today purchase mounts for their smart phones, cyclists back in the 1890s purchased cases to attach their cameras to their bikes. Many ads featured a bicycling man with the slogan “Take a Kodak with you.” Kodak encouraged photo-taking by cyclists by promoting the adventures of Thomas G. Allen Jr. and William L. Sachtleben, two American college graduates who set out to travel the world on their bicycles. Their narratives and Kodak photos were featured in The Century and later as the book Across Asia on a Bicycle.

Kodak ad from the 1890s

Kodak ad from the 1890s

Kodak ad from the 1890s

Kodak ad from the 1890s

Eastman remarked to a friend in 1895: “They are getting bicycles down in this country to marvelously low weights. Crouch has just bought one…that only weighs 17 lbs. You can take it up in one hand and swing it over your head…Such a reduction of weight must add very materially to the pleasure of touring.” Eastman would get a kick out of the plethora of folding bikes that are now on the market.
The Legacy Collection at Eastman House has three bicycle plates from George Eastman’s bicycles. Two are manufacturer’s plates (Iver Johnson’s Arms & Cycle Works of Fitchburg, MA and Pierce Cycle Co. of Angola, NY). The third is a personalized name plate the he had made.

eastman_bike_plate

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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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Mystery nitrate negatives – we need your help!

Posted by on Jul 02 2013 | Behind The Scenes, Exploring the Archive, House & Gardens, Technology

via guest contributor and Eastman House volunteer, Kate Wallace

GEH_44293

While cleaning out the nitrate holding room at the museum, boxes of safety film and nitrate negatives were discovered that appear to have been donated to the museum in the late 1940’s when the museum was getting ready to open to the public.

GEH_44292

The boxes contain negatives that document various aspects of Kodak’s progress and activities from the late 1930s through the 1940s. Interesting handwritten notes describe many of the pictures that range from details such as a “small crack in the wall of a basement” to “condition of a safety boot.”

GEH_44291

There are portraits of employees who won awards for their initiatives to improve the company, along with parts of machines or tools from all different branches such as optics, film processing, and even some war time preparation and production.

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Not every negative matches up with a note, however, and many of the images are unidentifiable without knowledge of the film and processes used during this period. Any help in determining what some of these photographs are depicting, or what the machines pictured may have been used for would allow us to continue this documentation that began so many years ago.

GEH_44294

We are posting these five images in this post to start. If you can help send us a message, or leave a comment below. Thanks!

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Google is in the house

Posted by on Jun 17 2013 | Exploring the Archive, House & Gardens, Motion Pictures, Photography, Technology

This month Google adds more than 1,000 new destinations to experience via street view. It looks like we are one of the first destinations locally (Rochester, N.Y.) to open our doors beyond the street.

the technology vault

This is exciting to us for a few reasons – the first, visitors onsite will now have the opportunity to use their mobile’s to know where they are throughout the house and museum. Secondly, for those that may never come to Eastman House it is an opportunity to invite all to come on in and learn a little bit more about us.
Lastly, we realize as an institution another important aspect for Eastman House is what is going on behind the scenes – our schools (Photographic Preservation and Collections Management & The L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation) and students working in the collections, our conservation labs and photo processes and finally, the vaults. We are pleased to reveal our technology vault three floors underground (are we the first museum to do so?)

So feel free to take a drive and look around – make sure to check out the gardens too!

Having also partnered with Google’s Art Project (the cultural institute), we became the first photography museum to open its collections to the world. More information here, here and here.

Eastman House holds nearly 500,000 photographs representing every major process and the work of more than 14,000 photographers. In addition to the photographs, the collection holds important examples of the photograph’s role in our culture over time – including photojournalism, advertising, etc.  The Motion Picture Collection is one of the major moving image archives in the U.S.

Screen shot 2013-06-17 at 11.19.24 AM

Eastman House is – and always has been – an independent nonprofit institution. We rely on the support of donors, locally and internationally so we can continue to tell the story of photography and motion pictures.

Our new director Bruce Barnes relays our situation honestly, “Frankly, it is a challenge to fund a non-profit institution of our scope in a metropolitan area of one million. George Eastman House has always been an independent, non-profit institution, but the prevailing economic environment has made fundraising more difficult – creating a shortfall at a critical time“.

Thanks for your consideration and above all else take a look!

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Film Matters: Ain’t Nothin Like The Real Thing

Posted by on Aug 30 2012 | Exploring the Archive, History, Motion Pictures

The Dryden Theatre is a staple to film culture and motion picture history. The venue contains decades of memories among the walls, floors, and folding seats. The stories within the deep, curious cinema are many. The modest piano sits stage right, finely tuned and ready to go.  The hushed voices, watchful eyes, ears and smiles surround the box office just before a film begins.

So let’s talk 35mm – let’s talk depth of field, luminosity, purity and beauty. The Dryden screens 35mm almost exclusively (well, every once in a while we mix it up).  You won’t find DVD or Blue-ray here- only film–and oftentimes original. The George Eastman House collection is vast, as are our connections to fellow archives and studios, allowing the Dryden’s film series to be strategically crafted with thoughtful themes and chock-full with the best actors, directors and producers throughout history.

The next frontier for the Dryden is making members and the public aware of the magic of the theater. It is reminding patrons of the unique experience of watching a movie on the big screen shot on 35 or screening silent films with musical accompaniment. It is about the conversations before and after, and the community of this place. I’m proud to present to you a look at the Dryden Theatre and its importance locally and internationally. 
Meet Lori and Kolbe…

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