Don’t Take My Kodachrome Away, or, What I Did on My Summer Leave from The Wolfsonian-FIU Library

Today’s post comes to you courtesy of Sharf Associate Librarian Rochelle Pienn. Ms. Pienn works exclusively with the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf holdings here at The Wolfsonian-FIU, a collection that documents many of the colonial projects in North Africa, the Middle East and the Orient, as well as the important conflicts of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Sharf collection includes many rare photographs and photographic albums, and this summer Ms. Pienn applied for a course being offered by the Rare Book School in Charlottesville, Virginia that focuses on properly identifying prints. We are extremely grateful to the Sharfs for donating so many unique visual documents to the collection, for their continued generosity in funding the Sharf Associate librarian position, and to Florida International University for providing Rochelle with this professional development opportunity. Here is here report:

The Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection at the Wolfsonian-FIU library contains thousands of original photographs dating from the mid-1800s to just before the Second World War. Part of the privilege of processing the Sharf collection includes immersing myself in the close examination and identification of these antique prints from all over the world, made by both amateur and professional photographers. Sometimes I’m confronted by a small box of faded, yellowing images with illegible captions; other times I carefully leaf through an exquisitely bound album with expertly tipped in, glossy oversized prints with lovingly handwritten, detailed descriptions.

XC2011.08.2.140_037XC2011.08.2.140_037
PICNIC FROM GOVT. HOUSE, DARJILING – LT. GOVERNOR SIR RIVERS AND LADY THOMPSON
FROM: BURMA & INDIA: FREDERIC HOULTON SUMMERS MERCHANT RESIDENT’S ALBUM, 1890

GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

 XC2011.08.2.199_017XC2011.08.2.199_017
[MALE ELEPHANT WITH KEEPER]
FROM: BURMA, 1870-1880 / BY A. J. LAVIE

GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

 XC2011.08.2.199_034XC2011.08.2.199_034
HO GIRLS IN GALA DRESS, CHYBASSA [PHOTOGRAPH BY TOSCO PEPPE, 1860S]
FROM: BURMA, 1870-1880 / BY A. J. LAVIE

GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

XC2011.08.2.24_048XC2011.08.2.24_048
VIEW IN SRINAGAR, LOOKING DOWN JHELUM
FROM: PHOTOGRAPH ALBUM OF CASHMERE & LADAKH, 1886: VIEWS TAKEN BY H. W. BENSON

GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

XC2011.08.2.150_029XC2011.08.2.150_029
JAPAN: 63 PAGODA OF TOJI AND TEA GARDEN, KIOTO
FROM: LE TOUR DU MONDE: HAWAII, JAPAN, CHINA AND INDIA, 1899-1901

GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

The proliferation of photographic methods invented and utilized during this period is monumental. All sorts of chemicals were mixed to make emulsions; endless combinations of silver nitrate, light and incidental reactive liquids were applied to various papers, cards, coatings and mountings, resulting in a confusing array of photographic types.

RBSBoxoPhotos PHOTOGRAPH BY RACHAEL DEALY SALISBURY, COURTESY OF RARE BOOK SCHOOL

This month I was accepted into a specialized intensive training called “The Identification of Photographic Processes,” offered at the Rare Book School (RBS) at the University of Virginia (UVa) in Charlottesville. Jim Reilly, Director of the Image Permanence Institute (IPI) in Rochester, New York, and Ryan Boatright, co-founder and digital print maker of Atelier Boba in Paris, France, taught our select group of ten rare book, archives, and art professionals. The goals: learn to delineate actual photographs from mechanical prints, and be able to name and describe photographic and print processes based on specific clue sets, observations, and physical evidence.

RBSAldermanPHOTOGRAPH BY ROCHELLE THEO PIENN

We would begin our days by meeting in the Alderman Library on the University grounds. Former President of the United States Thomas Jefferson founded UVa in 1819. His influence permeated the architecture, landscape, design, and education style of the entire campus. Historic preservation and respect for Jefferson’s original intentions affect the University’s operations, even now. In fact, Jefferson was so adamant about the separation of church and state that the University originally did not include a church. The beautiful little chapel was built across from the Alderman Library seventy years later, in gothic fairytale stone with stained glass, antithetical to the rational columns, brick walls and rotunda-topped roofs of UVa’s academic buildings.

RBSChapelPHOTOGRAPH BY ROCHELLE THEO PIENN

Our classes began with introductory lectures on photographic and printing types and processes, presented chronologically.

RBSJimAtHeadofClassYES PHOTOGRAPH BY RYAN BOATRIGHT, COURTESY OF ATELIER BOBA

 Jim and Ryan would then distribute original prints for us to examine.

RBSantiquephotos PHOTOGRAPH BY RYAN BOATRIGHT, COURTESY OF ATELIER BOBA

By using magnifying loupes and handheld microscopes with LED lights, we would try to determine, just to begin with, if a photograph was a salt, albumen, gelatin, or platinum print – or perhaps none of the above?

RBSTwowLoupesPHOTOGRAPH BY RACHAEL DEALY SALISBURY, COURTESY OF RARE BOOK SCHOOL

RBSClasswJimYesPHOTOGRAPH BY RACHAEL DEALY SALISBURY, COURTESY OF RARE BOOK SCHOOL

To further understand the technique of early photographers, Jim supervised our making of paper prints in an old-fashioned way that employed glass plates. After securing our plates and photo sensitive paper in wooden frames, we brought our pictures outside to develop in the sun.

RBSsunphotoPHOTOGRAPH BY RACHAEL DEALY SALISBURY, COURTESY OF RARE BOOK SCHOOL

Later, Ryan brought us into a typical manual silver printmaking darkroom.  As a result of living in an almost exclusively digital age, some of my classmates had never before seen an enlarger or enjoyed the magic of hand developing black and white photographs.

RBSDarkroomRedlightPHOTOGRAPH BY RACHAEL DEALY SALISBURY, COURTESY OF RARE BOOK SCHOOL

Photos are enlarged from negatives under amber light. Once they’re developed and fixed in chemicals, they can be rinsed and examined under normal light.

RBSdarkroomyesPHOTOGRAPH BY RACHAEL DEALY SALISBURY, COURTESY OF RARE BOOK SCHOOL

At the completion of the course, we were challenged to identify thirteen original photographs. Were they Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes or tintypes? Perhaps we were looking at cyanotypes or platinotypes. What about albumen and gelatin prints? How about collodion or kallitypes? Maybe the images had actually been engravings, or even carbon prints. Were the images affixed to a supporting layer? What kind? When were the pictures taken? Are they chromogenic? Polaroid or Kodachrome? And what about digital prints – offset, dye sublimation, inkjet pigment, et al? Could we tell when we were being fooled?

RBSexamingingwithmicroscopesRBSantiquephotos PHOTOGRAPH BY RYAN BOATRIGHT, COURTESY OF ATELIER BOBA

Our expert instructors reassured us that the identification of photographic processes would be a delightful journey of continued learning, and that expertise would come with time and practice. I intend to hone my skills on the many wonderful photographs in the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection at the Wolfsonian-FIU library. Much like stopping to smell the flowers on a sunny day in Thomas Jefferson’s gardens, identifying photographic processes makes for thoughtful observation and appreciation. I look forward to more photographic interludes.

RBSFlowers

~ by "The Chief" on June 21, 2014.

One Response to “Don’t Take My Kodachrome Away, or, What I Did on My Summer Leave from The Wolfsonian-FIU Library”

  1. Hi — Do you know who is the artist on that wonderful “Around the World” poster? Thanks.

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