ANDY GRUNDBERG: It's my pleasure to introduce Julia Van Haaften. She was the founding curator of the New York Public Library's photography collection in 1982, having recognized that the Library's general holdings contain many original prints of aesthetic and historical value. She also later played a key role in the digitization program of the library and more recently has developed an online digital collection system at the Museum of the City of New York.
She has a Bachelor of Arts in Art History from Barnard College and an MLS degree from Columbia University. She has recently published a book that is a semifinalist for the Penn biography prize called Berenice Abbott, A Life in Photography. And for those who don't know, the Johnson Museum has a large holding of Berenice Abbott's photographs. So good to have Berenice Abbott in the spotlight. And she's also published a book with her husband, Ron Schick, called The View From Space, American Astronaut Photography, which is full of those boring photographs of astronauts walking around.
What can I tell you? So it's my pleasure to introduce someone I've known for a long time, Julia Van Haaften.
JULIA VAN HAAFTEN: I want to thank you, Andy, for that nice introduction and for inviting me to come speak here today. I know you had so many other people helping you. I'm not going to try to name them all-- many people who I just met very, very recently.
And when I accepted this, I said that I would do it not as a formal lecture, for a variety of reasons, but as a conversation. So I realized that Katie, the Mellon Project photo curator, has been wrangled into doing this. So after I'm done presenting what I'm going to show as the slide set, really, of a nascent memoir on my part-- because what happened is two things.
Your invitation and the new public library retirees association is carrying on a oral history program. And while it's focused mostly on the branch libraries and the populism of reaching into neighborhoods, I am very interested in, obviously, outreach and sharing collections, not on hoarding them. And so they sensed this, I guess, and invited me to be part of that oral history program.
Well, that was a good year ago. But it's prompted a lot of trying to remember and think about what happened in what was an enormously fluid, heady, lively-- as you have seen from Mike and Chantal's presentation, the '70s were just a totally fecund, fertile lively area, for a variety of reasons, in photography. And possibly, it was the rise of cheap, Japanese, relatively high quality cameras. The baby boom generation just took off with the illustrated press and access to visual imagery through television.
Whatever it was, this crew of people, born post-World War II, were so attuned historically, creatively, to whatever was going on, that attention to pictures of any sort, but especially the photographic medium with its hooks to technology and its universal execution-- like, everybody writes, but they're not writers, everybody can use a camera but they are not photographers. And what happened was the insistence, really, on beginning to think critically, interestingly, about the photographic medium in a way that was very fresh and gave birth a generation later to the pictures generation, which is now so dominant in American art history in general.
So my title is the library's new subject, which some of you who have had art history classes since 1982 or so, have recognized as part of the phrase of Douglas Crimp's essay title, which was so seminal and named me, called me out, really, as his example of-- I'm not sure what it was. Because he and I used to have coffee when I was an art librarian and he was a graduate student at CUNY. And I think there was some real recognition that there had not been a critical underpinning to what I was doing as a guerrilla action at the library, which I will describe as part of this memoir that I have been rethinking.
And he also used this example, two examples of my being named this-- and it could have happened to anybody, this new role at the library-- and also the discovery that there were Ed Ruscha's gasoline station books in the stacks. And those of you who work in libraries understand, perhaps, how that happened. Books come in, especially to big institutions, on mass orders, from the way you order books by certain imprints. And in some ways, the Ruscha books got swept up in the art book orders.
But the art books selectors, when I was probably in high school or younger, would say we don't want this for the art division, it's pictures of gas stations-- and sent it to the general stacks. That's my understanding. Because the way things are cataloged there at the library at that point, when they're recatalogued, they don't keep a palimpsest of prior cataloging that is easy to access.
And that brings me to my second point, I am not here in any official capacity on behalf of the New York Public Library.
I retired from there in 2005. And I retired from the Museum of the City of New York in 2010. Now I have been a rogue and unaffiliated now for almost a decade. So I just wanted to make that clear. And then, just to kick us off, I want to read a quote by my immediate successor at the library.
I left photography in 2001 to join the digital library program as the collections overseer, the content part of what was going to be put online-- primarily, images. And in 2005, for a variety of awful reasons, my position was not filled. And there was no curator of photographs.
And the staff retired. And there was nobody in charge of this huge infrastructure and content that we had built. And mercifully, in 2005, Steven Pinson, a young, very accomplished PhD in art history with photography specialization was hired.
And in 2010, he did a show about the 30th anniversary of the creating of this department. And at that time, in his online exhibition, in a paragraph called Curators Statement, or something like that, he addressed the Douglas Crimp comment, which by now every art history student in America and perhaps elsewhere has had to read. And it's been reprinted so many times.
And yet it stands for what Crimp wanted to do. And so he hasn't altered it, really. Crimp's essay is a meditation on the end of-- this is not my words. This is Stephen Pinson.
"Crimp's essay is a meditation on the end of modernism, turning in part on the creation of the library's photography collection. Modernism's demise, according to Crimp, began with the entrance of photography into museums and culminated with what he interpreted as the transfer of photographs from their prior subject-based categorization in various divisions of libraries to new art divisions, where they were classified primarily by artist. In reality, of course, cataloging information was expanded for these materials, even if their point of access changed.
If Crimp oversimplified this process in the service of a critical point of view, he nevertheless proved to be one of the most important voices of his time in articulating the resistance that attended the institutional construction of photography's history along modernist lines. From the vantage point of 2010, it is difficult to reconcile such a conflict with photography's current pervasiveness in contemporary art. Most young practitioners and students of art today have difficulty imagining a time when photography was not already considered an independent art."
And so that basically is a way to introduce how to look back and see how this happened, where things were for this post-World War II generation. It helps account for some of the resistance to accepting photography and the ultimate aftermath, which is to kind of outlive them. So the situation that rose up in the 20th century was to have archives, libraries, and museums increasingly siloed and professionalized with their own standards, their own cultures, their own notions of what they were going to take in.
And the three ring circus is really a quote from a former colleague who wrote effectively on this for what was then the Research Libraries Group about this phenomenon of siloing and closing out the other by the one half or the other. And I just wanted to put that in the background. Because that was sort of the culture in the '50s and '60s, final professionalizations with societies and ways of doing things.
When materials were not cataloged online and searchable with a sort of a Boolean natural language searching, it was very easy to silo the descriptions for these materials. Because they didn't have to share information. And they could be idiosyncratic and downright arcane sometimes. So what the three ring circus refers to is the necessity of coming up with ways of sharing information. And that underlies the physical rescue of some of this material.
So at the library, photographs were really kind of considered as second class medium. They weren't rare books. They were easily reproducible. Some staff had treasured some of this material.
The stereoscopic view collection, for example, was in the American history department, even though it was worldwide and full of genre materials, also. And the person who acquired it in the 1930s claimed that stereoscopic views and the information on their printed backs or fronts will be as valuable for research as rare imprints some day. We had to wait a few more decades for that sort of understanding to happen.
But the picture collection began in, as I show, 1911 as a resource for teachers. And so it was allied with the children's department. Although there was a fine print collection with wonderful historical prints, beginning from the reproducibility of prints in the 15th century and up to, really, the turn of the 20th century into modernism. But not really, I mean, they basically stopped collecting things produced before the First World War.
So photographs were a kind of resource, or they were a came with, or they were an accidental acquisition. Views of something was a way of titling a bunch of unclassifiable text list materials. But the picture collection did acquire photographs very richly because of this woman, Romana Javitz. And she retired, then, in 1968, just when the photo boom was beginning to take off.
She knew Beauford Smith, for example, and acquired his work. She was knowledgeable about the [? Kael ?] [? Manga ?] workshop. And maybe you, Tony, crossed paths with her. I don't know.
But she retired in the summer. And I was hired in the fall of 1968. And there was a cultural divide, as well. There was the research libraries, and there was the branch libraries.
And I was hired by the research libraries. And that Picture Collection was part of the branch libraries, where materials circulated. And that is what I'm going to talk about. What the Picture Collection did was not only photographs as visual resources, but all kinds of other printed materials-- illustrations, tear sheets, rejects, all sorts of stuff was classified by pictorial subject for use by artists, designers, the other commercial graphic industries that were flourishing in the 20th century in New York.
And one actual photographer, Rosalie Gwathmey-- very active in the 1940s, her son is Charles Gwathmey, the late architect-- but Rosalie Gwathmey, at the end of her life, told me that the Picture Collection was a gathering spot for graphic designers-- she was a textile designer-- theater, set designers, all kinds of folks who needed visual references-- talk about your appropriation-- who would borrow pictures and then use them as springboards for what they needed to create. You need a picture of a sun bonnet. You need to know how to draw it properly for Oklahoma, you go to the Picture Collection.
So people would come in the morning. And Rosalie said by lunchtime you'd find a few friends to go out and have a snack with. And then you'd come home. You'd come back and keep working.
So it had its own culture that wasn't just for teachers by the time Ms. Javitz had built it into a robust situation. She acquired the FSA collection that the library has, about 40,000 vintage prints that had been mailed by Roy Stryker from the FSA during World War II when the pictures of Southern poverty were considered potentially useful by the enemy against the Western culture and America, in particular. And they had been embargoed at the Library of Congress.
And Roy Stryker separated out duplicates and mailed them in cartons to Ms. Javitz with a letter that basically said hang on to these for the duration. Because the ones at library of Congress have been embargoed and people can't see them. And it took a directive by Roosevelt, in 1945, shortly before his death, that basically released them again.
But what it wound up with is the Library has this huge trove of vintage prints from the FSA. Because of this small coterie of picture people, Ms. Javitz, Stryker, and other folks who weren't necessarily museum oriented. They were content oriented picture people.
OK. So the other thing that the Picture Collection was supposed to do was take off the pressure for doing picture research in original materials, such as you would find in a museum collection of prints-- engravings I'm talking about, floral designs, things of that sort. So instead of handling the originals in the print department for such things, the picture collection was a safety valve for the content. And they even had cross training programs between the two departments so that staff would understand how to properly refer designers and other folks who needed to use these materials. Conversely, art historians who were focusing only on the fine print collection would recognize and understand that there may be a resource in the Picture Collection to help them.
It was my total misfortune to miss connecting with Ms. Javitz by this really very short, less than half a year period. I did not understand when I came there what the Picture Collection was about. And because of this bizarre cultural difference of the branches versus the research, it was practically you don't speak to them. Pass them from the cafeteria, possibly, but they are not your colleagues, which is just totally insane. So that's sort of that situation.
And there were always photo collections in the specialized departments. The Schomburg Center with its subject focus, but also artists focus, and the Performing Arts library with a very strong subject focus, of course, for theater documentation, publicity pictures, and that sort of thing. So those were all routinely collected and understood to be important parts of those subject holdings.
So in the '50s and '60s-- this is this World War II post business that I'm talking about, the glamorization, the heightened recognition of the creative role. The other kinds of cultural influence that photographers and photography had. I mean, in the popular imagination, the top picture is Rear Window, which is Alfred Hitchcock's picture about a house bound photographer.
But the glamorization of this guy, who-- I don't even know. I forget what he was photographing. He was a product photographer, an advertising guy. But his role in this movie served to elevate the public understanding of him. And Blow-Up did the same for my generation.
And then, of course, there were the artists getting involved in the Museum of Modern Art in '69 or '67. I can never remember the new documents. Was it '67? Thank you. So it was it was just part of the ethos, too.
And then this is more an institutional account of what was going on in the '70s, in the lead up with these. So I joined the New York Public Library. And I'm basically told the library doesn't collect photographs, even though I had been enormously interested in it and had worked as a photographer during college, I mean, as a darkroom person and had taken one class in taking pictures. Because you have to have credits to graduate, so I took a shoot pictures class to finish my senior year.
But all this other stuff was going on, then, in the years immediately after. And I went to library school because I got a job at the New York Public Library. Because the ethos was, in my mind, in New York, all I could find was horrible graphic arts jobs for advertising, sort of the end of the Mad Men era, which was hideous.
And I'd been using the telephones in the lobby of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street to call ad agencies and other ads in The New York Times. And oh, the jobs they would offer and the way people dressed just really was so discouraging.
So I turned around and walked in the other direction to the employment office of the Library. And they hired me, basically, on the spot to process art books. So I [INAUDIBLE] It was less money. But it was more culturally suitable to me.
And then they said, we'll send you to library school. We have this program. And I had never thought of going to library school. It just hadn't occurred to me at all.
And it was the neatest thing that I did. Because I entered this interesting culture, especially in the research libraries, of a huge range of media, a wide range of people who used this content for all kinds of exciting, interesting, creative stuff. And I felt I entered a very interesting world in which I can help people connect with what they want to find to do this work.
So that's where the photography motivation came in. But it took a couple of years for that to actually happen. So where are we? So I don't have to read this to you. You can see it was just very-- I like the word fecund about it, because they keep birthing new things-- and the fluidity I talked about.
So in '69 is when Lee Witkin opened his photography gallery. And it was very, very popular right away. And it showed mostly contemporary work, although there were bins that you could paw through for camera work, torn out photog reviewers, or probably clipped out, gently clipped out, disassembled, disbound. So those were very interesting.
Oh, maybe I didn't mention that. Because that doesn't come up yet. And it doesn't matter. Because there were other galleries that were selling 19th century things, Witkin was selling 20th.
One of his best sellers, of all things, was Eugéne Atget photographs. Because when Berenice Abbott sold her Atget holding to MoMA in 1968, she held back lots of duplicate negatives that she had made over the years and was able to churn out nice copies for Witkin, which flew out of the gallery. And they were pretty reasonably priced, in the two figures, maybe the low three figures.
And it was like, we can't sell them if you can't print them. Keep printing. And it turned into an industry that she had never imagined.
But it was also a sign of how exciting photography was to a new audience that could afford the prices that even less than a decade earlier, Helen Gee could not move with her Light Gallery down in the Village. So there was a real little hiatus there between Light Gallery closing in the early '60s and Witkin opening in '69.
But then, by the 1970s, it gets really exciting. Because in London, and then in New York in '75, historical photography auctions take off. And it raises the sense that this stuff has more value than just contemporary pictures. There are people actually willing to fight and bid for this stuff.
And that was a very interesting psychological dimension to what I was able to work on. In '74 and '75, the rare book dealer Lucien Goldschmidt and the Metropolitan Museum of Art photography curator Weston Neff collaborated on a book exhibition at The Grolier Club, which is a book collectors, bibliophile, private organization, an old New York club that had been around for a century. And what they exhibited was a thing called photo illustrated books.
It was a 19th century way of reproducing, but literally with the photographic process, photographic imagery in printed books. So that albumin prints, like this little [? roundelle, ?] on a title page would serve to introduce a book on that topic, which inside would have many plates that were actual albumin prints printed on paper tipped in. And The World Picture, the show that's at the library right now that opened last night, has a lot of these kinds of specimens in it.
So with my interest in photographs and my understanding that the library did not collect photographs, I was driven to other places to look at photographs. And one of them was this Truthful Lens show. Well, when I got there, I saw that there were loan credits from the New York Public Library.
Come on, guys. What's going on? And I don't want to talk about that AIPAD Art Fair. I want to leave room for questions. So this is what happened. I thought, there's got to be more, if this is what they could borrow. And it's such a natural thing.
So I got in touch-- first of all, Ms. Javitz was gone. So I didn't feel I had anybody to go talk to about this. I went to see Weston Neff, who I was introduced to by a colleague in my print department who had been a intern or some kind of fellow at-- I know I shouldn't confuse those-- but at the Met. So she introduced me to Weston Neff.
And he let me go through his card file that was in preparation for The Grolier Club show. So I sat there, because you couldn't really easily Xerox a million handwritten notes, and copied out these little entries on cards. And then I discovered there was something called the Research Library's Guide, which had three or four pages in this big book about how to research pictures.
And there was a little section on what photographs the research libraries had. Which said, basically, they're in all the call numbers that you could think of that are the subjects for the pictures. And it concluded with this charming note, which is "Diligence will be rewarded in the stacks." Which is even a sillier thing, because the research libraries had closed stacks.
You can't go walk around and browse. You have to use the card catalog. Which is why Weston Neff, for example, did not find the big AJ Russell Great West Illustrated for the Union Pacific Railroad album. Because it wasn't cataloged under Russell, even though his name is prominent in the plates. It was cataloged under Union Pacific Railroad, which if you do library catalog, nobody understands how to search-- what is that called-- corporate entries.
And so it was basically lost. Because the New York Public Library, just because it was so voluminous, had no title cards. And you could not look up Great West Illustrated, either. So fortunately, I did know how to research corporate entries and was able to find it.
And the other thing-- this is out of order-- but the Boni bibliographies, so I don't know if anybody's done photo history research using these amazing two volumes. Albert Boni, one of the pair of Boni brothers who published modernist literature in Paris and New York in the 1920s, was a photo aficionado. Albert and Charles were the pair.
Albert published these two books called Photographic Literature I and II. Maybe they were self-published. And they are really indices to articles.
But there is a two page, two column list called Photo Illustrated Books. So using that, Neff's index, I was able to use thing-- begin with the card catalog and find things that either they hadn't found, or they couldn't borrow, or just weirder stuff that turned up. I also found that the few title entries that were used were called views, pictures of, scenes in, which all led to things that often had no text, but were pictures, photographs, 19th century stuff.
And what I began to understand was that all the great East Coast libraries, or this one, ones that could date to at least the turn of the 20th century, had acquired a lot of travel albums, other kinds of esoteric things that weren't really printed books but that were considered interesting or had come with printed texts. When people emptied townhouses down to cooperative apartments, or they moved from their old, horrible house to some modern, nice place and the attic got cleared out. The books went to the library. The children's toys went to the local Historical Society.
So the New York Public Library, all the big-- I'm thinking beginning as far south-- and it's not very far south, but, like, Baltimore, Philadelphia, up to Boston, Providence-- acquired this kind of photographic material. Portland, Maine has it. So it really would still probably be a good guide to finding odd stuff and university collections like the one here.
So did I cover everything? Yes. So that's a picture that was taken of me. They were demonstrating my technique for looking--
--demonstrating my technique for looking for the telltale clue of wavy, wrinkled pages on the shelves, indicating that something has been bound in, or mounted, or is otherwise not a conventionally printed bit of material. OK.
So the point is, in addition to these printed books with title pages, imprints, conventional bibliographic apparatus, I found all these semi-published materials and the literally homemade private collection. There was one particular album, it's probably this one with the gray background, but that's just an example. Some tourists bought views of Venice, or it might have been views of Italy, a packet. You could buy these in stands in the late 19th century throughout places people went for tours.
And then they brought them home. Maybe they looked at them a couple of times. But they're pretty big. And then, there they are. So they came with the stuff that came with other illustrations.
But then there was anthropological kind of material. This is a set of-- German produced, but I've also understood that it has French, there's a French edition with French titles-- that's meant to show the peoples of the world. And it was a big effort to pull in cartes de visite from lots of places and then mount them on these printed album pages. Then the one in the lower left-- lower right, dyslexic-- is a typical kind of hand-colored Japanese album you could buy that would tell a little story about the culture, again, 1890 something.
But then, there was this huge cache of things by William Henry Fox Talbot, which had been acquired by the rare book collection in 1939 on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of photography. And it was one of those examples of this will be really interesting for the history of printing and we should acquire this. And there it lay, bizarrely catalogued. You could look up Talbot, but nobody would be allowed then to go see it, because it [INAUDIBLE] printed book.
So this is the sort of material that surfaced. Of course, Sun Pictures in Scotland, Talbot's second book, was in the local history department for small local things. And it was on, basically, not the open shelves, but you could call for it without getting a special collections card.
So there was not a consistency in how things were done. So the point is, I should emphasize I did this kind of on my own-- not kind of, really on my own. I had the list from Weston. I had the Boni bibliographies.
And so on lunch hours and generous breaks that we would get from the reference desk in the art division, and then I would stay at night because the New York Public Library, 42nd Street division, back then was open at night, late, 10. So I could stay and look in the card catalogs, crawl around in the stacks, and prepare this list of what was published then. Because some people got some idea this might have use. And they're always looking for content for this bulletin that the library published.
So there was a checklist of about 500 items, printed books and then at the back, another 100 or so things of odd stuff that turned up, like those albums or packets of mounted pictures. And we did an exhibition long before the library had a formal exhibitions program. So no registrar, no formal preparator-- we typed the labels and stuck them up with tacks. But the show did attract some attention and had a nice review in The Times.
But because I think my work had been, in effect, a guerrilla action, unauthorized, there was some concern that-- I'm not sure what the concern was. Anyway, it was important, to just, for me, to feel like this material had been identified. And beyond being identified, after we did the show, which covered two floors-- which was then the lobby, there was, like, where you walked in, there were cases, and up on the second floor, and then there were some things that were in mounts.
Because what also turned up was mammoth prints of Yosemite, which people knew who knew, but otherwise this was not really discoverable. So where am I going with all this? What happened then?
So there was a new director. It often comes down to personnel. There was a new director who I went to see.
And said, you know, we have all this amazing stuff and half of it's signed out to my name. And we're running out of space to keep it. And it's really-- look at these auction records.
It's valuable. It's going to get stolen if we don't pay attention. And I wasn't making that up. I had an occurrence happened. Because one of the items that-- am I leaving enough time?
One of the items was-- we used to get lots of photographs from public relations departments, of all things, at the library. And I think they were things destined for the Picture Collection. But they wound up being bound into albums that the research libraries. Like, beautiful things from the French shipping line that ran the Normandy, airplane interiors, 8 by 10 glossy PR pictures.
And so when I was a reference librarian at the art division, I sent some really sharp young guys who were researching the Normandy interiors down to look at the albums in what was then the Science and Technology division because it was about shipping. It wasn't rare. It was just there as resources.
When I went to actually pull them for a later effort to wrangle this stuff more physically than signing it out to my name, half of them were torn out. So I always wond-- because I had seen it intact when I first saw it. So I thought I'm not making this stuff up, about how vulnerable these things are. So that was also part of it.
So with the new director, we got money to begin to catalog things. We had a photo collection documentation project. And we hired staff. A consultant from the Library of Congress helped us get the funding by writing a letter saying, yeah, they're not making this up. There's a real collection here.
The National Endowment for the Arts, the humanities came in. Private funding, which was critical, obviously, was also raised, which changed everything and basically allowed me to have a salary removed from being an art reference librarian. So the department was officially created in April 1980 on paper. But we were still doing the project. Projects ended, as Andy said, and I was officially named in '82.
But what else was going on with this institutionalization of photographs in libraries and other non-art institutions? So there was the Bibliotheque Nationale in France, which acquired pictures, photographs, partly as a depository for copyright, like the Library of Congress, featured its collection at the Met.
I did a book about what had turned up in the 19th century. Beaumont Newhall, the great historian, spoke about photographs and books at Boston Public Library. And then, there was Douglas Crimp. And that's Mr. Crimp on the far right in a picture that is owned at the New York Public Library that I acquired.
Now speaking of an archive, that's part of a big collection by Robert Giard of gay and lesbian writers, which I was really thrilled to get that, because they're all beautiful. And often, they're the first print of a series. And then this below is the 2010 statement by Steven Pinson, if you want to look it up for yourself and read the rest of it.
And so the rest is a really fast romp through what we were doing at the Library. Acquisitions, administration change-- I became a part of the Special Collections staff. This care of materials-- we were able to routinely send things for matting, disbinding. Not books necessarily, but these terrible albums that were just going to hurt the pictures more than anything.
And we were able to do acquisitions. Because once it caught on, other departments were interested. So the Spencer collection of fine bindings and illustrated books was the funding source for the acquisition of the Sir John Herschel's copy of the Anna Atkins' British Algae, which the library just had a nice show about with Steven Pinson's successor organizing it with Larry Schaaf, the great Talbot scholar. So that happened in 1985.
And we began to have a more public face in terms of the photographs that were on view. And concurrently cataloging and, obviously, providing access and ultimately, discoverability through more than cataloging. But the Digital Image Access Project relied initially on photographic content. Because it's easily digitizable, not scanning even, but overhead.
And things had been machine-- what used to be called machine cataloged-- so that the databases for photographs, because of the work that we did cataloging at the item level, could be exported to item level metadata. And some of these projects were really demos. Like the RLG Urban Landscape, I think, is what it was called. It was in 1993. I mean, it was still, like, before the Windows '93. What am I trying to say? Before there was even mice. You know, you still had to do-- keying in everything.
The Digital Schomburg was funded and got off the ground with very selective work. This Small-Town America, With Stereoscopic Views we decided not to cherry pick, but to show everything. This is just the rise of the web and making stuff available. So it was always something I was kind of interested in and participated in.
And now, there is what I call a unified portal for digital collections. You can find archives. You can find pictures. Virtually everything that's been digitized, even things that go through current photo orders from the public or publishers, will wind up with their own individual metadata, just to make it read discoverable again because it was published or used for that one time that it was requested and publicly ordered.
Now if things are copyrighted, they are withheld or they are shown in the tiniest of hard to steal thumbnail. But they are made discoverable. As libraries, more than museums, the philosophies is to make the collections accessible. So preservation and access has been attention for 30 years. How to make it, keep it good, and how to make it available.
And this is the last slide. And this is after I left, basically. There's the 30 year anniversary and the statement by Stephen-- I'm sorry, I used it twice. And this really curious thing, Fantasies of The Library by an outfit called Anthropocene Discoveries, have two pages about the photography coming of age in the library, a little German publisher. And it was kind of fun. They did a little thing at Printed Matter in New York. And I talked.
So anyway, that's basically my tale. And I don't know if there's any questions. I really told so much.
ANDY GRUNDBERG: If you could sit down there. So I'd like to introduce my collaborator, Katie Addleman-Frankel, who's the Gary and Ellen Davis Curator of Photography at the Johnson Museum of Art of Cornell University, to have a short conversation before lunch with Julia van Haaften.
KATIE ADDLEMAN-FRANKEL: Thank you, Andy. Thank you so much, Julia. That was really-- it was just wonderful.
JULIA VAN HAAFTEN: Thank you. Sorry I ran over.
KATIE ADDLEMAN-FRANKEL: No, it was great. And I'm delighted to hear that there's a memoir coming. So I'll be delighted to read it.
And I think many other people will, here, as well. It's just so many stories you told. And it was just so great to have a history of the formation of the collection and to have that contextualized within the incredible rise of photography in the 1970s that we've been talking about today.
And to go back, as well, to the Picture Collection is so important. And to so the Picture Collection, as far as I know, still exists?
JULIA VAN HAAFTEN: Oh, it does indeed.
KATIE ADDLEMAN-FRANKEL: It was still there four or five years ago, anyway, when I was there. And I was saying to, I think, Andrew Moisey last night that if somebody hasn't done a dissertation on the-- has it been done?
JULIA VAN HAAFTEN: Let me tell you.
KATIE ADDLEMAN-FRANKEL: Very good.
JULIA VAN HAAFTEN: The history of the Picture Collection is that it is now held at the 42nd Street building in the big Miriam and Ira D. Wallach division of art prints and photographs. And what has started to happen, or is happening now under Stephen Pinson's successor, who is Joshua Chang, is a more, as I tried to explain it, enterprise-wide approach to the content, to cataloging it, and its physical care. So the Picture Collection is now part of that. I don't know how much of it still can circulate.
I don't know. Because a lot of it is just tear sheets. Somebody has to, really, with a connoisseurship notion go through it now and make a choice.
But in terms of a dissertation, there are two historians working, not together at all, on Ms. Javitz and her history, from a theoretical or maybe a more operational point of view. One is theoretical. One is operational.
And I don't know how far those have gone along. One is a one person is a photohistorian. And the other is a photographer.
KATIE ADDLEMAN-FRANKEL: It's a really, really fascinating collection. And the story of its assemblage and uses is very interesting, as well. And it's really a kind of precursor to Google Images, if we think of it that way.
I mean, it just wasn't possible. It's very difficult to cast our minds back there, already, at this point, even though it hasn't been that long. But to think that if you wanted to know what a sun bonnet might look like, if you're designing a production of Oklahoma!, what the right sun bonnet would look like, you can't just-- you'd have to go to the New York Public Library and search under S, I suppose, or maybe B.
JULIA VAN HAAFTEN: Hats. Hats.
KATIE ADDLEMAN-FRANKEL: Maybe H.
JULIA VAN HAAFTEN: Because it was what are you-- alphabetico or classico-- I don't know what-- combining alphabet and classification simultaneously. Because you can't do that. You can do it electronically.
KATIE ADDLEMAN-FRANKEL: Right.
JULIA VAN HAAFTEN: But you can't do it with headings on a card.
KATIE ADDLEMAN-FRANKEL: I mean, there's actually a very elegant system in place there.
JULIA VAN HAAFTEN: It is.
KATIE ADDLEMAN-FRANKEL: Yeah.
JULIA VAN HAAFTEN: And it's unique.
KATIE ADDLEMAN-FRANKEL: As far as I recall.
JULIA VAN HAAFTEN: That was devised to address that special audience.
KATIE ADDLEMAN-FRANKEL: Right. So of course, as you were pointing out with that, photographs were always collected by the Library. But just not in a way that your supervisors thought they were, I suppose, or not in the way that you realized when you first started. And one of the most important pieces of your talk, I think, is about discoverability of these objects.
And Amanda [? Kissel ?] and I-- Amanda is the visual materials cataloguer who was hired as part of the Mellon grant that I was also hired as part of. And this talk is also, of course, so germane to this Mellon project of, you know, trying to find ways to bring museum and library collections closer together. But Amanda and I are actually sort of working on the side on a project to identify what we can of the photo illustrated material in our collection here and have already identified some really amazing stuff that we can then add description to and make more discoverable.
And of course, one of the resources that we're using for this project is the bibliography that you put together all those years ago, which remains one of the best sources for work like that. And the reason we're doing that is because we're interested in promoting the holdings of photographs that are held by Cornell. But also because these are really important materials for photohistorians.
JULIA VAN HAAFTEN: Yes.
KATIE ADDLEMAN-FRANKEL: For people who are interested in not only a history of publishing and book illustration, but also just the evolution of photography over time. And of course, the insertion of photography into books is such a big part of that. So I was just wondering if you could talk a little bit more about discoverability and searching for photographs?
And I loved what you said about that note that you found that said basically don't give up. Because that's really solid advice. It can be very, very difficult to find photographs in library collections. But they're such rich repositories, often.
JULIA VAN HAAFTEN: Right. Well that's one of the slides I tried to show, which is the Joint Committee on Specialized Cataloguing. These, you know, professional outfits tried to address this, beginning in the 1970s with the Library of Congress and several other big, universal, kind of holding libraries. To figure out how to make rare books, and manuscripts, and other anomalous but widely held kinds of materials, more findable by scholars without having to sit down and consult specialists all the time, or be so already deep in the field that, by osmosis, you would learn of the existence of things.
It's a form of a democratization of, ultimately, publicly held tax-- in the sense that they are tax-free-- and open to researchers. Even at private institutions, somebody can come to Cornell and see something if they apply. And increasingly, they are being accepted to come see it. So it was part of that larger effort of the opening of resources and doing things for the people.
KATIE ADDLEMAN-FRANKEL: Thank you.
JULIA VAN HAAFTEN: I think it still goes.
KATIE ADDLEMAN-FRANKEL: I could talk a lot more, but I would love to open it up to questions from the audience. Are there any questions? Right there. Just wait for the microphone. Thank you, Julie.
JULIA VAN HAAFTEN: Oh.
AUDIENCE: Hi. Thank you so much. It was a really informative talk. I was just curious in regards to the FSA photographs from the '30s.
JULIA VAN HAAFTEN: Hold it right up to your mouth. I can't hear you.
AUDIENCE: Oh. That's better. Sorry. In regards to the FSA photographs from the '30s, now that a lot of time has passed, does the organization of those contents, is it mirrored between the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library?
JULIA VAN HAAFTEN: Well, it mirrors. And it's different. Because what happened is two things. We can talk cataloguing and we can talk the actual prints.
Cataloguing-- I think what the Library of Congress has done online is a wonderful model. And they were a model when we were developing the digital library program in the early 2000s at NYPL or how to structure the metadata. Because we understood that researchers weren't going to search in a categorical way.
They were going to do natural language, eBay, Google type searching. And it's easier for everybody to think like that. So that was helpful to have as many access points and not to make it a finite, small group. So as widely descriptive as possible was help-- like, if somebody was wearing a sun bonnet, you put that in that picture's description.
But the physicality of the collections, there is not congruity. There is overlap is the way I understand it. And when I left, and I don't know that much more has been done with the FSA collection in terms of cataloguing it, it was in huge cardboard boxes by state. So obviously, every element, though, of it has a photographer and a very specific date and a more specific location than Tennessee, for example.
So I'm hopeful that, over time, the matrix that the Library of Congress has developed for cataloguing its work will be imposed on NYPL. And it should be collaborative. Because what's in the NYPL holding is often prints that were made from negatives that were subsequently punched or destroyed. So that's what I meant that it's not totally congruent. So there is content at NYPL that is not at Library of Congress.
So before I left, because I had leveraged tons of these. You saw the grants that we got to process stuff. We had leveraged tons of this kind of data to do other projects, especially the digital projects. By migrating it, we worked with Oracle and other people to make this-- you know, I mean data people-- to really make this happen.
And I was hopeful that we could pull something off with the Library of Congress, too, that we could get an export of their cataloguing for FS-- we, it's a long time ago-- that there could be an export of the LC data, and line it up, then, with the processing of the NYPL's FSA. And OWI, too-- I mean, it went up to 1943 when the Office of War information closed and the public relations was taken over by another element of the government.
But to put that together, to make one big database, and then others could add things, too. Sort of like the way the World Cat works for books and bibliographic things, this could work for what is a known body-- it's not like all the photographs in the world, it's the photographs of the OWI FSA RA world. I don't know that that's happened. I don't think so.
KATIE ADDLEMAN-FRANKEL: Any other questions? We have time for one more, probably. Yes? In the back there?
AUDIENCE: Thank you for that wonderful history of the Public Library collection. The other side of the topic that you were just discussing about cataloguing is has it been possible to preserve a record of the forms of organization of the Picture Collection, something which, of course, the Library of Congress has been able to do, so that we could look back at how the collection was searched.
Because one of the constant visitors to the collection in early '30s was Walker Evans. So would it be possible for me to find out what his experience was when he went to the Javitz Picture Collection in 1933?
JULIA VAN HAAFTEN: Yeah. That's nice that you bring up Walker Evans. Because he was really a big fan of the Picture Collection. And in his own personal archiving of other-- not his material, but other things, you know, his postcard collection and things like that-- and actually he had-- just this anecdote and then I'll answer you.
He had an assignment-- I think from Fortune, makes sense-- to photograph some unknown interiors at the New York Public Library in the '50s. And he refused to walk around with the public relations person and demanded that Ms. Javitz accompany him during this effort.
Yes, the matrix that is the topical headings for the Picture Collection exists now. And you can look at it. And what does not exist is a record of when different headings were added, like, you know, they would make a subdivision or a new category.
I don't know that it has a date next to it. It wasn't a formal enterprise, the way the Library of Congress official subject headings were distributed to libraries in the nation for books. It was a much more internal, personally managed situation.
So for example, you could not go back and see what Walker Evans could look at in 1937. But you can see how it was when it stopped being developed, which was some time in the early 2000s-- if that helps.
KATIE ADDLEMAN-FRANKEL: Thank you.
JULIA VAN HAAFTEN: OK?
KATIE ADDLEMAN-FRANKEL: Thank you.
ANDY GRUNDBERG: Thanks, Julia. Thanks, Katie.
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In this segment: Presentation by Julia Van Haaften, founding curator of the New York Public Library’s photography collection; and response by Kate Addleman-Frankel, The Gary and Ellen Davis Curator of Photography, Cornell, followed by Q&A.
"Images Objects Archives: The Multiple Lives of Photographs" featured artists, archivists, and curators actively involved with photographic archives discussing important issues regarding the selection, use, contextualization, and interpretation of photographs. They addressed how specific photographs acquire added meaning in the company of others, how photographic archives serve a variety of users and audiences, why the photographic archive as an idea has become central to the practices of contemporary art, and how the collection and presentation of traditional archives differs from that of today’s digital image recording.
This symposium was organized by Andy Grundberg '69 and Kate Addleman-Frankel, the Gary and Ellen Davis Curator of Photography at Cornell, and generously supported by the Melissa ’85 and Matthew Rubel Family Fund for Photography, Education, and Engagement. It is held in conjunction with “Crossing the Photographic Divide: Mining and Making Meaning,” a collaborative initiative between the Johnson and Cornell University Library, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.