Posted on June 23rd, 2011 by Rachel
One of the many charms of working with vernacular photograph collections—that is, photos that were not intended as fine art—is that they come with their own special kind of provenance. I do not refer to any folder full of certificates indicating dates of purchase and previous owners, but to the history that is conveyed physically on the surfaces of a photograph whose owners never expected it might hang in a museum someday. The result of this sort of treatment, if occasionally a little cringe-worthy from a conservator’s perspective, is a rich source of narrative and culture from a historian’s. Most of these photographs have been handled, scrapbooked, lost, found, framed, passed around at parties, and generally enjoyed before they join the JMM’s collection—and they show it. While scanning sometimes hundreds of photographs a day, I end up examining a lot of photograph backs, and sometimes I wonder if I’m scanning the wrong side. Here are some examples.
On the left is a photograph of Joseph Weiner’s first store, taken in the early 1930s; it’s a lovely example of small groceries from this period and, aside from a small tear and some marks on the supporting mat, in excellent condition for its age. But one doesn’t realize quite how special the photograph is until flipping it over. On the left is the opposite side of the mat, where a little someone with a set of crayons has made sure to include an address—in three inch characters of alternating colors for emphasis—in case the photo should ever be lost. After seeing the back, one realizes that what appears on the front as the careless, mad scribbling of a child who doesn’t know any better is in fact the mad scribbling of a child who cares very much. Not the most discreet assertion of ownership, perhaps—like I said, these discoveries do not always live up to ideal standards of conservation—but somehow a touching suggestion of a child’s attachment to a family photograph.
Among other signs of use and love, amateur photographs demonstrate the wonderful and all but forgotten art of the handwritten caption. Often these notes go beyond supplying names and dates and actually transform the photograph by imbuing it with a sense of original context, or the characters of its subjects. Take a look at this picture, a standard snapshot of a few girls dancing with their dates at a local sorority function:
1984. 211. 037a
Now take a look again, but with this handwritten note in mind:
1984. 211. 037b
The note reads: “Dance at Hotel Sterling/Left to right: two arms belonging to Dot Barber and Jerry (Stoopid), Annette Cohen and Cutie Pie, Pauline Hondlesman and “Schlom,” Raisa Roseman and Eddie-the-Character, Sonie Brenner and Jerry-the-Jerk.
Observe, first of all, that the memory of the fastidious author of this note is sharp enough not only to identify the gloved elbow (just entering the frame on the far left) but its owner’s dancing partner—the alluring “Jerry Stoopid,” who was unfairly rejected by the photographer’s lens. For me, this is an example of a near perfect caption, supplementing both the story—the girls giggling together later that night, making up nicknames for the boys they had danced with—and the mystery.
I think the most interesting reflections occur when the subject of the photograph and the author of the note are one in the same. Here is a picture postcard sent from Dora Greenfeld to her husband in January of 1917.
Dora, captured in profile, is beautiful and striking, gazing wistfully out a window with a kind of calm resolve in her expression. The depth of this personality is compounded by the message on the back of the postcard, lending a playful intimacy to the communication, and a touch of irony to the drama of her pose in the photo: “May this remind you of one of my moods.”
Finally, since I’m on the subject of the backs of photographs, I have to give a few examples of the backs of early twentieth century professional portraits, where studios printed beautiful advertisements:
2003.083.014, .011, .013
A blog post by intern Mary Dwan.
Posted on June 14th, 2011 by Rachel
This post finds me, Mary Barthelme, in the third week of my internship at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. I am an archives intern working on the Baltimore Hebrew University archive material. This post, however, will go into detail of my hectic and slightly overwhelming first week at the JMM and my transition, still in process, of learning to live in a city.
With my trusty, and well used, GPS I made it on time to the JMM for day one of Orientation on June 1st. After going through the basic introductions from director Avi Decter, staff and other interns we proceeded to workshops and tutorials. As interns, we learned how to handle collections objects correctly from Jobi Zink, Senior Collections Manager, and about the general layout of the museum. I’ll summarize the day by stressing that it was both confusing and exciting looking ahead to the coming 10 weeks of the internship.
Intern Wrangler Jobi Zink discusses proper handling of objects.
Day 2 of Orientation, June 2nd, started at 10am again and once again all 8 interns were introduced to more of the fascinating life of a museum employee including learning about the computer system past perfect from Jobi and how to use our cameras properly to take good pictures from Elena Rosemond-Hoerr. Below is one of the pictures I took for the competition among interns to take the best picture.
Picture of Roses outside the front of the Museum for Intern Photo Scavenger Hunt
As indicated by my blog title, I am a small town girl living in a big American city for the first time. I won’t lie; I was extremely scared as I arrived in Baltimore and the Museum. In these first few weeks, however, I have received such wonderful help and outpouring of kindness from both the staff and people of Baltimore. I believe that I am finally adjusting to my new surroundings! I am excited to see what the next 8 weeks bring with both my work in the BHU archives at the Museum and also learning to successfully live in a part of America that has more than 10,000 people and A LOT more cows.
A blog post by intern Mary Barthelme.
Posted on May 16th, 2011 by Rachel
The Lloyd Street Synagogue posed for her close up not too long ago, and the results are lovely:
To see more images of the synagogue in her finery, or to see photos of B’nai Israel, congregation Beth Am, and other Jewish sites around the world, visit: http:///www.jewishphotolibrary.com.
The site is the proud creation of Jono David, who has set himself the daunting task of documenting Jewish sites all over the world. Jono is a British-American freelance photojournalist who lives in Japan. As he writes on his website, his HaChayim HaYehudim Jewish Photo Library “aims to contribute to the preservation of Jewish communities of the world by documenting them photographically.”
Jono connected with the JMM last year, and came by several months ago to photograph our sites. The images are available free of charge for community use, and can be purchased for private use.