Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Brooklyn Museum Image Collections

On January 8th 2009 the Brooklyn Museum issued more than 4000 new images from their Libraries and Archives Department to the web. These join the 5700+ works of art and the nearly 10,000 views of past exhibitions they have already published online.

Among the images they've published is a selection, almost all of Egypt, from their collection of 11,710 glass lantern slides:
In 1849, the Philadelphia daguerreotypists William and Frederick Langenheim introduced the lantern slide: a transparent image on glass that could be projected, in magnified form, onto a surface using a "magic lantern," or sciopticon. This new technology expanded the uses of photography, allowing photographic images to be viewed by a large audience. With lantern slides, Museum curators and educators could illustrate their lectures, letting audience members see detailed studies of objects and sites from around the world.

The Brooklyn Museum's lantern slide collection was started by the Museum's curator of fine arts, William Henry Goodyear, in the late nineteenth century. With the assistance of the photographers Joseph Hawkes and John McKecknie, Goodyear reproduced images of archaeological and architectural sites in Europe as well as images of the Paris Exposition, which Hawkes often hand-colored for more realistic effect. The lantern slide collection also developed through the efforts of the curator of ethnology, Stewart Culin, and his successor Herbert Spinden, who created and purchased images of objects and sites. Historical images of Museum galleries, New York City scenes, and buildings also became part of the collection. In 1921, a significant addition of 118 boxes of slides, originally the property of Franklin Hooper, Director of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, was consigned to the Museum, the Children's Museum, and the Botanic Garden.

With the introduction of smaller transparencies in the 1950s, the use of lantern slides declined. The glass slides have remained quite valuable, however, because they depict scenes, people, and events from an earlier time, as well as sites and objects that simply no longer exist.

The Museum's Library now holds 11,710 glass lantern slides, which were selected from the extensive lantern slide collection in 1990. At that time, archives staff conducted an initial evaluation and sorting project identifying several categories to be excluded from the collection. Among the excluded categories were reproductions from books, non-Brooklyn Museum objects, and items from natural history and general history. Ten years later, the Goodyear lantern slides were cataloged and scanned as part of the Goodyear Archival Collection. In 2005, archives staff produced a detailed content and condition survey of the balance of the lantern slide collection.

Of the original collection of 11,710 glass lantern slides, 3,093 have already been catalogued and scanned as part of the Goodyear Archival Collection. The non-Goodyear slides have been surveyed and described in the current project. Some of the slides were commercially produced; others appear to have been made by Museum or Brooklyn Institute staff. Some were hand-colored. The images have been organized into several broad sections or series, including "Brooklyn Museum," "Native Americans," and "Views." The two largest series of images are "Views: Objects, Egypt" and "Views: Italy."
They have also released a selection of photographs by Alfred P. Maudslay, 1883-1890:
English archaeologist and photographer Alfred Percival Maudslay (1850–1931) first visited Central America in 1872 after being inspired by the images he saw in Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan by John Lloyd Stephens. The "unexpected magnificence of the monuments" in the tropical forests captivated Maudslay, who then dedicated his life to documenting ruins found in Mexico and Central America. Maudslay played a crucial role in exploring and documenting ancient Mayan ruins found in several sites including Palenque, Copan, and Chichen Itza. Between 1881 and 1894, he conducted arduous explorations in remote areas, carrying his photographic equipment, casting plaster, and other supplies to make careful photographic records and plaster casts of architectural ruins. When he returned to England he published his findings in a multi-volume set entitled Biologia Centrali-Americana and made exhibition prints from his glass plate negatives that were shown at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. It was in Chicago that Brooklyn Museum founding curators Stewart Culin and William Henry Goodyear saw the prints and arranged to purchase them, along with the Biologia for the Brooklyn Museum. The photographs and the multi-volume book remain an essential foundation for Maya studies, offering thorough views of the architectural ruins along with details of hieroglyphs carved into the monuments. In the face of wide-scale looting that has imperiled the historical record, researchers have turned to Maudslay's photographs, his plaster casts, and his books to better understand Mayan writing and architecture.
The Brooklyn Museum permits users to tag photographs they have online. I encourage readers to join in and assist in documenting these collections. And it is not just old photographs you can tag, but every object they have made available online

1 comment:

  1. More on Goodyear and his connection to Maudslay and Wilbour can be found here: