Archive for the 'Other' Category

Nitrate Film: The Beginning

Posted by on Dec 28 2014 | Motion Pictures, Other

December 28 marks the anniversary of the first-ever public exhibition of motion picture film in 1895. The film, a continuing advancement of image capture, production, and technology, was made of nitrocellulose base, referred to colloquially as nitrate. Close in chemical composition to gunpowder, this film was known to be inflammable, but was not considered dangerous. Still, for portability and ease of use, open flames were the best way to project the flickering images, and on that first day the projector was set up in the middle of the room, in the midst of the audience, daring the patrons to decipher its magic. It wasn’t until the following year, and the first devastating fire, that nitrate began to garner its unique reputation.

It was a Saturday evening 119 years ago, in a basement room known as Salon Indien of the Grand Café, located at 14 Boulevard des Capuchins, Paris, that the first paying audience, of around 100, viewed projected moving images on a screen. The Lumière brothers, Auguste and Louis, exhibited ten short films, actualities and simple comedies, that each ran less than a minute. Versions of these films survive today, including, most famously, La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière a Lyon (Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory) and l’Arroseur Arrosé (The Sprinkler Sprinkled).



 l’Arroseur Arrosé (The Sprinkler Sprinkled)

l’Arroseur Arrosé (The Sprinkler Sprinkled)

The Lumières used their own version of the Cinématographe, an ingenious device that was not only the projector, but also the camera and printer of the film. Specious rumors abound about that first show and the audience’s reaction to it, including stories that women screamed and fainted, but as every good reporter knows (or at least every reporter who has seen The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
the Cinematographe

Like the film Thomas Edison was using for his peep show viewer the Kinetoscope, the Lumière film was 35mm in width and printed on a flexible nitrocellulose base. Unlike the Edison film, however, the Lumière film only had one set of circular perforations per frame. Edison’s film used four perforations on each side of the frame, the industry standard that exists to this day. The Lumière Cinématographe brought better clarity to the projected image by using an intermittent motion in the projector that had the film resting as much as it was motion, a feature that would be adopted by all future projectors and remains in use in the 21st century.

On May 4, 1897, a devastating fire broke out at the annual Charity Bazaar in Paris. The fire started in the section of the bazaar where film was being projected, and 180 people, mostly aristocrats, perished. Nitrate film got the reputation that it was a dangerous explosive, but the fire was actually the fault of the projectionist lighting a match while filling ether into the tank of illuminating fluid and not the fault of the nitrocellulose base film. From that day forward heavy restrictions were placed on how motion picture film could be handled, stored and transported, restrictions that are still in place to this day. The projector had to be placed within a fireproof booth, and since projected film was becoming a regular feature on Vaudeville programs, several theaters needed to be fitted with projection rooms.

For the next 55 years nitrate was the standard for producing commercial motion pictures. All silent titles universally recognized today, and the first 25 years of studio sound product, were created on nitrate film. Titles as enduring and varied as Cabiria, Greed, Sunrise, All Quiet on the Western Front, M, The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, The Rules of the Game, The Maltese Falcon, Citizen Kane, Tokyo Story, and All About Eve were recorded and exhibited on nitrate stock.

As a film archive and a film museum, the George Eastman House is committed to conserving and exhibiting films as close to their original disposition as possible. This is why we have built vaults to hold and keep nitrate film from deteriorating over the years. This is why we have collected nitrate film since the beginning of the museum. This is why we maintain the Dryden Theatre and its projectors to standards that will allow us to project nitrate film and maintain safety for the audience.

Projectionist Darryl G. Jones getting ready for a nitrate screening at the Dryden Theatre.

Projectionist Darryl G. Jones getting ready for our nitrate screening at the Dryden Theatre.

This is why we train staff, and instruct students of the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation, in the proper handling and projection of film objects. And this is the reason that we are embarking on The Nitrate Picture Show: A Festival of Film Conservation. We believe that film produced on nitrate should be seen on nitrate, and we are dedicating the weekend of May 1-3, 2015 to just this endeavor.

The legacy begun by two brothers in a basement in France 119 years ago this week continues at the George Eastman House in the present and in the future. If you would like to be a part, please visit eastmanhouse.org/nitratepictureshow.

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Kodak Camera at 125: Eastman’s First Film Patent

Posted by on Oct 14 2014 | Exhibitions, George Eastman, Other, Technology

On October 14, 1884, George Eastman received his first “film” patent (#306,594) for Negative Paper. While this was a paper film (not very related to the transparent product most people think of today) and not very successful, it eventually lead to improved versions incorporated into the first Kodak camera introduced in 1888 – a milestone in the history of photography.

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Over the years, Eastman acquired many patents related to both film manufacturing and film and the apparatus to use them including #317,050 dated May 5, 1885 for the Eastman Walker roll holder and more importantly #388,850 patented Sept 5, 1888 for the Kodak.

1888-Kodak-camera-ad

Our current exhibition Kodak Camera at 125 showcases the new system of photography that Eastman introduced to the world with the Kodak camera in 1888 and the innovative parts used to build the device. We encourage you to visit to see objects from our collection that show the evolution of his cameras and the snapshots each has captured.

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Walking the Camino at the Dryden

Posted by on Sep 25 2014 | Motion Pictures, Other

“Around 1 p.m. we were overcome with the paranoid notion that we were waiting for a train that would never come. We threw on our packs and headed out into the wasteland of abandoned buildings to find answers.” [Train station El Burgo Ranero headed toward Leon, September 24, 2013]

This is a journal entry by Jeff Stanin, George Eastman House staff member. Exactly one year ago, Jeff was in the midst of a 500-mile pilgrimage across Spain known as the Camino de Santiago. This Saturday, September 27, at 8 p.m., the Dryden Theatre will be screening the Rochester Premiere of Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago. The documentary follows six strangers from diverse walks of life walking this same journey, each with a unique story to tell.

Post-screening, Jeff will lead a discussion based on his unique journey across the Camino de Santiago. We hope you’ll join us!

For more information on the screening visit dryden.eastmanhouse.org

Jeff and wife Elizabeth at the Statue of the Wind-Battered Pilgrim

Jeff and wife Elizabeth at the Statue of the Wind-Battered Pilgrim

Sign marker of the Camino

Sign marker of the Camino

Church outside of Villalcazar de Sirga

Church outside of Villalcazar de Sirga

Setting out into the hot, dusty plains known as the Meseta

Setting out into the hot, dusty plains known as the Meseta

 

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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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The Douglas Fairbanks Nitrate Still Negatives Collection

Posted by on Jun 23 2014 | Motion Pictures, Other

As part of our studies through the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation, I chose to work with the Douglas Fairbanks Nitrate Still Negatives Collection for my personal project.  The collection has been mentioned a few times on our blog, most notably in the past month in honor of 90 years since the release of The Thief of BagdadThe collection comprises nearly 10,000 nitrate still negatives that came from Douglas Fairbanks’ personal collection and were donated to George Eastman House by his son, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.  The still negatives range from his early works such as A Modern Musketeer (1917) and Mr. Fix-It (1918) to most of his well-known works like Robin Hood (1922) and The Black Pirate (1926).  The collection features scene stills, character portraits, set designs and many other behind-the-scenes photos.

One of the most interesting titles I have worked with so far is The Gaucho (1927).  The title has nearly 1,600 negatives, one of the largest out of the entire collection.  The negatives have been wonderfully fascinating to study and work with, as they demonstrate the extensive range of the collection.  While the negatives had not been kept in ideal conditions before being donated to Eastman House, the quality of the photos is still quite impressive.

Lupe Velez is love struck by Fairbanks as the Gaucho (understandably so!)

Lupe Velez is love struck by Fairbanks as the Gaucho (understandably so!)

In addition to beautiful shots of scenes from the film, there are a number of stills showing paintings, pages from books, and prints used as reference for the film (much like a modern day photocopier.)   The stills show exactly what inspired and guided the costume and set designers for the film.  Within these stills are also photographs of the paintings of art director Carl Oscar Borg.  Borg was a Swedish painter who also worked as art director on Fairbanks’ previous film, The Black Pirate (1926).  The paintings are regrettably only documented in black-and-white, but it is interesting to compare them to scene stills to truly marvel at how well the set designers and decorators were able to capture Borg’s vision.

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As noted in The Thief of Bagdad blog post, tests for make-up effects were a must during production.  For The Gaucho, they had at least five different versions of make-up for the ‘Victim of the Black Doom,’ yet in the final version of the film his face is never shown!
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Processing and scanning of this collection has been ongoing for several years. The scope of my project is to continue inventorying the negatives, re-house them into new archival boxes for storage, create master digital scans of each negative, and perform file maintenance on existing digital files.

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These various steps proved to be more challenging than I had originally anticipated. Improvements to the workflow over the course of the project has meant revisiting some of the previous work done with the collection, in order to keep things consistent. What may seem to be simple tasks on the surface are often in actuality very detailed and time-consuming, and one small change can set in motion a whole series of related tasks that need to be applied to the entire collection. While the process has had its challenges, it has been a great experience becoming familiar with rare nitrate stills, Douglas Fairbanks, and the amazing work that went into the making of his spectacular features.

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