Archive for the 'Student Work' Category

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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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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Hair, film, and photography

Posted by on Aug 12 2013 | Photography, Student Work

Victoria Gao is an intern in our photography department.

Check our Tumblr, Dodge & Burn all week for more *interesting* hair in film and photography.

Hair often transcends categorizations of gender by transforming people into fashion icons or recognizable characters. Celebrities are often noted for starting hairstyle trends or for embodying them so well that their hair becomes as much of their celebrity as they themselves are.

Louise Brooks

Edward Steichen (American, b. Luxembourg 1879 – 1973), Louise Brooks, 1928, Gelatin silver contact print, Bequest of Edward Steichen under the direction of Joanna T. Steichen, ©Estate of Edward Steichen

For example, Louise Brooks, the American silent film star and the first woman to dance the Charleston in London, epitomized the Roaring Twenties with her sharp bob haircut. She popularized the style through her appearances in movies and advertisement photographs. Similarly, Charlie Chaplin, with his small bowler hat, baggy pants, and comical waddling walk, completed his “Tramp” look with the toothbrush moustache that was fashionable decades earlier but would come to define him throughout his career.

1982.2027.0027

Charles C. Zoller (American, 1854 – 1934), Charlie Chaplin, ca 1917-1918, Color plate, screen (Autochrome) process, Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Lucius A. Dickerson

Hair can also be used as a tool for masquerade.

Andreas Feininger (American, 1906 - 1999), Wig shop exhibits in store window, New  York, 1968, Gelatin silver print, Gift of the photographer

Andreas Feininger (American, 1906 – 1999), Wig shop exhibits in store window, New
York, 1968, Gelatin silver print, Gift of the photographer, ©Estate of Andreas Feininger

People use wigs to disguise signs of balding, aging, or illness, or to transform themselves into costumed characters for entertainment. The modern history of wigs is closely intertwined with the history of photography. Nineteenth century photographs of men and women dressed in elaborate, white-powdered wigs and other eighteenth century clothing were lighthearted sources of satire and comedy. Wigs remained largely out of fashion until the 1960s and 70s, when women’s bouffants revived the industry, but Andreas Feininger’s 1968 image of a wig shop draws close parallels with the famed street photographs of store window mannequin heads taken by Eugène Atget in the early decades of the mass consumer culture industry.

Richard Avedon (American, 1923 - 2004), Brigitte Bardot, 1959, Gelatin silver print, George Eastman House

Richard Avedon (American, 1923 – 2004), Brigitte Bardot, 1959, Gelatin silver print, George Eastman House, ©Richard Avedon Foundation

Above all else hair is a source of aesthetic pleasure, and film and photography have played significant roles in representing that. From the politically charged musical-turned movie Hair (1979) to photographs focusing on hair as an abstracted, formalist element throughout twentieth century art movements, hair has bewitched, provoked, inspired, repelled, and entertained us all.

-Victoria Gao
imgres

 
 

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The Roberto Pallme Collection and One Mystery Object

Posted by on May 31 2013 | Motion Pictures, Student Work

Guest post from Heather Harkins, a second year graduate student in the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at George Eastman House

My gloved hand holds a can as I inspect a Pallme film

My gloved hand holds a can as I inspect a Pallme film

The Roberto Pallme Collection consists of over five hundred reels of 35mm nitrate film and 9.5mm acetate film, initially acquired by a private collector in Italy and now part of the motion picture holdings here at the George Eastman House.

Some of the titles in the collection, like the Douglas Fairbanks comedy Mr. Fix-It (dir. Allan Dwan, 1918), are rare treasures that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. In the Selznick program, each student is given the opportunity to pursue a personal project, and I wanted to work independently with a collection of nitrate films that would allow me to look at beautiful images– and the Pallme Collection satisfied all of my requirements.

Revue with more dancing

I spent several weeks at the Louis B. Mayer Conservation Center working under the supervision of brilliant Film Preservation Officer Anthony L’Abbate, and alongside my clever classmate Emily Wall (whose personal project tackled audition footage from Gone With The Wind).

In these first few months, I inspected reels of film, updated our database of information, and added hundreds of titles to the George Eastman House catalog. Twelve reels in the collection were completely unlabeled, so I devoted much of my time to identifying the material on those reels. It was an especially challenging task because each reel had a number of short films or fragments of longer films, and I wanted to identify every single one. One of these fragments was a short excerpt from the film La Revue des Revues (dir. Joe Francis, 1928) that was especially charming because each frame was colored using the Pathecolor stencil process, an early system for applying color to film prints.

Revue with dancing ladies

By the end of the year, I was able to identify fifty-four titles, and add them to our catalog, but a few still have me baffled. Perhaps one of the blog readers can identify the Technicolor cartoon that features this mysterious cupcake king presiding over a candy kingdom. What film is this, and who made it?

unknown

Unknown Technicolor

In my second year of study, I decided to continue my work with the collection and make it the focus of the master’s essay (offered in partnership with the U of R).

I have been researching the history of the collection, and tracing its journey from a small community outside Naples, Italy, to Rochester, NY, by way of the Netherlands. I have spoken with incredibly helpful sources, including Oscar Pallme (a relative of Roberto Pallme) as well as freelance film historian Roland Cosandey, and continued to inspect prints from the collection by hand. It has been a joy to study this collection of films, and I appreciate this incredibly rare experience which could only be possible here at George Eastman House.

 

 

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The Tale of the Tapes

Posted by on Nov 29 2012 | Student Work

The climate-controlled vaults in the George Eastman House archive and the Louis B. Mayer Conservation Center are home to the Motion Picture Department’s collection of over 24,000 films.

But there is one shelving unit that holds important moving images in a non-film format: analog tape.

The department holds over 200 videocassettes in varying standards, with most of them in the obsolete three-quarter-inch (or “U-Matic”) format. The tapes contain things such as television recordings from the 1970s to the 1980s, interviews with filmmakers and actors, archival footage, and early video transfers of films from the collection. While not ultimately as critical to the collection as film material, there is still an urgent need to examine the content on these tapes and digitally preserve what is deemed important.

This urgency stems largely from risks to the physical materials themselves; most of the tapes are at least twenty years old and suffer from increasing levels of decay due to the shedding of the magnetic oxide recording layer on the surface of the tapes over time. Also, the obsolete broadcast-quality decks required to play the cassettes are becoming scarce and more difficult to properly maintain. Time, technology, and the looming potential for a zombie apocalypse are therefore driving the need to preserve the analog tapes.

The students of the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation are assisting with this ongoing project. As part of their training in digital preservation, students are using the video capture equipment in the department’s digital lab to convert many of these tapes into lossless digital video files. These “digital masters” will then be tagged with metadata, cataloged, and stored in the vaults on archival-quality LTO-5 tapes.

One interesting subset of tapes – the original BetaMax cassettes of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation raw footage – are on extended loan to George Eastman House by the filmmakers and have recently been digitally preserved. This process will be examined more in an upcoming post by the Selznick students who preserved the materials.

 

 

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