Thursday, June 21, 2018

Museum Volunteer: Photographic Technology and Equipment.

After a year and a quarter of photographing all sorts of stone tools and arrowheads, I finally made it through the backlog and have graduated to cataloging the Oshkosh Public Museum's collection of Photographic Technology and Equipment (That's the official museology category for standard naming of objects.)

I studied the basic textbook of museum cataloging before beginning. Right out of college, I worked in a library cataloging department that included lots of audio-visual and realia. I worked with some of the first library computer catalogs, and I've been involved with all sorts of databases and catalogs, so a lot of it was familiar.

The artifacts not on display are in compact shelves in the Carriage House behind the museum, which is completely rebuilt inside to be a storage and exhibit preparation facility.

Most of the objects are stored in boxes, and I normally bring up one box at a time.  The photographic objects have only been briefly accessioned and given a catalog record with a description by someone who didn't know much about photography.

The first box I got had a 4x5 RB Graflex Series D in it.  It belonged to the Oshkosh Police Department from about 1930 when it was new and was in use into the fifties.  It included a special back to place two images on a 4x5 sheet of film which was used for mug shots. It had been described as a split image camera.  In another box was an actual split-image-only camera custom-made by the Wisconsin State Crime Lab with the front of an Ansco Pioneer and the body of a battleship that had been listed as a part of the Graflex.

This Graflex was the top-end SLR of the thirties and forties. Edward Weston used an earlier model to make his 4x5 nudes.  When pursuing similar work when I was younger and wishing for a larger negative, I remember thinking it would really be great to have one. It would be cool to take pictures with this stuff, but museum protocol says you handle objects as little as possible.  This one's in pretty bad shape anyway, and the only film holder with it was a film pack adapter.  They stopped making large format film packs in the eighties.

The protocol also says every part must be marked with it's accession number in as inconspicuous a place as possible if there's any likelyhood that the pieces might be separated. My second box had a folding Blair 5x8 view camera from 1895. The back came off to rotate and it had another film pack adapter loaded in the back, both of which had to be marked. It was a 5x7 film pack adapter, however,  and when it was inserted, there was a quarter inch open slot in the back of the camera. Not very light-tight. Labeling involves using three layers of a dissolvable coating which have variable drying times applied in a spot just big enough to write the number on very carefully, usually on a surface propped up at an odd angle.

That second box also had a Brownie Holiday Flash Camera. One morning I had been telling Joan, the staff member with whom I work, about the Rescued Film Project.  Seeing the blank red counter window in the camera I was holding,  I told her "Well, there's no film in this one."  A minute later when she went back to her office, I opened the camera and saw this 127 roll of Verichrome Pan.

My developing tank just happens to be a vintage Yankee adjustable tank that has a setting on the reel for 127 film (46mm wide). After an impromptu meeting with Joan and the two curators, it was agreed I should go ahead and develop it. The internet told me it was just like Plus-X, so I used Rodinal 1:50. It turned out to only have the last three frames exposed depicting a young woman in the back yard dressed up for some occasion in the early 1970s from the look of her hair and dress. Camera movement made the first two look quite pinholey. The third was sharp, but had a pattern over part of it that looks like someone had opened the camera briefly before completely rewinding the film. The staff was very familiar with the person who had contributed the camera (along with several hundred Christmas ornaments) and sent her the images. It turned out to be her sister at her confirmation.

It's not all cameras. The next box included a variety of contact printing frames, developing trays, tripods, a box of Agfa Superpan Press with 4 sheets left, and a folding Brownie Enlarging Camera complete with manual. You put the negative in the top and the paper in the bottom with a lens in the middle in the darkroom and then "expose it to daylight."

There were also five cameras in that box, all in good shape and working perfectly.  The two little folders in the front use 127 film and the two larger ones in the back use 616 and so all are unusable, but they still make film for the Exacta.

All with the Populist. .15mm pinhole 24mm from 24x36mm frame.

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