Blog Article #3

By cmcrilly

Blog Article #3

The field of Library and Information Science has grown and expanded as the world has progressed. This expansion has extended to online spheres from digitizing archives to online library collections. Coming from Upstate New York, I grew up in the shadow of Kodak and everything relating to George Eastman. The George Eastman House provides a lot of historic options for someone interested in photographic archives. It is because of this that I chose to do my third blog article on the George Eastman House online archives database. I am unable to conduct an in-person observation of the archives as they are a six hour drive but I am more interested in combing the online collections to see how such a vast collection is being translated digitally.

From class discussions, the article that most stood out to me on this subject is Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Due to the digitization of documents and photographs, Benjamin’s article is pertinent in that it offers up the question of whether or not we are losing something in the digitization process. While this article may be a little out of date, having been written in the nineteen thirties, it still provides a valid viewpoint from which to consider the impact technology has on works of art and photographs. What could we possibly lose by digitizing photographic collections that record historic events, individuals, and other such precious time capsules into our past? Benjamin argues that the essence of the moment is lost in the reproduction of the image, “[e]ven the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.” (Benjamin) It interesting to wonder if this doesn’t happen almost immediately after the act of taking a photo as the image itself is produced from a negative. On the other hand, as the negative is the pure image, would it technically be called reproduction if the negative is used…”in photography, process reproduction can bring out those aspects of the original that are unattainable to the naked eye yet accessible to the lens, which is adjustable and chooses its angle at will. And photographic reproduction, with the aid of certain processes, such as enlargement or slow motion, can capture images which escape natural vision. Secondly, technical reproduction can put the copy of the original into situations which would be out of reach for the original itself. Above all, it enables the original to meet the beholder halfway, be it in the form of a photograph or a phonograph record.” (Benjamin) According to Benjamin’s logic, it would still lose its presence in the time and space in which it was taken so even the act of developing a photo from the original negative would make it a reproduction.

The George Eastman House Online Collections are split up into several categories including collections of negatives, lantern slides and many smaller collections of photographs on historic events and persons. While there is some access to these collections, it is nowhere near complete which the sites recognize. I perused the main collections that the site highlights to judge the general functionality of the online collections. On both the Eastman Museum website and the George Eastman House site, there is a useful “Search” tool which allows someone to pin down a specific collection or photograph. Although this tool exists, there isn’t a lot of free movement between the collections which makes it difficult to compare images unless you open up a new window from which to view the images side by side. The licensing website that houses the collections is organized by general collection (technology, rare books, Civil War, Portraits of Photographers, 19th Century Streets, Eastman’s Legacy, and Frame clippings). The site recognizes that there is missing material and urges visitors of the site to check back regularly for updates to the collections. There are collections on these two specific sites and both offer different collections, one of the major cons with using these online collections is the difficulty of maneuvering within and between the collections which is a bit cumbersome. The Eastman Museum site recognizes that the database is only a fraction of the photography collection and is not a comprehensive representation of all of the museum’s materials and there is still much work to be done. However, they are off to a good start.

 

 

https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm

https://eastman.org/

http://licensing.eastmanhouse.org/GEH/C.aspx?VP3=HRender_VPage

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