Caring for Archival Collections

A recent acquisition of some old Academy images  brought up some thorny problems. The photographs, taken by Edwin L. Cunningham in the early 1900s, were in very rough shape, with prints exhibiting extensive waterstaining, thick layers of surface grime, and in some cases, obvious mold growth, and glass plate negatives which were either broken or rendered entirely useless by having been stuck together for decades. While we accepted many of the images for scanning, once completed, they were returned to the donor as they were pretty much at the point where physically restoring them would have been either been prohibitively expensive, or in most cases, an act of futility.

Once we had good “master” scans of the images (meaning that no editing is done besides rotating and cropping), we set about making “user” copies, where we employed some fairly basic Photoshop techniques to make the images usable again for possible online publication and/or physical printing. Deciding exactly how much editing to do can be a tricky business, but we tended to be a bit conservative on this project. Basically, we simply tried to minimize the most visually damaged elements, rather than attempting to bring the images back to a pristine state.

Click the images below to see large versions, and a read a terrific Q&A on how to handle some of your own photograph/document collections here.

Gone but not Forgotten: The Abbot Hall Bicycle Race

Raphael Colb, Class of ’68, recently loaned the Archives a film reel he created of the 1968 Abbot Hall Bicycle Race (this annual event ceased when the area in front of Abbot Hall was re-landscaped and the circle was taken away). We had the film digitized, and created a 90-second clip to share with you here.

Please click the play button below to see the video (it has no sound); it may take a few moments to load.

The Lamont Poets project

Since 1983, the Academy’s Lamont Poetry Program has been inviting poets to come and read their work to the entire local community, as well as personally meeting with students. Beginning with the second invited poet, it also became a tradition to have them write a poem to be framed along with their portrait. Our latest digitization project is a celebration of these portraits and handwritten poems.

The framed works, which reside in the Library’s Special Collections, were a challenge to digitize. Because they’re matted, under glass, and rest in frames with at least an eighth of an inch lip, flatbed scanning didn’t work well on our test image. The light had to penetrate two sheets of glass to reach the images, giving us a scan that was blurry and had very noticeable visual “noise.” Correcting such noise in Photoshop is a time-consuming process.

In the end, we decided to use our copystand, which is essentially a flat platform, two bright lights, and a pillar for mounting a camera. Each framed piece was photographed twice (once for the portrait, once for the poem). We straightened, cropped, and tonally corrected 115 images. We also had to edit out the reflection of the camera in the glass (we’ll use a physical solution for this next time – live and learn).

It took a while to get these images on the web, but we’re pleased with the final results, which you can see here.