Archive for the 'Other' Category

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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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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Another America: My Experience on an Amish Farm in Lancaster County

Posted by on Apr 28 2014 | Guest Blog, Other, Photography

Fifteen years ago, I was in my mid 30s and I didn’t know anything about farming. I bought a farm in Chenango County near Binghamton, N.Y. and bought two of everything—goats, sheep, cows, chickens, and pigs. People called me Noah.

Robert Weingarten (American, b. 1941). Amish 25, Lancaster County, PA, 2001. Inkjet print. Courtesy of the artist. © Robert Weingarten

Robert Weingarten (American, b. 1941). Amish 25, Lancaster County, PA, 2001. Inkjet print. Courtesy of the artist. © Robert Weingarten

I really liked the egg-laying hens. They’re really easy to work with. They make magic every day. They lay an egg every single day, nature’s perfect protein source.

I decided I wanted to learn how to raise organic eggs, so I called up Organic Valley and asked who’s raising eggs in the Northeast. They gave me the name of an Amish farmer in Lancaster County, who was at the time the largest producer of organic eggs for Organic Valley.

Robert Weingarten (American, b. 1941). Amish 52, Holmes County, OH, 2002. Inkjet print. Courtesy of the artist. © Robert Weingarten

Robert Weingarten (American, b. 1941). Amish 52, Holmes County, OH, 2002. Inkjet print. Courtesy of the artist. © Robert Weingarten

I just kind of broke that third wall, walked onto his farm, shook his hand, and said, “Hey, I want to raise organic eggs and I’ve heard you’re the best guy in the Northeast.” We immediately hit it off.

Jacob Glick lives in Bird In Hand, P.A. He and his family had five hen houses each with 10,000 chickens. All of the hens had access to the outdoors, and were let outside during the day to run around the pasture. It’s instinctual for them to come back into the barn at night and roost.

The most interesting and intriguing thing about the Amish lifestyle is how they’ve figured out ways to work around not having the modern conveniences we all think about, like electricity.

Chickens need a certain number of hours of light each day. So they had gas lanterns in the barn and used an old-fashioned windup alarm clock, with a string tied to the bells that when pulled would shut off the lights.

Robert Weingarten (American, b. 1941). Amish 10, Lancaster County, PA, 2001. Inkjet print. Courtesy of the artist. © Robert Weingarten

Robert Weingarten (American, b. 1941). Amish 10, Lancaster County, PA, 2001. Inkjet print. Courtesy of the artist. © Robert Weingarten

The Amish live a very simple life, very hard life. They’re not remotely afraid to put in a fifteen or sixteen hour hard day of physical labor, six days a week. Sunday is a day off, devoted to Church.

Robert Weingarten (American, b. 1941). Amish 35, Holmes County, OH, 2002. Inkjet print. Courtesy of the artist. © Robert Weingarten

Robert Weingarten (American, b. 1941). Amish 35, Holmes County, OH, 2002. Inkjet print. Courtesy of the artist. © Robert Weingarten

For a six-month period, I would go down and stay on Jacob’s farm for five or six days at a time. It was about 300 miles from my farm in Chenango County. He trusted me and I trusted him. Jacob was so giving and so helpful to me to really understand all the things I needed to do.

Some of my best memories are of the meals. Everything is made from scratch. That shoofly pie … wow! Lunch is the biggest meal of the day and also the only time the Amish do business.

The Amish are close to the vest when it comes to almost everything. For them to open up to me was very unusual.
The Amish are very helpful to each other. When someone gets married, they’ll buy a farm, and the whole community shows up to build a barn for them. It’s incredible how much gets done as a community. They’re a very, very tight knit community.

For a couple of years, Jacob hired a driver in a big truck (yes, there is an exception when hiring a driver) and he and his boys came up to my farm and stayed for well over a week and we went out hunting deer.

Robert Weingarten (American, b. 1941). Amish 72, Lancaster County, PA, 2003. Inkjet print. Courtesy of the artist. © Robert Weingarten

Robert Weingarten (American, b. 1941). Amish 72, Lancaster County, PA, 2003. Inkjet print. Courtesy of the artist. © Robert Weingarten

There’s an innocence about them that’s lost in our society now.

Related Exhibition and Program:

Another America: A Testimonial to the Amish by Robert Weingarten is on view through May 25, 2014 in Brackett Clark Gallery.

In Person: Photographer Robert Weingarten (Free to Members)
Thursday, May 1, 2014 at 6:00 p.m. in the Dryden Theatre.
Robert Weingarten will discuss his work on view in Another America.
 

 

 

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Making Fiber Based Photographic Paper Again in Rochester!

Posted by on Mar 07 2014 | Other, Photography

We’re getting ready for a fantastic Handmade Gelatin Photographic Paper workshop and it’s simply too fascinating to let slip by without mention.



In the early 1890s a new type of gelatin emulsion paper was introduced that was contact printed like the albumen print, but unlike albumen printing the image was made visible by a developer. The photographs were black and white, not shades of brown. This product was originally called “gaslight paper” because you could use your household gas light turned low as a darkroom safe light and use the same light turned up brighter to do the actual exposures with the paper in contact with a negative. One of the Kodak versions of this photographic paper was called “Azo” and it was manufactured until several years ago. In the past few years we have worked with Ron Mowrey, a retired Kodak emulsion engineer, to learn how to make and coat this type of emulsion. Not only is it one of the easiest emulsions we have made, but the results are extraordinary.

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Working in the darkroom is often described as a magical experience. For almost every lover of analog photography the decisive moment of that magical experience can be pin pointed to that instant the latent image explodes to life from a seemingly blank piece of paper. Sadly for many people bitten by the photo bug in our digital world this is an experience might never have the pleasure of enjoying, however its never to late to start!

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Actually making and using Azo emulsion to coat your own photographic papers and create stunning black and white contact prints is an experience that will take even the most seasoned photographer back to that first time they ever experienced the magic. If having that feeling again isn’t enough also take into account that you have created your prints entirely by hand. Taking raw materials and turning them into something beautiful is one of the more rewarding experiences one can have.

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The workshop is from March 17-20 and we still have a few spots available for this great class. For more information and on-line registration please go to: http://bit.ly/GEHWorkshops

 

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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:
 



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

 

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