Tuesday 26 April 2011

Archives selling on eBay

I saw this posted on Ephemera - an original 1937 Dr. Seuss lithograph.  I checked and it sold for just over $100.  The seller on eBay states that this was one of a year's worth of images which Dr. Seuss a.k.a. Theodor Seuss Geisel, created for the Thomas D. Murphy Calender Company and that this particular image was never distributed or publicly used.  So it has come directly out of the archives of the Thomas D. Murphy Calendar Company.  Part of me thinks what a shame, that these original illustrations are being sold off individually, rather than preserved as an archive, of the Calendar Company's work, or even as a smaller collection just of Geisel's work for the company.  However at the same time I'd love to own an original Dr. Seuss illustration and I hope the individual who bought it will get lots of enjoyment out of it!

The reason this post on Ephemera stuck out for me is that I'm currently reading 'Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel - a Biography' which I'm really enjoying.  The acknowledgements in the book begin with thanking Librarians and Archivists throughout American and British Institutions.  The authors also acknowledge the invaluable insights gleaned from other personal archives - the letters of friends and relatives, and interviews they conducted with his friends and relatives.  All this use of archival sources really shines through in the book, even at this early stage of reading.  The research is meticulous and highly detailed, luckily without being dry!  At the moment we're in 1930s New York, the Wall Street crash has just happened and times are changing from the optimism of the 20s, though at the moment the fortunes of Dr. Seuss are still on the up and up.  I love biographies as not only do you get an insight into the life of someone you admire (well in my case it's usually someone I admire, a musician/artist/writer), but you also get an insight into a way of life, a particular society, particular time.  In this case his experience growing up in an immigrant German community during WWI, and now New York in the 1920s and 1930s and who knows what's still to come!

Thursday 21 April 2011

Researcher's Tales at the BFI

Monday was the first time I went to a 'Researcher's Tales' evening at the British Film Institute Library and Archive on Stephen Street.  I've been wanting to go for ages but would never have been home from work in time before - it's so great now that I'm both living and working in the same city!  Researcher's Tales is billed as "An occasional series of informal discussions for BFI National Library members in which leading writers, historians and practitioners in film, television, artists' film and the moving image reflect on their past, current and future work."

It was such a great evening - the talk by Laura Mulvey and Mark Lewis was fascinating, and the clips they used to illustrate their points were great.  They talked over each other at times, contradicted and corrected each other but that was all part of the dialogue and you really got a feel for the regard and affection they have for each other. The talk was about Rear Projection - a film technique which I recognised but hadn't heard the term for before.  Basically for anyone else like me who hasn't heard the term used, it means that the stars are shot doing their scene in a studio with the scene itself e.g. the landscape, city scape, ocean etc projected behind them on a flat screen.  I'm sure everyone can think of at least a few examples from films they know but what I hadn't realised was just how widely used it was, particularly from the early 1930s through to the late 1950s.  Laura and Mark recalled how they first began talking about, and discovering their mutual interest in this under theorised and under discussed area of cinematic history.  Laura was showing Mark one of her favourite films - the 1930 film Her Man and although Mark was uninterested in the initial aspect Laura wanted to show him he was intrigued by the use of rear projection. This started the dialogue and research which they discussed on Monday night as they "realised that rear projection had an intrinsic aesthetic interest of its own and that its very artificiality, its lack of transparency, brought with it a certain 'modernist' self-consciousness".  You can read more of their views on rear projection here.

We were also privileged to see clips and segments from a number of films by Mark Lewis.  These films were fantastic, particularly Backstory (2009) and Molly Parker (2006).  I really enjoyed the Researcher's Tales and am looking forward to making it to more of them in the future.  You have to be a member of the BFI Library in order to go but that's fine by me too - going back to the Library at Stephen Street for the first time in ages reminded me of what a special place it is.  I so hope they change their mind/the finances change and they don't move it, as proposed, to the much smaller space in the exhibition room at BFI Southbank.

N.B. The clip that they showed from Her Man was copied from Laura's VHS copy of the film.  Mark referred to the poor quality of this but said it was all they could get as the original film has been destroyed and there aren't any copies of it in archives.  I had a look online and it seems you can get it on DVD but these are poor quality copies, probably also from VHS, which I think people can sell now as the film is in the public domain - though I'm not sure if that's just in America or worldwide.  It made me think again of film archiving, obviously not all films can be preserved, or indeed merit being preserved - however, how much of what is saved and what is lost is often down to chance.

New York Downtown Scene 1970s - exhibition at the Barbican, London

I realised I tantalisingly mentioned the Barbican exhibition at the end of my post of my new job, then got so excited about the Researcher's Tales at the BFI that I forgot about the Barbican.  However, it definitely was only temporarily forgotten as it was such a breathtaking exhibition that I'm actually hoping I've got time to go back!

View of 'Floor of the Forest', Barbican

'Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown and Gordon Matta-Clark - Pioneers of the Downtown Scene, New York, 1970s' is on until 22 May and I would recommend it to anyone in or visiting London.  It was the last exhibition I went to see with a friend who's since moved back to Israel (if you're reading this, I hope you make it back to London soon!) and what a lovely day we had.  It was lovely and sunny, we saw this exhibition, wandered around the Barbican complex, saw part of the original wall of London, then went to meet other friends in 'The Book Club' pub in Shoreditch - a packed and fun day!

I've read so much about New York in the 1970's, in Tim Lawrence's fantastic biography of Arthur Russell Hold On To Your Dreams, in Patti Smith's Just Kids, and most recently in City Boy by Edmund White.  So I'd heard of Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown and Gordon Matta-Clark without ever having seen or experienced their work.  As the title states the exhibition is about their work in New York in the 1970s and it covers dance, performance art, photography, film - but none of them in quite such a straightforward way as that makes them sound.  For example Gordon Matta-Clark's cut outs of buildings - at first I thought, yes interesting, replica's of sections of dilapidated buildings, however... they weren't replicas, it was actual sections of buildings!  He had taken photographs of the cut-outs and it was just such a painstaking looking process and so clever, I loved it! I read a good post about him here, which is also where I got the image below from.

Interior view of conical intersect
We were lucky to arrive just in time for 'Walking on the Wall' a performance piece by Trisha Brown.  This really played with your sense of perspective and space and was spell-binding and fun to watch.  The performances are on every day - if I go back I'd love to see Floor of the Forest! Laurie Anderson's performance pieces which she had photographed were so much fun as well, for example there was one series of photographs of her lying in various places, on a bench, in a train station, on a beach.  The premise was to see if sleeping in different places altered her dreams.

There were a large number of film pieces by Gordon Matta-Clark and Trisha Brown and whilst I really enjoyed all of them they also brought out my archivist side as the quality of some of them was great, they'd obviously been preserved, there were others which were really very grainy and quite difficult to make everything out clearly.  That made me very sad as anyone who sees these works could see how deserving of preservation and care they are.  Though I guess at the time if the artist just kept a print themselves, maybe in a loft or cupboard then the chances of it being well preserved are less.  It was just so much fun to see them all though that the quality was really of minor importance to the effect and the experience!

Having read so much about the music scene in New York it was great to see another side to the New York of the 1970s - I know at the time it would have been edgy, no doubt dangerous, and pretty poor too - but I'd still have loved to have experienced it!

Tree in blossom outside the Barbican

Monday 18 April 2011

New Twitter account for Archives project

Just a brief post to say that I have now set up an NUWT Twitter account specifically for my new job cataloguing the records of the National Union of Women Teachers.  It's a project I'm really excited about and I'm already finding lots of really interesting material in the Archive so am looking forward to sharing it through Twitter, and hopefully soon enough, through a dedicated NUWT blog. 

Equal suffrage demonstration in Lowestoft, Suffolk 
©Institute of Education Archive

Tuesday 12 April 2011

New Cataloguing Archivist post

I've just started a new job in the Archive at the Institute of Education, London.  It's another project job - this time for fourteen months - and I'm loving it already!  My job is to catalogue the records of the National Union of Women Teachers (NUWT).  The NUWT was founded in 1904 as the Equal Pay League and in 1906 it was re-named the National Federation of Women Teachers. In 1920 it broke away to form an independent union, the National Union of Women Teachers.  I wrote a post about my first impressions and first finds over at the Newsam News blog (the blog of the Institute of Education Library and Archive) so I won't repeat what I've said there except to say that the variety of subjects covered in the archive sounds very exciting, a perfect example is the poster shown below for the 'World Youth Conference' held in Prague in 1947.  The correspondence, pamphlets and posters for this conference were so filled with optimism and hope for the future, for a new peaceful future, that was wonderful to read.  Though at the same time quite sad that the optimism and hopes for peace are still just that, optimism and hope. 
World Youth Festival pamphlet,
UWT/D/28A/2 ©Institute of Education Archive
From what I've read so far the NUWT was filled with strong, independent females and finding out more about them is going to be a pleasure, and a privilege to get to do s part of my daily work!  I've got lots of plans for free publicity I can do and connections and links that can be made with other archives and other organisations, in fact I even had a dream about my plans, on a Friday night - a bit strange granted, but I wouldn't have it any other way, better to over-think and enjoy my work than the other way around.  I think I'll be keeping the majority of posts about the project confined to the Newsam News blog but I'm sure the occasional one will stray over here.  I'm still going to keep this blog up though as there's plenty of other archive related events I can talk about, like a recent exhibition I went to at the Barbican...