Archive for the 'Exploring the Archive' Category

Treasures (jewelry!) in the Film Stills Collection

Posted by on Nov 16 2011 | Exploring the Archive, Motion Pictures, Other

The Motion Picture Department is home to nearly one million film stills covering over 100 years of movie making.  Historians, scholars, students, and others from a broad range of disciplines contact us every year for access to the stills collection, both in person and remotely, from all over the world.

It is fairly simple and straightforward to find and select stills when requested by a film title or by a person’s name.  That is how the stills in the collection are physically organized in the vault; it is also how stills are most frequently requested. But what about requests for stills that show certain subjects, such as World War I airplanes, stars with their pets, Technicolor cameras on set, or…

Jewelry?

This was the task at hand when we received a request for stills of stars wearing beautiful jewelry that could be used in conjunction with the upcoming Carole Tanenbaum Vintage Collection Jewelry Trunk Show and Sale.

In this case, the catalog record unfortunately does little in trying to get at stills that show lovely pieces of jewelry on lovely actresses.  The catalog record for a still typically captures the title of the film and the actors and actresses shown in the still, but doesn’t go to the deeper level of what objects happen to be in the still, or how well accessorized the actresses are. This is where creative thinking, some research, and of course knowledge of the stills collection come into play.

A little research into jewelry designers such as Joseff of Hollywood, whose company designed jewelry for films for over 30 years, was the first step that led us to several titles as likely sources of stills featuring outstanding jewelry:  Gone With the Wind, Casablanca, Humoresque, Kismet, Singin’ in the Rain, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Cleopatra were just a few.  Our search quickly led us to the Warner Bros. Keybook Stills Collection for an abundance of stills of Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca (1942) and Joan Crawford in Humoresque (1946), both very well appointed in 1940’s jewelry.

Images of even more stunning jewelry creations, worn by Grace Kelly and Jessie Royce Landis in To Catch a Thief (1955) and by Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra (1963), were found in the Core Publicity Stills Collection.

Film stills of this era were primarily shot and printed in black and white (even the stills shot for color films).  So for color images, we consulted a collection of gorgeous color transparencies from the 1950’s featuring such stars as Mitzi Gaynor in a publicity portrait for There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954) and Dorothy Dandridge in a publicity portrait for Island in the Sun (1957).

It never fails to surprise me how many different ways there are to access the stills collection, and for so many different and unexpected purposes.  Requests like these keep an already fascinating job even more fascinating!

 

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Fashion in Photography: a Royal Family Album

Posted by on Aug 11 2011 | Behind The Scenes, Exploring the Archive, Photography

During their recent visit to the area for a family wedding, fashion photographer David Burton and his wife Sarah stopped by our Gannett Foundation Photographic Study Center. Archivist Joe Struble prepared a selection of ‘fashion in photography’ images on the print rail and brought a few albums out for viewing— which gave us a chance to take a closer look at one album that made a particular (and timely!) impression with the Burtons : the British royal family.

Archivist Joe Struble (left) with Sarah and David Burton.

 

A view of images on the print rail.

 

Sarah Burton examines the royal family album.

 

The following details are from the album Famile Royal D’Angleterre, ca. 1863 (seen above). The images are printed by the van dyke brown process on silk (look closely and you can see the stiching and fabric folds).

 

 Queen Victoria

 

 Princess Louise

 

Princess Alexandra 

 

Prince Albert Victor 

 

 Princess Beatrice

 

Prince Leopold

View more of our The Photography Collection or browse selected sets on Flickr.

 

 

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Eastman House restores “Local Color”

Posted by on Mar 18 2011 | Behind The Scenes, Exploring the Archive, Motion Pictures, Other, Student Work

One of the great pleasures in working for George Eastman House, and in my particular case the Motion Picture Department, is the opportunity for rediscovery. In the cold storage vaults here we house tens of thousands of films. The classics are many – Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz are  just two that are often noted.

But by and large the collection is made up of thousands of films that film history has forgotten or ignored in the years and decades since their release. Now I’ll be honest some of these films have been forgotten for very good reasons. Sh! The Octopus, anyone?

Still others have been forgotten and neglected for reasons not of their making. Wonderful films that in some cases were trampled when American audiences were captured by the birth of the blockbuster. In 1977 filmmaker Mark Rappaport released Local Color.

"Local Color," 1977

Film Critic Roger Ebert called this funny, and melodramatic tale of the interconnected lives of New Yorkers “a strange and wonderful movie.” Shot in black-and-white, Local Color has the look and feel of another NYC-based film that would appear two years later, Woody Allen’s Manhattan. But like many films released in 1977, Local Color would never have a chance to find its wider audience as another little film steamrolled across American movie theaters. That film was Star Wars.

 The role that George Eastman House plays in Local Color happens 30 years later when Mr. Rappaport decided to entrust the original negatives of Local Color to the Motion Picture Department. Received in 2008, Local Color was almost immediately on our preservation radar.

By now Mr. Rappaport was a well-known and respected independent filmmaker of the 1980s and 1990s. Many of his films had garnered a following, but prints in screenable condition were quite rare. Initial inspection of the material also revealed something very troubling. The original picture negative was exhibiting signs of “vinegar syndrome.” Long-term exposure to above average temperatures and humidity cause film made on acetate film stock to give off an acetic acid, vinegar-like smell. This is usually just a sign of deeper problems. Film naturally shrinks over time and vinegar syndrome can expedite this process. The film can become warped. The photo emulsion can become soft causing the image to loss definition.

 Luckily for us and the film, preservation funding was obtained through the Avant-Garde Masters program funded by The Film Foundation and administered by the National Film Preservation Foundation. We worked with the Los Angeles-based laboratory Film Technology to preserve Local Color.

 Along with the original elements, brand new negatives now sit in our cold storage vault. New projection prints have been struck and are just beginning to make their way to screening venues. It is appropriate that our new preservation of Local Color was screened recently at Anthology Film Archive in New York City. Hopefully those audiences were able to rediscover the charms of Local Color.

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The Moon Imagined

Posted by on Jul 21 2009 | Exploring the Archive

James Hall Nasmyth (1808-1890), a Scottish inventor and engineer, is best known for his development of the steam hammer. After his success in engineering and industry, Nasmyth retired and spent his later life pursuing the hobby of amateur astronomy. He moved to Kent and built a 20 inch reflecting telescope, made detailed observations of the Moon, and eventually in 1874, he published a book titled  The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite. This wonderful volume is illustrated with photographs (woodburytypes) and a copy is housed in the rare book collection in The Richard and Ronay Menschel Library at George Eastman House. The book was published to demonstrate the origin of certain mountain ranges on the Moon  through erosion and age. Nasmyth and co-author  James Carpenter  believed that Lunar mountains were the result of volcanic activity, a theory that was later disproved.Plate21 Continue Reading »

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Megalethoscope Slides

Posted by on Jun 11 2009 | Exploring the Archive

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Every year George Eastman House welcomes hundreds of researchers interested in our collections; we host photo historians, curators, students, scientists, and hobbiests from all over the world. Often they are experts in the field and we get to learn a thing or two about our  collection. A few weeks ago a former professor of mine was here to look at our collection of Megalethoscope slides.  Antonella Pelizzari teaches History of Photography at Hunter College in NYC and is an old friend of Eastman House. She is currently working on a book on  Photography  and Italy and traveled to Rochester to research and look at our collection of Megalethoscope slides. I was familiar with these delightful objects before Antonella’s visit, but I didn’t realize that we have one of the largest collections of Megalethoscopes in the world. I also learned a bit about how they work and how they are constructed, which I will share here.

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