Found our Selznick students databasing and archiving old German posters today! Really quite beautiful.
Found our Selznick students databasing and archiving old German posters today! Really quite beautiful.
I’d like to share my experience from the PPCM program, as an intern and explore just a few of the many interesting objects in the vast Eastman House collection. The following is a small group of cat photographs. They are a great example of the incredible diversity available in the collection and not only show a variety of photographic processes and formats, but also illustrate a range of the different ways photographs have been used.
With something as simple as the subject of cats there are albumen cabinet cards, stereographs, and cdv’s; collotype prints; collodion POP; gelatin silver prints; gelatin glass negatives; photomechanical reproduction, and three color carbro prints, with uses ranging from advertising photographs by Nickolas Muray; postcards; Kodak amateur photographs and vernacular images; taxidermy photographs such as the album by Luis Soler Pujol; and a photograph from Eadweard Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion series.
The goal at the PPCM program is to educate ourselves with photographic materials and processes along with photographic history and the social and cultural conditions of its production and reception, so that we can better understand, care for, and manage photographic collections. As even this very small, seemingly casual group of photographs shows, Eastman House provides an incredible opportunity for this type of research and education.
Enjoy the show!
Eastman House’s graduate program in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management (PPCM) is offered in conjunction with Ryerson University.
A note from graduate student, Heather Westfall
In the fall of 2010 I began the MA degree program in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management with Ryerson University in conjunction with George Eastman House. One of the most enjoyable parts of my experience as a student in this program was my second year at George Eastman House. The staff was very helpful and friendly throughout my experience, and I can only encourage any prospective students who are interested in any of the courses offered at the museum. The courses are taught by the staff of the Department of Photographs, including senior curator Alison Nordström, and assistant curators Jamie Allen and Jessica Johnston.
Much of what I learned from studying at George Eastman House came from seeing and studying real photographic prints, not reproductions. This is particularly important when it comes to learning how to identify a photographic process to understand fully how a photograph is created. The George Eastman House collection is a wonderful resource for a student because the range of photographic processes over the entire history of photography that it contains; I was able to see examples of any process or technique I was curious about. All of our lectures on photographic processes or the history of photography were supplemented with examples from the collection, and in some cases allowed me to see a technique in person for the first time. While studying the photographs in the George Eastman House collection, we were given assignments to apply the skills that we had learned through the lectures, including those by Rachel Stuhlman, head librarian and curator of rare books, Mark Osterman, the Museum’s process historian and Joe Struble, the archivist of the photograph collection. We were able to apply these skills directly to the collection itself, working with collection items rather than a practice item.
In many cases we were given the task of cataloguing the object and creating housings to protect and store the photographs. I truly felt that I was working on something that helped the museum. During my time at George Eastman House I learned so much more then I had thought possible in nine months. The photograph collection and library are wonderful resources, and I cannot thank the staff enough for always being available to answer my questions and show me new things. A part of me wishes that I did not have to leave, but I know I will be back one day as an active professional in the field to research and learn from the collection.
Here at George Eastman House we are planning a farewell gala for Dr. Anthony Bannon, the Ron and Donna Fielding Director, for May 12 titled “An Evening in Technicolor.” He leaves Eastman House after 16 years at the helm. Over the next five days we will share highlights of the Museum’s amazing successes during his tenure.
At the top of the list are advancements in higher education, with one-year certificate programs and master’s degrees in film and photographic preservation, plus a decade-long fellowship program in photograph conservation.
1) The L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation
Dr. Paolo Cherchi Usai, Senior Curator of Motion Pictures:
I recall Tony hammering out details with me, Jeffrey Selznick, and Trustee Ted Curtis in 1996 about starting the school, which was to be the first of its kind in the world. We soon will celebrate the graduation of the 16th class. The program offers a master’s degree in conjunction with the University of Rochester, and archives around the world are staffed by Selznick School graduates, allowing for a connected network that benefits film preservation globally.
2) Photographic Preservation and Collections Management
Dr. Alison Nordström, Senior Curator of Photographs, Director of Exhibitions, and USA Director of the George Eastman House/Ryerson University MA in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management:
Eastman House has been training the next generation in the photographic field since 1947 and now more than ever there is a need for formal, high-level educational programs. To educate future leaders in the field, we established in 2003 a Master of Arts degree in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management with Toronto’s Ryerson University. This program, now also available as a one-year certificate program, is a comprehensive combination of practical and classroom experience, offering students access to renowned collections and faculty, as well as our library of photographica and conservation lab. Graduates of this program are working in archives and museums across the globe.
3) Photograph Conservation
Taina Meller, Head of the Kay R. Whitmore Conservation Center:
George Eastman House has been a major influence in photograph conservation education and research under Dr. Bannon’s leadership. From 1999 to 2009, the Advanced Residency Program, generously funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and offered in conjunction with RIT’s Image Permanence Institute, provided an extraordinary educational opportunity for almost 40 conservators from all over the world. Today, many of the historic processes previously taught as part of this fellowship program are taught in workshops throughout the year at Eastman House and at the Fox Talbot Museum in Lacock , England. In recent years George Eastman House conservators have been called upon to conduct most challenging conservation treatments on iconic photographs. These include 1848 Daguerreotype Panorama of Cincinnati Waterfront, a significant collection of the first ever photographs of Manila, Philippines, and a glass interpositive of Abraham Lincoln’s famous Hesler portrait of 1860, Lincoln’s favorite – which arrived at the museum as shards of glass. An unprecedented series of grant awards supporting conservation have been hallmark achievements during Dr. Bannon’s tenure. These range from the NEA’s Save America’s Treasures grant to the inaugural award by the National Science Foundation, which we received collaboratively with the University of Rochester.
Tomorrow: We look at motion picture acquisitions, our library, and digitization of the collections
I have the best job. For the past five years, I’ve worked as a film archivist for a number of institutions – George Eastman House, the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, the Royal Private Film and Photography archive in Bangkok, Thailand, and most recently at the New Zealand Film Archive in Wellington, New Zealand on behalf of the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF). I’ve been able to take advantage of my background as a film historian as well as draw heavily on the archiving skills I gained at George Eastman House’s L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation– all while working on nitrate film and keeping a toe or two in the academic world. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better situation when I started in the field.
One of my most recent projects involves The White Shadow (1924), a 6-reel British feature film directed by Graham Cutts that includes some of the earliest on-screen work by Alfred Hitchcock. The film was recovered as part of an international collaboration between the New Zealand Film Archive and the five major nitrate-holding U.S. archives – George Eastman House, The Museum of Modern Art, The Library of Congress, the Academy Film Archive and the UCLA Film and Television Archive – to return, preserve and make available U.S.-produced films that no longer exist in US archives. The project was initiated and is coordinated by the National Film Preservation Foundation, a grant-giving organization which has provided funding to institutions in all 50 states and Puerto Rico to preserve rare films in their collections.
The condition of the print (seen above) was shrunken, brittle and showing signs of advanced decomposition.
Through the project we’ve identified and repatriated films such as:
These two last films will become part of the George Eastman House nitrate collection and be preserved with funding from the NFPF. Click here to see videos of some of the newly-preserved films and a partial list of titles returning to the U.S.
So how did THE WHITE SHADOW, a British production, end up becoming part of this U.S.-film focused project? One of the goals of the project has been to inspect and identify when possible all of the items in the American section of the archive’s international nitrate collection. Given that intertitles in the film bear the name of Selznick (an American distribution company who also apparently handled the international distribution) and that the film stars Betty Compson, a famous American actress, the film had been classified (not unreasonably) as likely being an American production. Thanks to a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the NFPF was able to provide the man-power to inspect films in more detail and provide concrete identifications where possible.
Missing its opening credits (not unusual with films of this year), The White Shadow was originally inventoried as “Twin Sisters” (a placeholder title taken from the cans the films arrived in), I was able to identify the first two reels of the film based on the distributor, cast – the film stars not only Compson, but also British actor Clive Brook – information gleaned from the film stock itself (such as the date of the stock’s production that is printed on the film’s edges), and piecing together the story, then using internet resources and the archive’s reference library to confirm the film’s true identity. A week later I inspected a reel titled only “Unidentified American Drama,” and by matching the cast, sets and storyline, identified it as the title’s third reel.
With support from the National Film Preservation Foundation and the Academy Film Archive, the film has been preserved by the New Zealand Film Archive and Park Road Post-Production in Wellington. Given the condition of the print – shrunken, brittle and showing signs of advanced decomposition – the work proved difficult. Now printed on 35mm polyester film stock, new prints and duplicate negatives will be housed at the Academy Film Archive and the NZFA. The BFI will also receive a print to supplement their on-going Hitchcock preservation project. The preserved film now includes new opening credits and a coda that summarizes the missing reels, taken from a synopsis filed with the Library of Congress as part of the title’s copyright entry.
The $64,000 question is of course where are those three missing reels? There are a number of possibilities: We are 99.9% certain that the reels are not in the NZFA’s nitrate vault – though there are other as-yet unidentified reels from the same depositor in the collection, none match The White Shadow. The other three reels could have been lost or misplaced before the collector (New Zealand projectionist Jack Murtagh) acquired the film, the reels – printed on nitrate stock, which is particularly prone to decomposing when stored in warm or humid conditions – could have broken down sometime in the last 88 years, or perhaps they are, right now, sitting in another collector’s attic or basement, waiting to be discovered and reunited with the reels know to currently exist – it’s impossible to know.
The now-familiar gasp from the audience as the existing footage suddenly ends at what is possibly the film’s most dramatic scene never fails to drive home the need for conserving and preserving what titles we do have – be it ones with a famous name attached (which does make that constant problem of funding a bit easier to overcome), or equally culturally significant but long-forgotten documentaries or works by small production companies orphaned after the studio closed – and re-energizes my drive to keep looking for cinema’s lost history.
As I said, I have (what is for me) the best job in the world – after all, who knows what else is out there, just waiting to return to the screen?