A guest posting by Seamus Howard, Student Archival Processing Assistant in the Pictorial Unit, Bancroft Library
What makes a photograph good?
As a student working in the Bancroft Pictorial Unit, I’ve been going through hundreds and hundreds of photographs daily. I’ve seen my share of good and bad photos.
One might stand out as “good” due to the lighting, crisp focus, correct staging, and exposure — good cropping perhaps, or just clarity of subject. Ultimately, the answer is a combination of factors, and can be completely subjective.
For me, the most important factor is moment.
The 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition was full of special moments captured in photographs which continue to shed light on the character and tone of the United States during the early 20th century.
One special moment was former President William Howard Taft visiting the P.P.I.E.
Working to re-house and inventory about 6,700 photographic prints in large, brittle ledger books, I’ve encountered numerous shots of this visit, thoroughly recorded by the Cardinell-Vincent Company, the exposition’s official photographers.
President Taft was an early supporter of the exposition, declaring in early 1911 that San Francisco would be the official home of the fair. He attended the groundbreaking eight months later and returned to San Francisco in 1915 to see the fair in all its glory.
Taft’s visit to the fair was seemingly a large event. He was accompanied wherever he went, soldiers or guards escorting him from building to building. Taft continued to be a very important person at this time. He had lost his reelection to Wilson in 1912, and returned to Yale as a professor of law and government.
Taft visited many of the fair’s popular buildings and exhibits, including the Japanese Pavilion, Swedish Building, Norway Building, and the art gallery and courtyard of the French Pavilion. He met foreign representatives, fair officials, and experienced much of what the fair had to offer.
And President Taft experienced the unique blend of cultures and stories the fair provided. Here, in my favorite photograph of Taft’s time at the fair, he walks through a hall lined with busts in the Swedish building, flanked by guards. Taft seems enveloped by the art and is perfectly framed between his escorts and the lines of busts, drawing your eye towards Taft at the center. This moment makes a great photograph.
The Bancroft Pictorial team continues to house and describe the collection, and will update this blog with more photographs and details as we progress. Stay tuned!
In the Bancroft Library Pictorial Unit, work continues on 115 panoramic Cirkut camera negatives being conserved and scanned as part of our NEH-funded work on the Edward A. Rogers Panama-Pacific International Exposition Photograph Collection.
The digital images produced give the chance to peer into these panoramic scenes and pick out small details – and often our gaze is returned by characters in the crowd, caught some 102 years ago.
The panorama (pictured above) at the Fillmore Street Gate on San Francisco Day, November 2, 1915, is among the best crowd shots, and all the images in this posting are details from it. At center the throng recedes eastward into the distance, down the thoroughfare of popular amusements known as The Zone. At left the crowds fill the Avenue of Progress which leads toward the bay, past the Machinery Palace. At right are the entrance gates, with the ridge of the Pacific Heights neighborhood beyond.
In the crowd there are so many marvelous faces (not to mention terrific hats!) that it is hard to select favorites.
For a “world’s fair” there’s not a lot of diversity in this crowd. But this stylin’ family are holding their own.
This fellow’s bound to have a good time, and he’s ready to make memories with his handy portable box camera at the ready.
This kid seems to have just made a balloon sale, but it’s serious work.
When mixing with hoi polloi, veils and a no-nonsense attitude are necessities for some. Even at a fair.
ESPECIALLY at a fair.
This lady is smiling even though she’s enjoying neither an ice cream nor a cigar. Perhaps she knows her hat is at the cutting edge.
It will be over 40 years before Sputnik challenges her design-forward look.
Three distinct kinds of trouble.
Make that four.
With all the fine hats, how can we choose a winner? – But wait! – Never mind.
The wee chap on the right steals the show!
And this favorite auntie’s outstanding chapeau falls victim to another well-accessorized scene-stealer.
Work on the Rogers Panama-Pacific International Exposition collection will continue through June of 2018, at which time digital images from over 2,000 negatives will be put online. In the meantime, we will share favorites, along with project updates, on this Bancroft Pictorial Unit blog. Check back again!
James Eason, Archivist for Pictorial Collections, Bancroft Library
This year staff in the Bancroft Pictorial Unit have been hard at work housing and preparing to digitize glass plate negatives from the Edward A. Rogers Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) Photograph Collection. Supported by funding awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), about 2,000 glass negatives and 115 panoramic film negatives will be put in order, housed in archival sleeves and boxes, listed, and scanned. Although the work will not be complete and online until June 2018, great progress has been made, and we are starting to see some of the images produced by our digital imaging technicians.
The Rogers Collection was a gift presented in late 2014, just months before the centennial of the opening of San Francisco’s great world’s fair. In addition to the negatives (filling about 40 large boxes), there are also huge ledger books containing about 6,700 photographic prints. These originally served as a visual inventory of the negatives, which were mostly produced by the Cardinell-Vincent Company of San Francisco, official photographers for the PPIE. (Others are by the H.S. Crocker Company that previously held the PPIE photo contract.)
The Cardinell-Vincent photograph archive was broken up many decades ago, with much of it sold off in small auction lots in 1979; but Ed Rogers had collected this material well before that sale. In 2014 his was believed to be the largest PPIE photo collection in private hands – and certainly is the largest quantity of glass negatives known to have survived.
The most challenging images to conserve and digitize are the 115 panoramic negatives. These sweeping views and group portraits, made with a pivoting “Cirkut camera,” are on flammable cellulose nitrate film. Handling, transportation, and storage must meet stringent safety requirements. The rolled negatives were soiled from years of warehouse storage, so they are being cleaned by photograph conservators. They are so large (eight or ten inches high and up to 60 inches long!) that they need to be digitally photographed in segments, and these segments are digitally merged to create a file reproducing the original view.
The first scans from these panoramic negatives have been delivered, and they do not disappoint. The broad views over the bay-front PPIE site, just inside the Golden Gate, are stunning.
There is enough detail present to zoom in and closely study segments of the view.
Even the more prosaic group portraits offer great detail and often capture candid moments at the fringes of the crowd. Some of the crowd views are the most entertaining, and place the viewer in festive moment captured 102 year ago.
As more digitization is completed we will share favorites, along with project updates, on this Bancroft Pictorial Unit blog. Stay tuned!
James Eason, Archivist for Pictorial Collections, Bancroft Library