Inventory, Inventory, Inventory (or…where is all that stuff??)

Posted on July 10th, 2012 by

A blog post by Photo Archives Intern Matt Oliva.

The process for photograph inventory is simple; sit down in a small basement room in front of a computer and grab a large box of photos. Inside that box will be several archival folders. Inside those folders reside dozens, if not hundreds of photographs. Locate the object number on the back of the image; type it into the computer and go. Then repeat this process for several hours a day, five days a week. If this doesn’t sound like the best job ever to you too, you’re probably crazy.  The JMM’s photograph collection is vast and full of really interesting pictures, from Victorian cabinet cards to portraits of children:

1992.242.006.037b and 1992.242.005.031a

Even though the boxes and folders are labeled, the actually content of the images is usually a complete surprise. In one box you might find an incredible turn of the century studio portrait:

1991.065.003

And in the next, snapshots of women showing off the best of 1980’s fashion.

2000.135.035 and 2000.135.049

While I’ve been perfectly happy working with pieces of paper for the last five weeks, for the past two days all of the archive interns have been thrown into the world of three dimensions through object inventory. Where working with the photograph collection is basically a desk job with a lot of minute tasks, object inventory is the opposite. Object inventory is carrying a very valuable looking cut glass jar down a maybe four foot wide aisle while attempting not to run into the two other interns walking towards you with objects and simultaneously avoid the large box that appeared in the middle of the floor while your back was turned. Object inventory isn’t pulling photographs out of a folder individually; it’s clearing an entire shelf of extremely breakable objects one at a time to get to a single tiny paperweight that somehow ended up at the very back. It’s cringing whenever you hear a clink or bang from anywhere in the room.

2000.178.001

Working with objects is really a great change of pace from my entirely photograph-based existence. There’s something incredibly interesting about actual but unusual household objects; the Cyrillic typewriter, the ornate art deco trophies, or the entire shelf of porcelain spittoons. Until these past few days I had never really considered working with anything but photographs or documents, as photography was my first love and what brought me to the museum field. I’m really excited to see what other items I find in the next few weeks, and experience different parts of the museum world.

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“A Plate a Day”

Posted on June 29th, 2012 by

Hey everyone!  My name’s Matt Oliva and I’m one of the two Photo Archive interns at the Museum this summer. I’m a student at Maryland Institute College of Art where I’m majoring in Art History and Photography.

One of the major projects I have been working on this summer is cataloging and digitizing the Hendler’s Ice Cream Company photography collection. Hendler’s ice cream company was a successful business and household name in Baltimore for fifty years. Their large plant and headquarters is actually only about a block from the museum that acquired their photograph collection.

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed in the time I’ve spent working with the Hendler’s collection, it’s that the company liked to document their advertisements. You could even say that they were obsessive about it, given the hundreds of photographs exclusively of the billboards they put up around Baltimore City, as well as those of other local companies.

These images are really interesting if you’re like me and fascinated by vintage advertising art and slogans. While these aren’t quite the flashy, famous things that you’ll see in an episode of Mad Men, they’re great examples of how products were sold in the first few decades of the last century.

The billboards are amazing objects themselves; giant, hand-painted images of people and food done decades before ads of this size could be mass produced. The slogans are often rather humorous to modern eyes, particularly those like “not a dessert, a full meal,” “full of fruit, sugar and cream,” and “have a plate a day,” which seem to allude to the healthy nature of ice cream.

Another interesting facet of the Hendler’s advertising photographs is the way they rather accidentally documented the neighborhoods and shop windows of early twentieth century Baltimore. By hiring professional photographers to document their advertisements on the sides of buildings or displays in store windows, the Hendler’s company also created a record of the everyday side of the city. Most of the buildings, businesses and even blocks pictured in these images have changed so completely in the last eighty of so years as to be unrecognizable. These pharmacies and soda fountains were unremarkable, common features of the city one upon a time, and would have probably been lost to progress without Hendler’s.

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