Friday, March 28, 2014

Now the fun begins...

This is the part of the project that I have been waiting for.


The accessioning and sorting of the original work was more time consuming than I expected. With a little over three weeks remaining on this project, I feel like I am just getting started, and I am feeling a bit rushed. I need to keep reminding myself that this is not the end. This project is just the beginning, a way to get it started.

The first step was to take a walk down to the Mount Holyoke Archives and locate the glass plate negatives that are already accessioned and in the collection. This part really hit home for me. It immediately gave me a new understanding and perspective on Kinney's work. The work that I was sorting and organizing was Kinney's personal collection. There were very few images from MHC and just one fifth of the total number of 5x7 plates.

Halfway down the corridor of boxes, on rows and rows of compact shelving, I found four shelves about three feet across, containing 16 archival boxes. (Just a side note, whenever I am in these stacks, I can't help feeling like I am in some twisted version of the Star Wars trash compactor scene.)

Sixteen boxes, filled with approximately one hundred plates each! Combined with the four hundred plates that I accessioned, it is a collection of over 2000 plates that spans over 40 years of Mount Holyoke College's history. Remember these are glass negatives. 

Here is an example of what a researcher would be looking at:

They are not easy to access, let alone see what information they hold. The boxes are heavy, weighing around 20 pounds each. The plates are fragile and stored in non transparent sleeves. It is a collection, that for all practical purposes, is not accessible. There are many original prints, and postcards of Kinney's work scattered throughout the the archives. However, it is not complete and often does not give attribution that it was made by Kinney. To have this collection available in an archival digital format would be of great value to the Mount Holyoke Community and beyond. 

 The completeness of Kinney's work took my breath away. Each box was organized by student group, academic department or building, just to name a few categories.

The fidelity and beauty of these plates literally gave me goose bumps. In a future blog post I want to demonstrate the steps involved at making the scans of the plates. For now, lets just say that an archival scan of a plate could result in a beautiful 60" long print. Zooming in at 100% on the scan is like entering a time machine and closely examining the campus over 100 years ago. I made a few quick selections of iconic campus scenes to start re-photographing. Too bad the forecast calls for rain this weekend. Here are a few examples.

The next two plates are taken of Clapp Hall. The first one is from its construction in 1923, and the second in 1930. I plan on photographing again in the same location. I did a preliminary test of combining these two views. Once I have present day view I'll add it as well.

Here is a sneak peek. Click on the video below.

An example zoomed in at 100%

So many things to blog about from this week. One last item. Here is a treasure that I found. This is the original copyright notice from the Library of Congress in 1905, for the publishing of Kinney's views of Mount Holyoke. Six years ago this book set me off on this path. I have used it to create e-books, print on demand, and as a source for scouting locations to photograph. It was a pleasure to see the steps that Kinney took to make it possible.

So much more to come...

Friday, March 21, 2014

The System Works...

The physical reorder of the plates in a logical order is working smoothly, so far. I am keeping my fingers crossed. The biggest obstacle to overcome in a project like this is, human error. By having a digital image of the plate with the ID tag it has allowed me to rearrange the plates based on subject categories and have a reference if I discover a mistake in the order.

I have run into a few instances where I clicked on the wrong keyword, or at the end I am afraid I may have missed some important keywords and may have some orphaned leftover plates. In that case I will add the plates the back of the subject group, or do a reorder if it is not too big of a task.

First I organize the collection into subject folders based on the keywords that I created. (see video in previous post). I then batch rename the manually organized collection so the physical plate will be put in the proper order. I then make a document that has the original ID number in the left column and the new organization number on the right. I pull the ID number negative, add the new file number on the envelope, and place it in the box. Each group will be divided by subject cards. In this example you will see the main subject is Family, and the sub group is Elizabeth. The plates are ordered from when Elizabeth was a baby up until her wedding pictures.

This system would have been much easier if they collection was housed in a logical order. However, the plates really did feel like they were shuffled together. Decades of work intermingled together, making it a researcher's nightmare to find anything in the collection. I plan on printing a booklet of my reference images to go along with the physical collection so each plate in a positive format can be seen. This will help aid in the selection for digitization. 

Next week I will be starting the selection of 20 plates for digitization. These scenes will be then located and re-photographed. I will illustrate the digitization process as I go and overlap that work with the continuing accession work.

...and, just because I like to always add one of Kinney's fun images, here is shot of three children.

More to come...

Friday, March 14, 2014

Deterioration Can be Beautiful

This looks like someone went crazy with Instagram filters or out of control with photoshop effects. I assure you it is not. It is a very close up shot of what can happen to dry plate collodion negatives if improperly stored. There are six factors that can speed the deterioration of a photographic emulsion. 

  • Humidity
  • Heat
  • Air Pollution
  • Acidic Housing
  • Light
  • Processing / Substrate Materials
Surprisingly Kinney's negatives have been relatively in good condition. Maybe, 4 or 5 negatives out of 100 will have a spot of browning, bubbling, or flaking emulsion. It usually appears to be from the high acidic paper that the negatives were sleeved in. Small areas the emulsion at one point stuck to the envelope and caused the emulsion to start to break down or peel off of the glass.

If you are interested learning more, the Library of congress has detailed information. Click this link.

More to come...

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Four Hundred and Thirty Three

Back in early January the collection looked like this...

433 negatives later it looks like this...

Today, my co-worker (and the person who usually beats me at chess), Shaun Trujillo, helped me figure out the organization for the physical collection and how it will be accessioned and added into the program Archivists Toolkit. Here is a hi tech visual representation of our one hour discussion:

The current thinking is, that this body of work will be accessioned into the MHC Archives' record group 40. This RG is specifically for glass plates and lantern slides. There was some debate whether is should be located in the record group 19 for faculty biographical files. In the end it makes more sense to add this work to the existing plate collection, while being organized by subject. The existing collection contains MHC campus views based on buildings and departments. This new collection is primarily made up of personal images and botany experiments. That is why we thought it may be more biographical than object oriented. 

The record group will be broken down into series based on the media (glass plates, roll film, lantern slides). The series will be broken down further into sub series based on size of the media. Finally there will be subject files to group like images together. Now I need to get my feet wet with Archivist Toolkit. I'll be reordering the collection based on my subject files and creating a booklet of thumbnail positive images as an index to the collection.

After I get the organization down, I'll be going through the main collection looking for the 20 images to digitize and re-photogrpah. There are approximately 20 boxes of 5x7 plates each housing over 100 plates.  I have a few small format roll film and 4x5 plates to rehouse and organize but I feel like the first aspect of the project is coming to an end. 

Just for fun, here are a bunch of newly found treasures in the last box...

The Cat House: Otherwise know as the pump house. Is the oldest structure on campus.

May Day Pageant 1925

Tenis courts

Botany Lab


Wild Honey Comb

...and no matter how much you love it or hate it, as a photographer you'll be asked to shoot a wedding.

Loomis Wedding

Loomis Wedding

More to come...

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Miss Talbot's Dinosaur, Podokesaurus Holyokensis

Last Friday, I came across three strange plates. I could hardly make out the description on the original envelope "Miss Talbot's d... (smudgy scribble). The first two plates appeared to be close up images of a rock face. When I put the third plate onto the light table, there appeared to be some bones within the rock. I went back to take a closer look at the envelope and put two and two together to realize, the envelope said Dinosaur. I then took a look in our digital repository and found that there was a dinosaur discovered by a Mount Holyoke Faculty. Professor Mignon Talbot's discovery was published in the Journal of Science in 1911.  Within the publication there were three photographic illustrations. To my surprise I had found the three original negatives taken by Asa Kinney for the article.

Three Kinney plates as positives.

Everyday there seems to be a new discovery while working on this collection. This was an interesting surprise. Here is a link to the complete 1911 article.

More to come...

Friday, March 7, 2014

Portraits Costumes Cars

This week I have started diving into box 16. This is the last large box in the un-accessioned collection of Asa Kinney's images. Here is an idea of what was left over from the original box 15...

Box 16 continues with the first half of the images housed in original envelopes. The second half of the images are sleeved in a plastic sleeve. I will be relieved to be done with the dusty, crumbling, old envelopes. Also to my relief, whoever rehoused the plastic sleeve images typed the captions from the original envelopes and placed a label on the new sleeves.

I found the following two images of Asa and Jean interesting. Asa, when photographed, is very serious and rarely looks into the camera.  It seems very similar to the portraits of the late 1800's. I know Kinney's family was photographed while he was growing up. Maybe this is an influence from those early group pictures. 

In contrast, Jean embraces the camera and almost smiles in the first plate. At least she looks pleasant. I get the feeling of knowing who she is. There is a personal connection that is made through her eyes. Asa on the other hand is giving us the message. He shows the viewer, how he wants to be remembered. He is consciously sitting up straight, very serious, maybe even wanting to seem scholarly. 


In this second plate, taken maybe 30 years later, both Asa and Jean seem very relaxed smiling and being themselves. 

The next two plates are my favorite Kinney images so far. They are two shots of his son Foster in costume for the Mount Holyoke Pageant that was held in 1912.  With the wig and the hat he looks like one of the three musketeers. The composition, tone, depth of field and atmosphere are stunning in these two shots. The second plate looks like a slight blink was caught. I enjoyed seeing the Talcott Greenhouse in the background, where Kinney would have spent much of his time.

Foster in Pageant Costume, 1912

Foster in Pageant Costume, 1912

...and the next two plates are to show us that winter is here now, but spring is around the corner. 
So far Kinney did not shoot very often outdoors in winter. The only ones I have seen have been of his daughter Elizabeth as a baby in a sled, and as a toddler playing in the snow. 

Elizabeth in Snow
Blooming Shrub
 To close out this blog. I thought I would end with Tracy's Automobile. I do not have a date for this image but it seems like a big event. Important enough to set up the camera and take a picture of the vehicle.

Tracy's Automobile
 More to come...