Digital conundrums: glass lantern slides

For those of you of a certain age, you may remember those interminable evenings spent watching somebody’s vacation 35 mm slides projected onto their living room wall. For those of you under that certain age, think Powerpoint or similar slidedecks. Back before photography was a thing, people would paint photos onto glass and use a light to illuminate them and would use optics to project them as well. Then photography came along, and somebody figured out how to put photographic transparencies onto glass plates. That’s not a very accurate and definitely not a complete history of magic lantern/glass lantern/35mm slides ever written, but since there’s plenty of those types of things to be found and I wanted to get on to my point about the glass lantern slides we have, I’ll let you seek out other sources if you want to look into this further.

a few glass lantern slides

At any rate, we don’t have a lot of glass lantern slides in our collections: they tended to be popular in a time for which we don’t have a lot of collections and when you start thinking about how well glass would do during transport, well, you can see why maybe not so many survived as were created.

a broken glass lantern slide. It’s still held together by the tape on the edges.

But back in the day, glass lantern slides  were used by people going out on speaking tours to add visuals to their presentations. Some were sold commercially, or you could have your own photos placed onto them.  For all that they’re glass, the images themselves are reasonably sturdy.

A commercially produced glass lantern slide from a series about the Klondike gold rush. By the Pacific Stereopticon Company of Los Angeles, California.

A slide that has been colored in.

Like the original painted glass slides, prior to the advent of color photography, sometimes the images would be colored in to add yet a little more interest to the slide presentation. Like a lot of colorization that’s been done over the years, some of it doesn’t seem terribly authentic to the original. In some cases, like the totem poles pictured here, the colors were painted in to make the totem poles, the primary subject of the image, a little easier to see than they would have been in a normal black and white photograph. (It’s also probable that the ink used has undergone some color shifting over the years, too.)

But even that wasn’t where I was going with this. (Wow, I’m burying the lede today. Are you still with me?)

We have a bunch of glass lantern slides in the C. L. Andrews papers. Some are photographs he’s taken, some are ones that were purchased from commercial producers. Even though the photographic emulsions themselves are relatively stable since glass is a great relatively non-reactive medium that generally takes a very long time to degrade, they are unexpectedly heavy, and some of the glass is shattered, and it’s probably just for the best if we try to limit how much they get handled. (Papercuts are a pretty standard workplace hazard around here. We don’t want to start filling out incident reports for glass cuts too.) So when I was placing the slides in archival enclosures, and I realized the collection also had some nitrate still negatives that were a preservation problem, and I thought about how much people would like to see these images, I decided to digitize them in order to put them up on the Alaska’s Digital Archives. Increased access, reduced handling. Great idea, right?

And then came a slide like this.

Front view. I promise we didn’t put the sticker with the number on there.

And I realized, as I placed it face down in the scanner, that oh, wait, that’s not all there is to the image. Behind that black framing on the image–not the tape around the edges of the glass but that rounded tape frame on the glass itself–is more image. Which is visible because the back side of this particular masking tape is light colored. Kind of like when you mat a photograph for framing and the mat covers over part of it.

Emulsion (back) side of the slide.

What to do? Which is the image we present? The image as the audience member at one of the events would have seen it? Or the image as it originally existed?

The image as an audience would have seen it.

A closer look at the full image.

My conclusion was that we needed to do both. A lot of the slides didn’t really have a ton of additional content in that hidden section, but some did. The one above? Included an additional structure: quite a substantial one. A well maybe? And in another case, an entire person was cut off. Would most viewers care?  Perhaps not, if they were simply looking for early Alaska images. But if they were researching how Alaskans dealt with water systems or maybe knew a little bit more about what was going on in the image with the people, cutting off those bits would misrepresent the scene.

But how to capture it? If I again scanned it as a transparency, the light coming through from the backlight on the scanner basically turned the light-colored image behind the frame dark, so it was still invisible. So I put the white reflective sheet back in the scanner and scanned it as a reflective image instead of a transparency which introduced a different problem. Most scanners are built to assume a certain focal distance to the image itself and that you’re not scanning something that is see-through. So the second scan, of the whole emulsion, is looking a little blurry in the transparency section but the edges, under the masking tape, are much clearer. Somebody much better with photo morphing software skills than I, or with considerably more time than I have, could probably join the two images together but to be really practical, digitizing things for the Alaska’s Digital Archives is time and money consuming enough without me adding that level of labor to the work, especially I’m choosing to present the clear, masked version alongside the mostly less than clear, back.

Because of some behind-the-scenes work being done on the Alaska’s Digital Archives, I can’t put the images up for another month or two anyhow. That buys me some time to do everything else that my job requires along with messing about with preparing the metadata for the images, some limited work I need to do with the image files themselves (contrast  and color correction, inverting the images scanned as reflective since those had to be scanned face up instead of face down). And to also figure out if I want to join the two photos into a single record on the Digital Archives or if I want to load them up separately and figure out another way to connect them together. And I also need to come up with a much shorter explanation than this! for the Digital Archives information so that people looking at it online can understand what the difference between the two images is.

In other words, don’t expect to see the slides up in the next month or so. But in the meantime, I have already loaded up some of the other image files from the Andrews papers and some of them are a little reminiscent of these so you can browse through them if you like. Andrews spent time in Sitka, in Eagle (he was there when Roald Amundsen dropped by in 1905 and there’s photos of that), in Sitka, and in Nome so he traveled quite a bit across the territory taking images along the way. Also since many many archives that have Alaska content have collections of Clarence Leroy Andrews’ photographs (he sold his images commercially too), if you’re particularly interested in the content you’re seeing in ours, you can easily go looking for others online now that you have his name.

Last I’ll leave off with that other image. The one of the people where the image as presented to the audience doesn’t include a person who appeared in the original photograph. I don’t know that the person who is cut off from the presentation copy will ever be identifiable, or if there’s anything to be learned from their presence in the image, but I’ll leave that to our researchers to make the decision.

The view as you would have seen it if you were in an audience, watching a slide show.

The extended play version.

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New in the Archives: September 2018

September is always a season of change in the Archives with the start of the semester! It feels like this has been an intensive outreach month for us with several events that happened and even more that we’re preparing for. More details on that in a moment.

But first up, we hired a student worker: welcome Leticia! Leticia has been doing a lot of scanning for us so far this month, including getting high resolution scans done of nitrate still photo negatives since we’re not sure how much longer it will be before those degrade: nitrate media is one of the few hard copy archival media where the digital may have a longer lifespan than the original (and significantly less flammable, too.)

“The Alaska Flivver” from the Gregory slides

Did you know? The Alaska’s Digital Archives has reached a milestone!

This summer was the 15th birthday of the Alaska’s Digital Archives website! We can’t find the exact day that the site went live, but we know it was between July and September of 2003. Related to that, in September we added some more photographs to the Digital Archives:

29 photographs from the Marion and Thomas Gregory papers.

60 photographs from the Francis J. Huber slides.

Our additions to the Alaska’s Digital Archives will be going on hiatus for a month, possibly a little bit more. The website is moving to being hosted by another service provider and there’s some great things about that. First up, our annual budgets for licensing the software the supports the Digital Archives and for server administration will significantly decrease. That’s always good news! Secondly, we’ll be able to see some great functionality that we haven’t had before: like a mobile view of the site if you’re searching using your cell phone or a tablet. Fingers crossed that the move will go quickly and well.

Classes taught:

ANTH A620: Research Design. 4 students.

ENGL A476: History of the English Language. 27 students.

Outreach:

Live radio interview with KNBA on Morning Line about upcoming outreach events (Arlene)

UAA Bookstore presentation: Alaska Archives, Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow (Gwen, Veronica, Arlene)

PARK(ing) Day

Archiving AK podcast episode 6: STEM in archives

Notable uses of materials:

Well, we’re not quite sure how “notable” this is, but it charmed us no end. A photo of Spenard from the Mounteer papers is now wall-size and in the men’s bathroom at the Bear Tooth theatre. The original photo probably dates from between 1949 and 1952. The photo of the bathroom wall was courtesy of one of the Bear Tooth employees, no, we didn’t sneak in there to see it. Though we have an invitation to visit some morning before they open so we can go see it.  If you’d like to take a closer look at the photo and like us, aren’t allowed to go in the men’s room at the Bear Tooth without getting in a whole lot of trouble, we have it up on the Alaska’s Digital Archives, which is where they found it. Or you can come in and we’ll gladly pull the Mounteer collection for you to look through.

Collections described:

Christine M. McClain papers; 1907-1992. 0.01 cubic foot and 79 MB addition, includes writings and photographs.

Katharine Crittenden papers; 1978-2005. Research files and correspondence relating to Crittenden’s book, Get Mears!

Wanda A. Wheeler slides; 1964. 0.01 cubic feet. Images that depict damage caused by the 1964 earthquake.

Joanne Vivian Sedlock photographs; 1949. Aerial photographs of Anchorage.

Walter Johnson papers; 1902-2008, bulk 1961-1978. 0.5 cubic foot addition.

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New in the Archives: June 2018

It’s so hard to stay inside in June in Alaska! But we managed to get a lot done anyhow. Here’s the June 2018 wrap-up:

New personnel:

Sara Rollins, a local high school student, is volunteering with us this summer for 2-3 days each week. She’s doing a wide variety of tasks including creating an exhibit from our Rare Books collection, selecting images for our social media outlets, and lots of scanning of photographs so we can put them up on the Alaska’s Digital Archives.

Anna Leinweber, a grad student in the library program at Louisiana State University, decided to visit Alaska for her grad internship. She’s done a lot of cataloging of images for the Alaska’s Digital Archives (see below), some collection description, and spent some time working with some of our reference questions too.

Outreach:

We had a booth at PrideFest again this year. As always, we talked to lots of people both about the resources we have for research and about how they might think about their own documents and photographs being placed in an archives. (And a chance to be outside in Alaska in June, though it was quite windy.)

Our booth at PrideFest. We like our new banner and tablecloth.

Social media: We posted 29 tweets to Twitter: mostly photographs relating to #GreatOutdoorsMonth. We posted 7 times to Facebook and 4 times to Instagram (note to archivists: we need to do more Instagram!). Are you following us on those sites? Twitter: @CLArchives, Facebook: @ConsortiumLibraryArchives, Instagram: clarchives (we promise we’ll do better on Instagram).

Our volunteer Sara curated an exhibit on exploration narratives from our Rare Books holdings. That exhibit can be viewed in the Great Room of the Consortium Library.

We posted the third installment in our podcast series: this one a conversation between Gwen, Veronica, and Arlene on tourism in Alaska and how it is reflected in our collections. We also recorded two more, including a bonus episode coming in mid-July  in which Arlene talks with one of our visiting researchers about media and Alaska and archives. Our next regularly scheduled episode will be posted later in July and in that one, Veronica talks with our colleagues at the Alaska Moving Image Preservation Association about what it is they do.

And in a very out-of-the-ordinary moment, C-SPAN‘s Cities Tour visited us on the 26th and interviewed Arlene about our holdings relating to the 1964 Alaska earthquake. They tell us we might just see that interview airing the weekend of July 21-22.

Grants:

Gwen was awarded an Interlibrary Cooperation Grant from the Alaska State Library and the Institute for Museum and Library Services. This grant will allow us to work with other archives to create some cooperative guides to collections across Alaska and get them posted on SLED (State Library Electronic Doorway). We did one a few years ago on where to find the records/papers of former governors of Alaska. We also finished one in June on where to find archival materials in the US and Canada (primarily Alaska & Yukon Territory) on the CANOL pipeline which was funded by UAA’s Elizabeth Tower Endowment for Canadian Studies (thanks to Veronica for applying for and getting that grant). The CANOL guide should be going live later in July.

Additions to Alaska’s Digital Archives:

The work to transfer the historic UAA images from picturingUAA to the Alaska’s Digital Archives continued. 243 images were moved over which included additional metadata and editing some of the information accompanying the photographs.

New content added to the Alaska’s Digital Archives includes:

27 images from the W. D. Lacabanne photographs.  Most of the images relate to the canneries at Nushagak in 1931. Anna the Intern did these.

22 images from McGlashan and Monsen family photographs. These mostly relate to Naknek from 1910-1950.

44 images from Emma Cameron slides. Emma Cameron was a school teacher in Nome in the late 1940s, early 1950s.

40 images from the C. H. McLeod photograph albums. Anna the Intern also did these. The photos date from about 1898-1903 and mostly relate to southeast Alaska.

Collection description:

You might recognize some of these from the above Digital Archives additions.

HMC-0670: Washington D. Lacabanne papers; 1931. 0.2 cubic foot addition of photographs.

HMC-0989: Atwood family papers; 1906-2003. 1.8 cubic foot addition.

HMC-1290: John Cloe papers; 1943-2016. Research materials related to John’s book Mission to the Kurils.

HMC-1291: Jukichi (Jack) Nishida photographs; circa 1913-1981. Photographs taken by a man from Japan who worked for a mining company in Ellamar.

HMC-1292-AHS: C. H. McLeod photographs; undated, 1898-1903. Photographs of southeastern Alaska.

UAA-0076: Enrollment Management slides; 1977-1997. Photographs of campus life at UAA.

Legacy finding aids updated:

HMC-0232: Betty Jo and Bruce Staser family papers; 1946-1985. 0.4 cubic feet. Documents from a military serviceman and employee of the Municipality of Anchorage.

HMC-0233: Harry Staser family papers; 1891-1977. 0.2 cubic feet. Family papers of an Alaskan miner and deputy marshal.

HMC-0415: Society for Technical Communication. Alaska Chapter records; 1981-1991. 1.8 cubic feet. Records of an organization for technical writers.

Collection additions and changes:

We received five new collections or additions to collections. Veronica paid a visit to the Inupiat Heritage Center in Utqiaġvik to bring them a portion of a collection that was more appropriate to their holdings than ours.

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New in the Archives: March 2018

March has been a busy month for us! Must be all that extra light we’re getting right now that’s letting us get all this work done!

Collections described:

Ruth Hart papers; 1964-2003. HMC-1279. The collection contains the papers of Ruth …

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