Archive for the 'Student Work' Category

‘Art/Not Art’ showcases What We’re Collecting Now

Posted by on Aug 18 2010 | Exhibitions, Photography, Student Work

Every year a small group of students in the spring semester of their second year of the Photographic Preservation and Collections Management (PPCM) program come together to curate a show of recent acquisitions at George Eastman House. This show is designed to illustrate the ways in which the George Eastman House collection is a “living” entity. How we interpret the mission of the museum, to tell the story of photography and motion pictures — “media that have changed and continue to change our perception of the world” — results in the acquisition of new objects that can reinforce strengths of the collection, or suggests new ways of interpreting items already in the collection.

PPCM students discuss sequencing pieces in the exhibition

As students studying the history of photography, we were interested in photographs that are slippery, that change meaning depending on where the image is first encountered or how it is presented. We are lucky at George Eastman House that we collect a large range of photographs, art and otherwise, that have had a multitude of meanings throughout their existence before entering our collection. Our title, Art/Not Art, refers to the polarizing question we often ask of photographs, is it art or is it not?

Many of the photographs shown in Art/Not Art are art photographs, according to our utilitarian definition of the term, as they were they bought, sold, exhibited, and written about as art. However, this contextual information is not immediately apparent when standing before these photographs. The diversity of practice in contemporary art photography is well represented in the exhibition—the four photographs from Elijah Gowin’s “Of Falling and Floating” series looks radically different from Robert and Sheena ParkeHarrison’s “Suspension,” which in turn bears little in common with Binh Danh’s contemporary daguerreotype, a portrait from the Tuol Seng Genocide Museum.

Robert and Sheena ParkeHarrison, SUSPENSION, From the Series: Earth Elegies, ca. 1999-2000

Perhaps Binh Danh’s daguerreotype should then be compared to Ron Haviv’s “Darfur Girl,” a large-scale chromogenic print depicting three girls searching for firewood near a displaced persons camp in Sudan. In the summer of 2005, UNICEF sponsored Haviv to document the conflict in Darfur’s effect on children. While the composition and the scale suggest that this piece is contemporary art photography, does the use of this image to raise funds for UNICEF mean that it cannot be considered art? And, if Binh Danh’s daguerreotype is art, does that label limit its ability to document genocide?

Ron Haviv, DARFUR GIRL 2005.

Many of the photographs shown in the exhibition have been published in different places, for reasons that are not obvious when looking at the photographs. Joel-Peter Witkin’s series, “A History of Hats in Art,” was initially printed in The New York Times Magazine as a series of fashion photographs featuring extravagant haute-couture headwear. Alex Webb’s “US/Mexico Border (San Ysidro, CA)” was printed in Harper’s Magazine on an article on illegal immigration published roughly fifteen years after the photograph was taken. E.J. Bellocq’s photographs are more mysterious. Bellocq, a commercial photographer from New Orleans in the early twentieth century, took a series of photographs of women from the city’s Storyville red light district. His negatives were discovered after his death, and purchased by Lee Friedlander who printed his images and popularized them as art objects in the 1970s.

This was the first show that many of us have curated, and our approach to the photographs is typical of the questions that we often ask ourselves as future professionals in our field. Given the care and attention that we must provide to each individual item that enters our collection—a process that includes accessioning the item, assessing its condition and recommending conservation work when required, housing the item according to archival standards, cataloguing the item into our electronic database, providing access to the public via the research archives and through exhibitions, and, finally, maintaining it in perpetuity in our ever-shrinking vault—the acquisition process is very rigorous, and very important. So, how best to show the diversity of material that eventually makes it into our collection?

As much as any lovers of photography, we were moved by how stunning some of the items collected in the past five years are. As students of photography, we were also interested in how slippery some of the meanings of the photographs were over time, and in different contexts. The range of aesthetics in art photography, and the different applications of photography, whether for fashion, photojournalism, or for more personal reasons, suggests the impossibility of just looking at a photograph to determine if it is art, or not art.

As future custodians of collections of photography, we encourage an approach to photography that understands the rare slipperiness of the medium of photography, where images and objects often have unknown and unexpected trajectories before they come to our attention as candidates for acquisitions.

What We’re Collecting Now: Art/Not Art was curated by Jami Guthrie, Emily McKibbon, Loreto Pinochet, Paul Sergeant, D’Arcy White, and Soohyun Yang. The exhibit is on view through October 24th.

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Why basements are not a good place for film

Posted by on Jan 22 2010 | Motion Pictures, Student Work

This week, the students of the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation had a lesson in working with reels affected with mold and water damage.  This material had been previously stored in a wet basement, causing the emulsion to swell, the image to distort, and mold to grow on the reel of nitrate film.  Unfortunately, the material had dried out too quickly, causing it to become brittle and the emulsion to remain stuck together in a solid mass. 

Amanda and Karin with moldy film

After donning the appropriate gear (approved mask, gloves, goggles, overcoat, and pulling their hair back) students Karin Carlson and Amanda Honeyman first wiped down all exposed areas of the reel with a mixture of approved cleaning solution and projector oil.  The cleaner is used to help remove the dirt and mold spores on the film, and the oil will assist in lubricating the film for gentle hand winding.  Working in the well ventilated area, Karin started by using a dull ex-acto knife blade to gently separate the layers of film.  With plenty of time and patience, Karin was able to separate the layers, while Amanda gathered the film for closer inspection.  Working together and trading off duties, the layers of film were slowly separated.  They found that some areas of the reel were harder to separate than others: perhaps water dripped on the reel?  

Separating brittle, moldy layers of film

Close up of bench work-brittle moldy filmBrittle film can be one the hardest materials to inspect by an archivist.  Light pressure on the material can cause it to break in many pieces.  Handling should be done with extreme care.  Quite often, the emulsion will crack, causing permanent damage to the image.  The sprocket holes are no longer able to support any equipment use.  Luckily, the title of this film was already preserved by the Eastman House, and this reel is kept for long term conservation and research purposes.  It is films such as this one that teaches new students, and reminds older archivists the importance of archival storage conditions-cool and dry.   

Brittle film

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Learning What to Do With a Decomposing Frankenstein

Posted by on Jan 15 2010 | Motion Pictures, Student Work

One of the most important subjects we teach in the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation nitrate vaults is how to identify, inspect, and treat decomposing nitrate film.  The students in this year’s class took to this task willingly, learning not only WHAT causes decay, but how to treat films within the various stages of decomposition.

Take, for instance, a small reel of FRANKENSTEIN, (1931) donated to Eastman House in 2002.  This material belonged to a collector who had a small portion of the feature film, mainly, the ending sequence.  When Selznick student Ken Fox took on the task of inspection and reporting the condition of the reel, he was able to capture some of the famous monster’s face, with the signs of the decaying film around him.

L1000724editL1000754editWorking together, Ken and I talked about what was happening with this film as it was decaying, and how the cold temperatures and humidity’s used at the Conservation Center help slow down this process.  While no one likes to see these materials disappear, it is important to keep these films as a learning tool for hands-on knowledge, and hopefully prevent other reels from the same fate. (Photos taken by Ken Fox and Holly Foster.)

Ken and Deb inspecting the reel

Ken and Deb inspecting the reel

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Fellowship Awards Preserve Films

Posted by on Jul 27 2009 | Behind The Scenes, Motion Pictures, Student Work

Two nitrate film reels will be shipped out this month for preservation as part of two fellowships awarded to Selznick School graduates Sabrina Negri (Italy) and Elisabeth Rennie (Canada).

Sabrina 1-1Beth 1-1

Both students have been given the opportunity to work for one month in a film lab, preparing, printing, and preserving the films from the George Eastman House Collection as an extension to their studies in the field of film archiving.

Sabrina will be heading to Haghefilm laboratory in Amsterdam, Netherlands this August, where she will begin preservation on “Kodachrome Two-Color Test Shots No. III,” (1922) an early color test made by Kodak in their quest to find a marketable method of creating color motion picture film.  Once the project is complete, she will present her work at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival in Italy this October.Kodachrome-1

Elizabeth will be spending her time at Technicolor Lab in Los Angeles, California where she will be inspecting, printing and preserving “His Baby Doll” (1917), an early slapstick comedy short starring Malcolm St. Clair.  The story concerns a young man who is ready to be married.  Finding himself in charge of a small baby during his bachelor party, he is caught in hilarious circumstances of confusion and mayhem with his fiancée and his future father-in-law.His-Baby-Doll1-1

The Motion Picture Department staff is looking forward to both of these preservation projects and wishes both Sabrina and Elisabeth their warmest wishes in their future careers in film archiving.

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NARA and MoMA

Posted by on Jun 25 2009 | Student Work

Spring, the season of lilacs, sunshine, and general renewal, means something else for students of The L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation: marathon road trips to points south for a crash course in archival practices at some of the country’s finest institutions. This annual extended field trip offers two complementary rewards: an opportunity to work with equipment that the Eastman House Motion Picture Department does not have; and insight into procedures, work flows, and best practices in the real world. (One Selznick alum has likened Eastman House to NASA in its cleanliness and precision.)

Our first stop was the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in College Park, Maryland. The film department, managed by Selznick alumna Criss Kovac, is charged with preserving and making accessible the motion pictures created by the Executive Branch of the US Government. This encompasses far more than the duck-and-cover curios of the 1950s—everything from the IRS instructional films and US Information Agency propaganda shorts to documentary classics of the New Deal and all manner of military footage. Miles of it. The US Military is, by far, the most prolific “studio” of the Executive Branch. (In fact, NARA’s film archive is the only one I know of where one sometimes needs high-level security clearances for the rather prosaic task of sprocket repair.)

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