Archive for the 'Photography' Category

A Piece of History Reborn

Posted by on Jun 29 2015 | Behind The Scenes, Photography, Technology

In 1995, before I was hired to teach in the conservation department, my wife and I originally came to Eastman House to teach workshops. Back then, we brought a car load of equipment from home—cameras, studio stands, and other specialized photographic equipment—every time we held a workshop. Now, twenty years later, my full-time job at Eastman House is once again teaching public workshops in historic photographic processes . . . and, I’m still bringing equipment from home.

The technology collection at the museum holds more than eight thousand cameras. But as Todd Gustavson, curator of the technology collection, tells me, once an object is officially accessioned into the collection, it becomes an artifact available for study—not for actual use. It’s understandable. Damage to equipment is expected when a piece is handled by many or exposed to corrosive chemicals, particularly the wet collodion process used to make tintypes and ambrotypes.

In the past few years, I’ve been scrounging for original equipment for the workshop program so that eventually we’ll be fully equipped without the need for me to loan pieces to the museum. We run our workshop program without a budget for equipment, and the supplies are funded by an additional fee paid by the participants. A few months ago, I decided it was time to get an 8×10” studio camera for the program, and I used social media to get it.

I made an appeal to our friends. We host the Eastman House Historic Processes Education group page on Facebook with more than 2,800 subscribed friends. In less than a day I had two people willing to donate the type of camera we needed. One was in New Jersey and the other was in Ohio. The Ohio camera, owned by Jeannette Palsa, also had the original studio stand—both in need of restoration, but solid. Jeannette had taken an ambrotype workshop from us years ago and uses the process in her fine art photography.

On a Friday in April, my assistant, Nick Brandreth and I drove the four hours to the Akron area to retrieve the camera and stand. When we arrived, Jeannette’s friend Bob Herbst was also there with a second camera donation. Jeannette was kind enough to send us off with box lunches and we arrived back in Rochester with two cameras, a studio stand, and a speeding ticket from an Ohio speed trap.

That weekend, I disassembled the studio stand, made the necessary repairs, refinished the wood and iron castings, and had it ready for use by Tuesday of the next week. The better camera of the two, an 8×10″ Century 10A Studio Camera donated by Bob was chosen for use since the bellows were still in usable condition and it only need some minor repairs. I made a lens board for this camera and attached a large brass portrait lens from my personal collection so that we could use it right away. Eventually we’ll be looking for a replacement lens and new bellows to be made, but the camera was put to use immediately in a tintype workshop less than a week after bringing it back to the museum. It’s a great piece of history reborn.

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Brandreth (left) and Osterman (right) with the century 10A Studio Camera donated by Bob Herbst and original studio camera stand donated by Jeannette Palsa.

Brandreth (left) and Osterman (right) with the century 10A Studio Camera donated by Bob Herbst and original studio camera stand donated by Jeannette Palsa.

The workshop program is always looking for donations of equipment, from laboratory glass, to vintage photographic apparatus. Contact Mark Osterman at mosterman@geh.org if you think you can help.

 

 

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Curating for the First Time

Posted by on Jun 08 2015 | Behind The Scenes, Photography, Student Work

After spending our first year of the Photographic Preservation and Collections Management (PPCM) graduate program at Ryerson University in Toronto, my classmate Andrew Murphy and I chose to move to Rochester, New York to spend our second year studying at George Eastman House. Upon arriving, we learned that we would be co-curating a rotation of the newly established exhibition series, A History of Photography. Under the guidance of the Curator-in-Charge and Associate Curator of the Photography Department, we developed another version of the complex history of the photographic medium through works in the Eastman House collection that conceptualize how photography can be used to represent information, whether scientific or artistic in nature.

Andrew and I had the daunting task of selecting only thirty photographs from the collection of over 400,000 objects. To narrow our options, we both identified key figures and movements that we felt deserved a place in our history of photography. Our goal was to find photographs that represented various photographic processes and conceptual uses of the medium.

Dr. Josef Maria Eder (Austrian, 1855-1944) and Eduard Valenta (Austrian, 1857-1937) Zwei Goldfische und ein Seefisch (Christiceps argentatus), 1896 Photogravure print from x-ray negative Gift of Eastman Kodak Company; ex-collection of Josef Maria Eder

Dr. Josef Maria Eder (Austrian, 1855-1944) and Eduard Valenta (Austrian, 1857-1937)
Zwei Goldfische und ein Seefisch (Christiceps argentatus), 1896
Photogravure print from x-ray negative
Gift of Eastman Kodak Company; ex-collection of Josef Maria Eder

Next, Andrew and I had to become familiar with the objects in the photography collection. We became fast friends with the Collections Manager and Assistant Collections Manager from our many visits to the Study Center to view objects from the vault. As we browsed through box after box of photographs, Andrew and I found direction for the exhibition. We were able to construct a preliminary checklist of items we felt would appropriately serve as our own interpretation of photographic history.

Selecting photographs is not as easy as it sounds. Certain objects were out on loan for another exhibition. Others were too fragile to display after consulting with the Conservator, so Andrew and I had to make substitutions. Because the collection is so vast, we did not have too much trouble finding replacement objects. In some instances, we found photographs that we had not previously considered, some of which we felt fit more appropriately with our concept

Then, the research began. Each photographic object requires an object label on the gallery wall to justify its place within exhibition. Andrew and I divided and conquered, completing our first drafts in early 2015. It was a challenge to choose the most relevant information about an object and its maker, and then to translate all that knowledge both concisely and accessibly.

Andrews_books

The job of curating did not end there. We wrote a press release and article for Films & Events, cleaned up object records in the database for future researchers, selected mats and frames, determined the layout and design of the exhibition, and prepared a presentation of our exhibition (which will take place on Saturday, June 13, 2015). The week before the exhibition opens to the public, Andrew and I will make final placement decisions. Hopefully, every photograph will fit on the wall as we anticipated when we planned it on the model (see image below). After devoting so much energy to each object’s inclusion in the exhibition, it would be difficult to cut any photograph.

Andrews_mockup

Our first curatorial experience has required lots of time, collaboration, and consideration. Seeing the results of our nine months of work will be very rewarding and we hope that our enthusiasm for photography is evident to visitors who see our iteration of A History of Photography.

RELATED EVENT:

Focus 45: PPCM Students, Rachel Andrews and Andrew Murphy, on A History of Photography
Saturday June 13, 2015 from 12:15 to 1 p.m., Curtis Theatre

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In Memoriam: Mary Ellen Mark, 1940–2015

Posted by on Jun 04 2015 | Photography

“I want to be a voice for the unfamous people. Those are the people who interest me. Whether it’s a guy in Miami Beach who goes to a dance or it’s someone who’s dying in Ethiopia, they’re the unfamous people that I care about. I feel a certain purity in them that’s real, and I want to document their lives.” – Mary Ellen Mark

On May 25, Mary Ellen Mark, one of the most talented documentary photographers of her generation and one of the world’s warmest, most generous human beings, passed away.

Mark began making photographs in 1962 while a graduate student in the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. After earning her degree, she spent 1965 traveling in Turkey on a Fulbright scholarship and then continued photographing throughout Europe for another two years. The pictures from this journey, published in the 1974 book Passport, launched her career. For the next forty years, her penetrating images of ordinary people in diverse, often challenging, circumstances earned her the respect of her peers and the admiration of international audiences.

Mary Ellen Mark (1940–2015). Mother Teresa at the Home for the Dying, Mother Teresa's Missions of Charity, Calcutta, India, 1980.

Mary Ellen Mark (1940–2015). Mother Teresa at the Home for the Dying, Mother Teresa’s Missions of Charity, Calcutta, India, 1980.

She photographed the beneficiaries of Mother Teresa’s Missions of Charity in India, runaway teenagers in Seattle, patients in an Oregon mental institution, homeless families living in New York State shelters, disabled children in Iceland, and American high school students at prom. Her approach was profoundly humanist, emphasizing the emotional bonds that tie people together without resorting to sentimentality.

Mark was tough yet compassionate, endlessly curious yet single-mindedly driven when it came to her photography. This combination of traits allowed her to establish the distinctive rapport with her subjects that suffuses all of her images. Her relationships with the people she photographed often continued well beyond a project’s completion.

Mary Ellen Mark (1940–2015). Laurie in the Ward 81 Tub, Oregon State Hospital, Salem, Oregon, 1976. From the series Ward 81.

Mary Ellen Mark (1940–2015). Laurie in the Ward 81 Tub, Oregon State Hospital, Salem, Oregon, 1976. From the series Ward 81.

Mark’s dedication—the result of her desire “to let my photographs be a voice for people who have less of an opportunity to speak for themselves”—produced a tremendous body of work, which is chronicled in more than fifteen books and hundreds of magazine essays.

George Eastman House has long recognized her achievements; the museum presented her first retrospective exhibition in 1991, Mary Ellen Mark: 25 Years, which traveled to twelve venues in the United States and abroad. The museum, which holds 150 of her photographs in its collection, also honored Mark with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014.

Mary Ellen Mark (1940–2015). Tiny, Seattle, 1983. From the series Streetwise. Gelatin silver print, printed 1988.

Mary Ellen Mark (1940–2015). Tiny, Seattle, 1983. From the series Streetwise.

My own appreciation for her work began when I first encountered her photographs of Tiny in Streetwise and then discovered Ward 81. Profoundly moving and without a trace of the cloying mawkishness found in the work of less accomplished photographers, these two bodies of work lodged themselves in my memory and, I think, permanently changed my worldview. I struggle to think of any other photographer who so poignantly captures human vulnerability while circumventing—seemingly effortlessly—the dangerous terrain of exploitation. Mary Ellen Mark’s unique combination of eye and heart will be sorely missed.

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In the Garden Instagram Challenge

Posted by on May 05 2015 | contest, House & Gardens, Other, Photography

Challenge yourself this summer and engage with our new photography exhibition In the Garden (on view May 9-September 6).

Each week on Instagram, we’ll be exploring a different theme related to gardens and how humans cultivate the landscape. Post your response to each weekly photo challenge using the hashtags #eastmanhouse and #inthegarden — and don’t forget to include the week number (see list below) in your caption.

The challenge starts the week of May 4, and ends Sunday, September 6. Submit at least 10 weekly challenges for a chance to win prizes from the Eastman House Store. For more information, follow us on Instagram: @eastmanhouse. And be sure to visit the exhibition In the Garden for inspiration!

Get creative! We encourage you to post your own interpretations of these weekly themes:
Week 1 (May 4) | Public gardens
Week 2 (May 11) | Favorite flower
Week 3 (May 18) | Human impact on the land
Week 4 (May 25) | Favorite person in a garden
Week 5 (June 1) | Sunrise/Sunset in a garden
Week 6 (June 8) | Hedgerow
Week 7 (June 15) | Bridge in a garden
Week 8 (June 22) | Garden picnic
Week 9 (June 29) | Farm/Cultivated landscape
Week 10 (July 6) | Animals in the garden
Week 11 (July 13) | Working in a garden
Week 12 (July 20) | Food from a garden
Week 13 (July 27) | Black & white flower/plant
Week 14 (August 3) | Interesting angle
Week 15 (August 10) | Water in a garden
Week 16 (August 17) | Playing in a garden
Week 17 (August 24) | Leaf
Week 18 (August 31) | Garden symmetry
BONUS | George Eastman’s gardens

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1989 – Celebrating Joe Struble at Eastman House

Posted by on Mar 30 2015 | Behind The Scenes, Exploring the Archive, Other, Photography

After more than 25 years in the Photography Department, Collection Manager Joe R. Struble is retiring from Eastman House. On March 30, the staff had a party to celebrate Joe’s career at the museum and wish him well in the next chapter of his life. The following are Joe’s remarks to the staff:

1989

George Bush was president… Not “W” but George H.W. Bush… Bush ’41… he and Dan Quayle had just been inaugurated that January.

A hit movie of 1989… Honey I Shrunk the Kids.

The Simpsons debuted.

And so did I, at Eastman House!
(This photo could have been an audition photo for the Ned Flanders role in a live production of The Simpsons)

Photo by: Chris Holmquist

Photo by: Chris Holmquist

I was 41 years old — well into “responsible adulthood.”

I had trained as a Social Worker, received an MSW degree in 1977, but after struggling to find my place and my voice in that field I decided at age 30 to “see what else I might do with my life.”

That period of searching (and not always an active one) took 10 years, during which time I clerked and stocked shelves at CVS Pharmacy (#285 on East Main Street).

I had some career counseling at one point and the one “take-away” from that was that I scored high in liking “synthesis.” (huh?)

“Synthesis: the combining of often diverse conceptions into a coherent whole.”

I had always liked art and history, so I volunteered first at the Visual Studies Workshop and then at Eastman House, in the Library and Photo Collection, which in 1988 were in the same area, on top of the Dryden Theatre. The turmoil of the late 80’s had passed, the collections were supported and a building (which I still sometimes call the ”New Building” was nearly done.

David Wooters, the Archivist in the Photo Collection hired me when a position of Assistant Archivist was created and I came on board. Until he retired in 2009, he was my mentor.

I remember telling him back then “I know a lot about toothpaste and all varieties of baby diapers…I can point anybody to the Halls Cough Drops or to the shower caps, but I don’t know much about photographers or where to begin to look for something in the vault. He replied (presciently) “you will learn.”

Some years later, when I was getting up to speed someone helped me characterize this experience. She said “You learned as an apprentice… a very good, time-honored way to gain new knowledge and skills.”

I look over the door of the Library sometimes and read the words from the Eastman House Mission statement:
“We build Information Resources to provide the Means for both scholarly research and recreational inquiry.”

Here’s where that “synthesis part” comes in.

I came to know a collection of 400,000 photos, with the potential to illustrate the history of the practice of photography.

David taught us (and by us I include Janice Madhu, my colleague) that the holdings here were not just a “collection of nouns”… not just pictures of flowers, fire engines, seashells or the Flat Iron Building, but a collection that could show how photography shows a flower, fire engines, seashells or the Flat Iron Building, how photography showed life events, wars, how photography sold a products, and ideas, and ideologies. The collection could preserve evidence of how generation of families presented themselves to the camera and also how some families organized this evidence into albums.

I synthesized all my experiences from all the questions asked of the collection and you know what, I slowly climbed to the top of the hill and could see and interpret the collection broadly and in its particulars. It is broad and can answer almost any question presented to it with the evidence of images… some questions more fully than others, of course.

I have been told many times: What a great job you have… you get to look at pictures all day long. To which I respond: well, not really, I get to look for pictures most of the time.

But what an adventure, what a privilege, really, to have a job that has given me such proximity to this Collection.

And quite simple, it has given me a Life, something to learn about and to know, and always to share with others. It has given me a community of others of like interest — here in the US and around the World. And finally, it has given me a few lifelong friends, as well as many wonderful colleagues, and a day-to day routine and sense of purpose that I know I will miss very much.

Just this last week, I thought of a way to characterize retirement from Eastman House for myself. It’s been like a plane, descending, gradual, getting closer to landing. In the last month, the “fasten seat belt” sign has been on and by late Friday, I’ll be on the ground. Many people have asked me what I’ll do next, and I have the luxury of saying “I don’t know.” I have to land first.

 
Congratulations, Joe! We wish you all the best!

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