Smithsonian Collections Blog

Highlighting the hidden treasures from over 2 million collections

Collections Search Center

Thursday, December 14, 2017

What Would Frank Espada Do?

As I walk through the streets of the nation’s capital, there is never any shortage of interesting sights. But it is not the monuments nor the plethora of restaurant chains that catch my attention. Instead, I am fascinated by the social ills of society that are so often deemed invisible by our very own conscious effort to look the other way. The homelessness, protests, and social inequality I have witnessed are nothing new, but the way in which I now view these things is.


Man participating in a school boycott in New York, 1964. Frank Espada Photographs, ca. 1970-2000, 
Archives Center, National Museum of American History. AC1395-0000004. 
For over a month now, I have made the trip from downtown Silver Spring to Washington D.C. My destination: the National Museum of American History. As an intern in the Archives Center, my main task has been to process the Frank Espada Photographs Collection. The collection consists of several thousand black-and-white photographs and what seems to me an endless amount of negatives. Apart from processing the collection, it is also my responsibility to understand who Frank Espada was. At first, the answer was simple: a Puerto Rican photographer who documented the Puerto Rican diaspora and later published a book with some of his most famous photographs. But as archival work would soon teach me, the answer is never that easy.

School children in Puerto Rico. Undated. Frank Espada Photographs, ca. 1970-2000,
Archives Center, National Museum of American History. AC1395-0000002.

Walter, a migrant worker and union organizer, in his home located in Glassboro, New Jersey. 1981. Frank Espada Photographs, ca. 1970-2000, Archives Center, National Museum of American History. AC1395-0000003.
As I sift through the countless photographs, I am mesmerized by the stories that each one tells. Espada traveled to various cities in the United States and Puerto Rico and had a talent for capturing scenes and activities. One minute I could find myself in the bustling streets of East Harlem and the next in the San Juan Festival at Cabrillo Beach, California. More importantly, Espada specialized in capturing the raw emotions that are displayed by our countless facial expressions. In the collection, I have encountered photographs of individuals filled with extreme joy and happiness, and by complete contrast, photographs of individuals filled with grief and emotional pain. It’s these photographs that capture the eye of an observer. As I dug deeper into the collection, I realized that Frank Espada was more than just a talented photographer.

Included in the collection are black-and-white photographs taken by Frank Espada during the Civil Rights Era. It’s here that it became clear to me how much his life revolved around community activism. He was driven by a sense of social justice and worked to improve his community and counter the racism and discrimination of the 60s and early 70s. In two photographs, he appears standing next to a sign that reads, “East New York Action”. Espada founded East New York Action, a community organization created for the sole purpose of addressing issues in the community. East New York Action organized rent strikes, educated people on welfare rights, and registered voters. There are photographs of the Puerto Rican Community Development Project, an organization that Espada worked for as a community organizer. Additionally, he had strong ties with the United Bronx Parents and the Young Lords, among others. Frank Espada was a determined leader with an ability to connect with others and a dedication to his community that was hard to match.

I think of Frank Espada and his work, both as a photographer and as a community leader, and comprehend his vision of the world. He saw beauty in every photograph, but understood that the most important thing he could do was help others through their struggles and listen to their stories when the world surrounding them chose to turn a blind eye. It is this part of the collection that impacts me the most. As I continue my walk through D.C., I ask myself, “What would Frank Espada do if he witnessed everything I see on my walks to work?”

I think back to the 30 cassettes in the collection that I spent two weeks digitizing. Each cassette had full-length interviews conducted by Frank Espada of community leaders such as Jack Agüeros, Willy Vasquez, and Juan Gonzalez, among others. Personally, it was my favorite part of the collection, as I was able to place a voice on several of the faces I saw in photographs. It was here that I realized what Espada was doing: he was giving a voice to the community. While his photographs did the work of establishing a national presence of Puerto Rican culture and identity, these interviews showcase the collective work that was being done across the country to improve the lives of Puerto Ricans and other Latinos living in the United States. They were a clear reminder that we must give a voice to the communities that are often silenced by the social barriers of inequality.
Self-portrait of Frank Espada standing in front of East New York Action. Undated.
AC1395-0000001.
So what would Frank Espada do? He would remind us that we must take the time to listen to each other’s stories and to speak up for ourselves and for others. He would remind us that if we do not take the time to do these things, we are incapable of seeing the world through more than one lens, oblivious of the things happening around us. And of course, he would do all of this with a camera in hand, ready to capture us in our most intimate moments. This is what Frank Espada would do.

Edwin Rodriguez, Intern
Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Friday, December 8, 2017

Accessing the Bonaparte Collection at the National Anthropological Archives, Part Two

This post is the sixth and final post in a series of blog posts written by George Washington University students in Dr. Joshua A. Bell's anthropology graduate seminar Visual Anthropology: The Social Lives of Images (Anthro 3521/6591), Fall 2016 graduate course. Dr. Bell is the Curator of Globalization in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History's Department of Anthropology. Students in this course chose a collection that features visual materials (drawings, film, photographs, or paintings) from the National Anthropological Archives, and researched its material, thinking through the scale and scope of the collection and situating it within the wider discipline of anthropology. These collections are available for research at the National Anthropological Archives.

For part one of this blog post, please click here.

Box 4, Series 4: Hindus, Colonial Exposition, Amsterdam 1883,  Photo Lot 80-52: Prince Roland Bonaparte photograph collection of Mongolian, African, Chinese, Indian, and American Indian Peoples, National Anthropological Archives
It is because the questions discussed in part one were uppermost in my mind that I decided to narrow the scope of my research, and concentrate on the box titled, Series 4: Hindus , Colonial Exposition, Amsterdam 1883. If race was the organizing principle of this collection, then this box, which contained the photographs of three men from India—Aroonachelem, Yazambarum and Ramazamy—intrigued me the most. Following this logic, I, like them, was ‘Hindu.’ While I was never subject to the gaze of the colonizer, my subjectivity—particularly my sense of nationality and race—has been produced very much through the devices of British colonialism, and its lingering, ghostly presence in the postcolonial spaces I grew up in. Yet, I found that through the process of archiving—in the ways that these images had been obtained, preserved and now produced for study—the collection had accrued other meanings: race was no more the object of study, the object of study here was the colonial interest in race. An episteme had shifted, and so had the gaze: if these photographs had once helped produce subjects of the colony for scrutiny, now they offered the empire itself for study. And it was in the very materiality of the contents of that box that it became most evident to me that the ‘might’ of the empire had always been fiction. The brittle documents in the series, the wear and tear along the edges of the mount, the fading album covers and other signs of material tiredness were testimony to temporal shifts—to the idea that like the documents it had produced, the empire too was subject to decay.

From right to left, V.P Yazambarum,
V.P. Aroonachelem, and Ramazamy,
Box 4, Series 4, Photo Lot 80-52,
 National Anthropological Archives
Even as the photographs of the three men photographed in Madras and Kuttack make it possible to invert the gaze and make the empire an object of study, they also make evident a social network that emerges through the process of archiving and connects Bonaparte, a French anthropologist in the 19th century and his three Indian subjects to an Indian anthropologist in the 21st century. Joanna Scherer (1992) writes that only by studying the “interrelationship” of the photographer, the subject, and the viewer can one study the sociocultural meaning of images. One could add to her list the archivists, who have made ledger entries noting the addition of the photographs to the collection, converted the accession files to microfilm for preserving the data, and those who have preserved and organized the albums, giving the documents its current sense of order.

Frontal, Profile pictures of V.P Aroonachalem,
Box 4, Series 4, Photo Lot 80-52,
National Anthropological Archives
Edwards and Hart (2004) write that objects in an archive accrue new layers of meanings because the discursive practices of the archive—a combination of anthropological, photographic and curative practices (Edwards & Hart 2004: 51)—alter the relations of these objects to each other, and in changing the ‘order’ make it possible to reconfiguration the very meanings of the objects in the archive. Series 4 contains two sets of fading black and white images—two frontal and one profile pictures—of each of the three men. While both sets had been donated in 1888, each of them followed a different route to the archive: Bonaparte donated the first set to the Department of Anthropology, as a record of his study of the races. In 1974, this passed into the NAA. However, accession files show that papers were mislaid in the division and therefore documentation that should have been part of this accession cannot be found. The second set was acquired by the Washington Anthropological Society, and filed as a ‘Rare book’ in the NAA in 1888. The box I examined also contained a frail, yellow document with two pages: the first page was a document signed when Bonaparte donated the first set of photographs, the second page, a list of the ‘biographical’ details of the subjects of Bonaparte’s photographs . It is the social network that emerges through the circulation of these
material objects within the archive that enable the assembly of the box through which the past accrues layers of meanings and materializes as a tangible object of scrutiny for the present.

Seal included throughout collection,
Photo Lot 80-52,
National Anthropological Archives
Buckley (2005) evokes Edwards (2001) to write that “images of colonial life continue to ‘perform’ and ‘provoke’” even after the colonial regime has faded into history. Series 4, along with the other series in the collection, performs the work of the past in the present, and through this performance turn the past into a site for critique. So, while Photo Lot 80-52 might betray a colonial past, it is not determined by it.  Instead it becomes a site, where the viewer can participate in the discursive practices that consistently reconfigure the meaning and social work of images.


Shweta Krishnan, Ph.D. Student, Anthropology
George Washington University








References
Akou, Marie. 2006. “Documenting the Origins of Somali Folk Dress: Evidence from the Bonaparte Collection.” The Journal of the Costume Society of America. 33(1): 7-19.

Bonaparte, Roland H. H. 1886. “Note on the Lapps of Finmark (in Norway), Illustrated by Photographs.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 15(2016): 210-213

Buckeley, Liam. 2005. “Objects of Love and Decay: Colonial Photographs in a Postcolonial Archive.” Cultural Anthropology. 20(2): 249-270.

Dirks, Nicholas. 2001. Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Orelove, Eden. 2016.  Photo Lot 80-52, Prince Roland Bonaparte Photograph Collection of Omaha, Kalmouk, Hindu, Khoikhoi, Somali and Surinamese Peoples, circa 1883-1884. National Anthropological Archives.

Edwards, Elizabeth and Janice Hart. 2004. “Mixed Box: The Cultural Biography of a Box of 'Ethnographic' Photographs.” In Elizabeth Edwards and Janice Hart eds. Photographic Objects Histories: On the Materiality of Images, 47-61. London: Routledge.

Scherer, Joanna C. 1992. "The Photographic Document: Photographs as Primary Data in Anthropological Inquiry," In Elizabeth Edwards, ed. Anthropology and Photography, 32-41. New Haven: Yale University.

Sekula, Allan. “The Body and the Archive.” October 39 (Winter):3-64.

Stoler, Ann Laura. 1995. Race and the Education of Desire. Durham: Duke University Press.

Stoler, Ann Laura. 2009. Along the Archival Grain. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Accessing the Bonaparte Collection at the National Anthropological Archives, Part One

This post is the fifth in a series of blog posts written by George Washington University students in Dr. Joshua A. Bell's anthropology graduate seminar Visual Anthropology: The Social Lives of Images (Anthro 3521/6591), Fall 2016 graduate course. Dr. Bell is the Curator of Globalization in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History's Department of Anthropology. Students in this course chose a collection that features visual materials (drawings, film, photographs, or paintings) from the National Anthropological Archives, and researched its material, thinking through the scale and scope of the collection and situating it within the wider discipline of anthropology. These collections are available for research at the National Anthropological Archives.

Photo Lot 80-52 in the National Anthropological Archives has a name that betrays its colonial origins: the Prince Roland Bonaparte Photograph Collection of Omaha, Kalmouk, Hindu, Khoikhoi, Somali, and Surinamese peoples, circa 1883-1884. The collection has 215 photographs (64 color prints, 138 albumin prints, and 13 collotypes) organized into seven series that divide the subjects of the photographs by their ‘racial’ and ‘cultural’ type, and to an extent, preserve the ‘colonial order of things.’



A 20 year-old woman of the Kalmouk tribe
displayed at the Jardin d’Acclimation de Paris exposition,
Box 3, Series 3, Photo Lot 80-52,
 National Anthropological Archives.
At the NAA, the six boxes that house Photo Lot 80-52 were delivered to me on a two-tier trolley. Along with these boxes came a 16-page document on the history of this collection. Roland Bonaparte, I learned, was the grandson of Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother Lucien. After a French law was passed to prevent members of the royal family from joining military services, Bonaparte married Marie-Félix Blanc, the heir to the Monte Carlo casino fortune (Akou 2006) and spent his personal funds on ethnographic trips across Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Lapland. Starting from 1882,  he amassed 7000 negatives (Akou 2006) and related documents, including anthropometric analyses (Bonaparte 1886), ethnographic details, paintings, and maps (see Akou 2006, Orelove 2016) to create the ‘Collection Anthropologique du Prince Roland Bonaparte.’ He exhibited his collection at the Colonial Expositions in Amsterdam in 1884 and at the World Fair in Paris in 1889; and then donated prints of these pictures to anthropological institutes in Europe, UK, and the US. Today his photographs reside at the archives at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, UK (where it is categorized as ‘racial photography’ [see Akou 2006]); the National Library of Australia; the Museum of Natural History and the National Library in France; and the National Anthropological Archives (NAA) in the United States, as well as in private museums and galleries like the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles,  the Christopher Wahren Fine Photographs Collection (online),  and Gallery Flak in Paris.

Painting of a crown worn by
the Kalina tribe in Surinam,
Box 6, Series 7,  Photo Lot 80-52,
 National Anthropological Archives
As I gazed at the six boxes before me, I was plagued by a single question: was it possible to look at these photographs and see in them something beyond a colonial project to study racial difference? If, as Sekula (1986:6) notes criminal photography allowed a ‘criminal body’ to materialize, and a “more extensive ‘social body’” to be invented in 19th century Europe, then is it not possible to infer that racial photography allowed the bodies of the colonized—the subjects of imperial power—to materialize via the discourse of race, and expand the ‘social body’ in the colonies. Evoking Stoler's (1995) reading of Foucault, one could claim that these two types of photography—criminal and racial—had dialogic relations during the 19th century: the discourse on criminality, which led to the marginalization of people at ‘home’ in Europe, was influenced by colonial projects to segregate people in the colonies by their races.


To hear the rest of the story of these photographs, check back for part two on Friday! 

Shweta Krishnan, Ph.D. Student, Anthropology
George Washington University





References
Akou, Marie. 2006. “Documenting the Origins of Somali Folk Dress: Evidence from the Bonaparte Collection.” The Journal of the Costume Society of America. 33(1): 7-19.

Bonaparte, Roland H. H. 1886. “Note on the Lapps of Finmark (in Norway), Illustrated by Photographs.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 15(2016): 210-213

Buckeley, Liam. 2005. “Objects of Love and Decay: Colonial Photographs in a Postcolonial Archive.” Cultural Anthropology. 20(2): 249-270.

Dirks, Nicholas. 2001. Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Orelove, Eden. 2016.  Photo Lot 80-52, Prince Roland Bonaparte Photograph Collection of Omaha, Kalmouk, Hindu, Khoikhoi, Somali and Surinamese Peoples, circa 1883-1884. National Anthropological Archives.

Edwards, Elizabeth and Janice Hart. 2004. “Mixed Box: The Cultural Biography of a Box of 'Ethnographic' Photographs.” In Elizabeth Edwards and Janice Hart eds. Photographic Objects Histories: On the Materiality of Images, 47-61. London: Routledge.

Scherer, Joanna C. 1992. "The Photographic Document: Photographs as Primary Data in Anthropological Inquiry," In Elizabeth Edwards, ed. Anthropology and Photography, 32-41. New Haven: Yale University.

Sekula, Allan. “The Body and the Archive.” October 39 (Winter):3-64.

Stoler, Ann Laura. 1995. Race and the Education of Desire. Durham: Duke University Press.

Stoler, Ann Laura. 2009. Along the Archival Grain. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Gene Moore's Tiffany Window Displays in the Spotlight

It seems appropriate to extend the October “Blogathon” theme of “collaboration” into November and December in order to highlight collaborations that have led to the processing, digitization, and online presence of the National Museum of American History Archives Center’s Gene Moore Tiffany & Company Photographs, with its nearly four thousand images, in 2017. Archives Center staff and interns constituted the project team, but advice and information provided by Stephen Van Dyk, librarian at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York, plus the essential encouragement of Thomas Beebe, a student and colleague of Moore, and donors William Rondina and Daniel Gelman, all made this project possible. These photographs of Tiffany window displays by Gene Moore (1910-1998) document his innovative, often whimsical displays for this famous design firm’s New York store.



Tiffany display designed by Gene Moore, February 1, 1968. Silver gelatin photographic print, Gene Moore
Tiffany and Company Photographs, Archives Center, NMAH, No. AC1280-0001327.
As archivist Franklin A. Robinson, Jr. writes in the finding aid, “These photographs document window displays of Tiffany and Company, 5th Avenue, New York City…during Moore's tenure as artistic director from 1955-1994. Nearly all of the imaginative and inventive window displays created by Moore and other designers during his almost 40-year association with Tiffany's are documented in these photographs. … Moore…is best known for his highly acclaimed work as Display Manager, Artistic Director, and Vice President. There he created innovative, imaginative window displays… His designs were famous for combining and juxtaposing common, everyday objects with exquisite pieces of fine jewelry.”

Tiffany display designed by Gene Moore, November 29, 1968.  Silver gelatin photographic print,
Gene Moore Tiffany and Company Photographs, Archives Center, NMAH, No. AC1280-0001446.



I learned about Gene Moore’s Tiffany window displays through the collection itself. As I've never had any personal interest in expensive high-fashion jewelry, I probably never peered into Tiffany windows during trips to New York City through the 1990s, when Moore’s striking, sometimes fantastic, often whimsical designs reigned supreme. It was through discussions of cataloging adjustments, since the Smithsonian Libraries’ catalog records for these design archives had to be incorporated into the “Archives, Manuscripts, and Photographic Collections” SIRIS catalog, plus inspection of the photographs themselves, that I became familiar with this collection, one of twelve archival design collections which had been transferred from the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City to the NMAH Archives Center in 2012. These transfers were controversial at the time, as documented in the New York Times, because designers and researchers in the field worried about these resources leaving New York. However, storing such archival collections, administered by the Cooper Hewitt library, had become a challenge in the face of a renovation, and the decision was made to transfer them to the NMAH Archives Center.


Tiffany display designed by Gene Moore, November 29, 1968. Silver gelatin photographic print, Gene Moore Tiffany and Company Photographs, Archives Center, NMAH, No. AC1280-0001447.


On October 21, 2014, Tom Beebe, a virtual whirlwind of enthusiasm, called me, asking if there were ways to publicize our Gene Moore collection, which contained thousands of photographs of Moore’s Tiffany display windows. On December 16 he was in my office to emphasize the point. He had a personal interest in the collection because of his long association with Moore, and had accompanied Moore to donate the collection to the Cooper Hewitt in 1997. Short of an exhibition, which didn’t seem feasible in the foreseeable future, the obvious solution was the digitization of these photographs for online display. Although the Archives Center has always provided scholars and members of the general public with photographic reproductions of items in its collections, first in the form of traditional photographic prints, later as digital images, such copies were usually created on an ad hoc, on-demand basis. Even as the full-scale digitization of entire collections became feasible, the need for limited, on-demand service continued. However, Beebe, as the friend and student of Moore, was anxious to see the entire collection digitized, rather than having it done selectively (and slowly). Tiffany & Co. itself had ordered scans of dozens of the Moore display window photographs only months earlier.

Soon Tom arranged for the design magazine “design:retail” to publicize the collection, and my colleague Kay Peterson in the Archives Center and I worked with editor Alison Medina to supply illustrations from the existing scan file. I also photographed the collection in its Garber Facility storage location. I cringed when I saw the rather sensationalized title of the published article, “The Lost Archives of Gene Moore,” because of course these photographs had never been lost at all. They had been in the care of the Cooper Hewitt Museum from 1997 to 2012, duly cataloged in SIRIS with their location clearly indicated. Within a few months of the transfer of the design collections to us, in collaboration with Stephen Van Dyk at the Cooper Hewitt library, I had edited the SIRIS records to show that they were now available in the NMAH Archives Center. Consulting the database directly or through a Google search would have provided anyone with information about the collection and its location, both before and after the transfer. 

Nevertheless, the magazine publicity about the collection to the design community was gratifying. Tom Beebe continued to advocate vigorously for the scanning project, but his enthusiasm was matched by his realism. He knew that the concentrated effort required to digitize a large image collection within a comparatively short time often requires special funding to hire a dedicated project archivist, so he offered to locate potential donors. He found two contributors who also had been friends and admirers of Gene Moore—Daniel Gelman (of Lighting Services Inc) and William Rondina. They provided donations to fund high-priority collection processing and digitization, and we are all delighted that the finding aid and the images are now online in SOVA (Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives). The Archives Center is deeply grateful to Mr. Gelman and Mr. Rondina for their kindness and generosity. To get these images online and linked to the finding aid required image processing by Kay Peterson, while the overall project was coordinated by reference archivist Joe Hursey.

David Haberstich, Curator of Photography
Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Resources

Anonymous, “Gene Moore, In Memoriam, 1910-1998, Visual Store, Alitalia Group, 6/27/2000, http://vmsd.com/index.php/channel/9/id/345 (no longer available online).

Goldman, Judith, Windows at Tiffany’s: the art of Gene Moore; with commentary by Gene Moore; Ruth Eisenstein, ed.  New York : H. N. Abrams, 1980.

Moore, Gene, and Hyams, Jay, My time at Tiffany’s. New York : St. Martin's Press, c1990.
Pogrebin, Robin, “Design Museum Archival Shifts Prompt Concern,” New York Times,” Feb. 14, 2006, p. B1+.

Rebholtz, Jenny S. “The Lost Archives of Gene Moore,” design:retail, April/ May 2015, vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 40-46; http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/designretail/20150405/#/0

Thomas, Robert McG., Jr., “Gene Moore, 88, Window Display Artist, Dies,” New York Times, Nov. 26, 1998, p. C17.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Southwest Archaeology and “The Time of Vietnam”: Part Two

This post is the fourth in a series of blog posts written by George Washington University students in Dr. Joshua A. Bell's anthropology graduate seminar Visual Anthropology: The Social Lives of Images (Anthro 3521/6591), Fall 2016 graduate course. Dr. Bell is the Curator of Globalization in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History's Department of Anthropology. Students in this course chose a collection that features visual materials (drawings, film, photographs, or paintings) from the National Anthropological Archives, and researched its material, thinking through the scale and scope of the collection and situating it within the wider discipline of anthropology. These collections are available for research at the National Anthropological Archives.

For part one of this blog post, please click here.

Aerial photograph of a Nambe pueblo in the American Southwest, Image 21 “Nambe,” Photo Lot 2010-13: Ezra Zubrow aerial photographs of the Rio Grande Pueblos, circa 1967, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
Each of the images in Photo Lot 2010-13, Ezra Zubrow aerial photographs of the Rio Grande Pueblos, has a name scrawled on the edges in marker, linking the bird’s eye view with the community on the ground. A few of these pueblos emerged in a chapter published by Zubrow (2007) on how the architecture of certain pueblos reflected the landscape that surrounded them, while others did not. Another thing that each photo shares is the mark of a small accessory attached to the camera: in the bottom-right corner, each image has a clock and a counter marking the time and number of the snapshot. Some visual anthropologists have analyzed not just the photographic image itself, but also the “micro-event of the making of the photograph” (Pinney 2012). The counter and clock here are such a “micro-event,” but they are also more: they are part of a whole apparatus that took and collected photographs of much of the world.

While I spent several hours following the roads and mountain ranges of the Zubrow photos, I was drawn mostly to the clocks and counters. I tried to decipher the numbers jotted alongside the counter and across the face of the clock. I got lost in making a chart and reorganizing images by time and by number (the photos are not dated, only time-stamped, and the collection is arranged alphabetically by pueblo name). I found myself wondering what images filled the gaps, and where the planes traveled when they weren’t photographing the American Southwest.

Detail of the U2 camera’s counter and clock from an aerial photograph of a Sandia pueblo in the American Southwest, Image 36 “Sandia,” Photo Lot 2010-13: Ezra Zubrow aerial photographs of the Rio Grande Pueblos, circa 1967, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
In the 1960s, of course, there are many answers to that question. In the beginning of the decade, U2 spy planes were embroiled in international scandals when one was shot down over the Soviet Union and another over Cuba. A camera aboard a U2 was the one that produced the images that revealed Soviet missile launch facilities in Cuba, leading the Cold War superpowers to the brink of nuclear war in 1962. Looking at some of the images from the Cuban Missile Crisis, one could get lost in the trees dotting the landscape and the tiny roads tracing the land. The Zubrow images seem reminiscent of these spy photos but for the labels and arrows appended by some serviceman or intelligence officer to the latter. In his letter to the NAA archivist, Zubrow (2010) opens his description of the first day that he saw the planes with, “This was the time of Vietnam.” Indeed, just as the chalkboard he saw in the base indicated, U2 planes flew over Cuba, China, Vietnam, the Eastern Bloc, and other parts of the world, conducting surveillance missions around the globe throughout that time period. Asking what pictures were taken between the pueblo settlements of Nambe (where the counter reads 0508-0510, see above) and the settlements in Santa Ana (0591-0593) may lead us to surveillance training in Arizona or to any number of Cold War battlefields.

An aerial photograph of a Cochiti pueblo in the American Southwest, Image 4 “Cochiti,” Photo Lot 2010-13: Ezra Zubrow aerial photographs of the Rio Grande Pueblos, circa 1967, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
This military history leaves an unintended trace on the Zubrow photographs. Christopher Pinney (2012, 154) has referred to a “colonial habitus” that attached certain world-views to the camera in India. Likewise, a literal military world-view is attached to these photos through the apparatus of the U2 camera. And while these photographs are a more mundane and chance example of it, there is a long, sordid, and at times conflicting history of anthropology and the military (see Price 2016 for a recent account of this). Cold War politics aside, this also wasn’t the first time that the U.S. government and anthropologists teamed up to photograph the indigenous Native American population, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. The historical baggage that came with military photography, from the American-Indian Wars to the Cold War, are present in the various images of Zubrow’s Southwest field site—if not on the prints themselves, then in their social biographies. The relations and histories that go into the collection’s biography go far beyond even Zubrow’s fascinating story of academic research, military training missions, and transformed landscape. And it’s a biography that now includes a gray box in Photo Lot 2010-13.

Scott Ross, Ph.D. Student, Anthropology
George Washington University



Bibliography
Edwards, Elizabeth. 2012. “Objects of Affect: Photography Beyond the Image.” Annual Review of Anthropology, 41, 221-234.

Pinney, Christopher. 2012. “Seven Theses on Photography.” Thesis Eleven, 113 (1), 141-156.

Photo Lot 2010-13. “Ezra Zubrow aerial photographs of the Rio Grande Pueblos.” National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Price, David H. 2016. Cold War Anthropology: The CIA, the Pentagon, and the Growth of Dual Use Anthropology. Durham: Duke University Press.

Zubrow, Ezra B.W. 2007. “Remote Sensing, Fractals, and Cultural Landscapes: An Ethnographic Prolegomenon Using U2 Imagery.” In Remote Sensing in Archaeology, edited by James Wiseman and Farouk El-Baz. New York: Springer, 219-235.

Zubrow, Ezra. 2010. E-mail to NAA archivist Gina Rappaport, April 22. Included in finding aid to Photo Lot 2010-13, “Ezra Zubrow aerial photographs of the Rio Grande Pueblos.” National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Southwest Archaeology and “The Time of Vietnam”: Part One

This post is the third in a series of blog posts written by George Washington University students in Dr. Joshua A. Bell's anthropology graduate seminar Visual Anthropology: The Social Lives of Images (Anthro 3521/6591), Fall 2016 graduate course. Dr. Bell is the Curator of Globalization in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History's Department of Anthropology.  Students in this course chose a collection that features visual materials (drawings, film, photographs, or paintings) from the National Anthropological Archives, and researched its material, thinking through the scale and scope of the collection and situating it within the wider discipline of anthropology.  These collections are available for research at the National Anthropological Archives.

Detail of an aerial photo of the American Southwest, Image 8 “Ildefonso,” Photo Lot 2010-13: Ezra Zubrow aerial photographs of the Rio Grande Pueblos, circa 1967, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
When I first picked up Ezra Zubrow’s aerial photographs of pueblo settlements in the Rio Grande Valley, I had trouble knowing what I was looking at. The landscape of the American Southwest mark the aerial photos with its mountains, hills, rivers, and desert. Roads, farms, and small communities show the ways that people have transformed the terrain. But none of this looked like the desert I had seen growing up in the area. Shot from high above, some of the black-and-white photos look like moonscapes; others look like roots creeping through soil, or capillaries through a body. Some are washed out and light, while others are a chiaroscuro of black rivers and foliage and white deserts and mountains. Clouds seep into one photo, obscuring the landscape below. Photographed across eastern Arizona and western and central New Mexico in the late 1960s, the collection of sixty-four images vary in specific subject matter and contrast, but the series of black and white aerial photos give one a sense of the expanse in the land that is the West.

Aerial photo of a Laguna pueblo in the American Southwest, Image 17 “Laguna,” Photo Lot 2010-13: Ezra Zubrow aerial photographs of the Rio Grande Pueblos, circa 1967, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
The photos also evoke a story of chance encounters, military exercises, and an archaeological expedition. The photographs date back to 1967 or 1968, when Ezra Zubrow was a graduate student at the University of Arizona working on an expedition in the Southwest. One day planes—Zubrow guessed B-52s—flew low over the expedition’s dig site. “I remember looking up and I would swear that the bomb doors were open,” he wrote in correspondence with an archivist at the National Anthropological Archives. “When my ears stopped ringing, I thought to myself those planes must have cameras to record the dropping of the bombs and if they happen to come by again maybe I could ask them to take pictures of our excavations” (Zubrow 2010). Zubrow wrote to the Air Force requesting photographs, but had no name, base, or contact information to go off of. So he mailed the letter to “Commanding General US Air Force, Pentagon, Washington, DC” and quickly forgot about the request.

Aerial photo of a Tesque pueblo in the American Southwest, Image 57 “Tesque,”Photo Lot 2010-13: Ezra Zubrow aerial photographs of the Rio Grande Pueblos, circa 1967, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
Many scholars have written about the “social biography” of objects such as photographs (Edwards 2012). Just as a biography of a person looks beyond just their appearance, the social biography of a photograph does more than just analyze the image for its aesthetics and content, but also looks at who made it, how it was circulated, why it was made in the first place. It’s very easy to get lost looking through the Zubrow photographs as you trace rivers and try to identify tiny farms; it’s also very easy to get lost in the photos’ social biography—the story behind how they came to be. That’s because, two and a half months after sending the letter to the Pentagon, Zubrow suddenly received a package from the reconnaissance department of the Air Force with photographs of the excavation site and a letter acknowledging his request. Wanting to thank the individuals involved, Zubrow made several calls before finally connecting with an Air Force base in southern Arizona and making an appointment with the colonel who had sent the letter and photos. When he went to the base to meet with the staff, he received a tour that included catching a glimpse of a chalkboard listing “missions, plane numbers, and pilots. There were a range of missions scheduled for several weeks and when I realized that several of them were over Vietnam, Cambodia, China, and Russia I stopped in my tracks.” Stunned, Zubrow asked what types of planes the base housed. “They said it was a U2. I was speechless” (Zubrow 2010). He would even see a U2 plane land at the base while he made his way back to his car. Zubrow went on to become friends with one of the Air Force lieutenants, and the following semester requested that they photograph the pueblos. He even helped map out the flight plan. The result is the sixty-four 10” x 20” prints that are now a part of the National Anthropological Archives.

To hear the rest of the story of these photographs, check back for part two on Friday! 

Scott Ross, Ph.D. Student, Anthropology
George Washington University


Bibliography
Edwards, Elizabeth. 2012. “Objects of Affect: Photography Beyond the Image.” Annual Review of Anthropology, 41, 221-234.

Pinney, Christopher. 2012. “Seven Theses on Photography.” Thesis Eleven, 113 (1), 141-156.

Photo Lot 2010-13. “Ezra Zubrow aerial photographs of the Rio Grande Pueblos.” National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Price, David H. 2016. Cold War Anthropology: The CIA, the Pentagon, and the Growth of Dual Use Anthropology. Durham: Duke University Press.

Zubrow, Ezra B.W. 2007. “Remote Sensing, Fractals, and Cultural Landscapes: An Ethnographic Prolegomenon Using U2 Imagery.” In Remote Sensing in Archaeology, edited by James Wiseman and Farouk El-Baz. New York: Springer, 219-235.

Zubrow, Ezra. 2010. E-mail to NAA archivist Gina Rappaport, April 22. Included in finding aid to Photo Lot 2010-13, “Ezra Zubrow aerial photographs of the Rio Grande Pueblos.” National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Robert T. Smith "Smitty" at the National Anthropological Archives: Part Two

This post is the second in a series of blog posts written by George Washington University students in Dr. Joshua A. Bell's anthropology graduate seminar Visual Anthropology: The Social Lives of Images (Anthro 3521/6591), Fall 2016 graduate course. Dr. Bell is the Curator of Globalization in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History's Department of Anthropology. Students in this course chose a collection that features visual materials (drawings, film, photographs, or paintings) from the National Anthropological Archives, and researched its material, thinking through the scale and scope of the collection and situating it within the wider discipline of anthropology. These collections are available for research at the National Anthropological Archives.

For part one of this blog post, please click here

Photo of loose colored sketch of “Bush Pandanus,” MS 2014-06: Papers and Artwork of Robert T. Smith, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Smitty was not a proclaimed ethnographer, but his collection of typed and written notes (see example, image 2) provide rich ethnographic detail of his daily life, opinions, and interactions with local people in Bougainville and New Guinea. The materials point to the kinds of work Smitty engaged in, and how he spent his time and thoughts during this unique situation in New Guinea—but we cannot know for certain why he engaged in this work. Perhaps he was bored. Or, more likely, he had a deep interest for natural history, and by extension anthropology, which continued to manifest throughout his life in different ways—for example, in bird watching. As much information and meaning we can gather from this collection, it is also worthwhile to acknowledge the information that is simply not available. In this way, we can see how those who engage with these materials become integral to their interpretation, significance, and continued social life in new milieus over time (including me as I write this post).

The collection contains a lot of written text. In addition to Smitty’s personal notes, the collection contains vast collections of folk tales—this includes correspondence with anthropologists such as Dr. C. A. Schmitz in the early 1960s about obtaining copies of these tales, and letters indicating their eventual (partial) publication. These folk tales greatly influenced Smitty’s own work—but based on his extensive sketchbook, so did the physical environment around him. Written text, particularly for ethnographers, represents the dominant methodology and way of seeing, telling, and sharing of field research (Geismar 2014). Drawing has not been developed fully as a method for anthropologists, but scholars of visual culture emphasize the ability of drawings to provide a “counter-narrative for fieldwork and dominant paradigms of visual representation” (Gesimar 2014:98).


 Photo of page in sketchbook, “One of my first air raids, March 43, ” MS 2014-06: Papers and Artwork of Robert T. Smith, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution. 

Typically, sketches are hidden components of notebooks, filling spaces between text and never finding a public life of their own. By making Smith’s personal collection visible, how may we “recuperate lost stories of personal experience and alternative histories of ideas” (Geismar 2014:97)? Smith’s sketches depict images we would not typically associate with military activity, indicating his sensitivity to the nuances of his surrounding environment (see images 3 and 4). Note the micro-view of flora in image 3 and the care Smith takes to detail its shapes and colors. Rather than knowing whether or not this “bush pandanus” is a precise copy of what is in front of Smith, the bright colors and particular perspective may “undermine the naturalism of the sketch” (Geismar 2014: 98)—perhaps giving us insight into the illustrator’s subjectivity, methodology, and emotional/ sensual/ visual proximity to the object in addition to the object itself.

And what are we to make of Smith’s depiction of one of his first air raids (see image 4)? The blues and contrasts of light suggest to me beauty more than the notion of fear a first military “raid” might be assumed to entail. These sketches (what and how Smith sketched) not only portray the aesthetics of local and military life in these regions, but also hint to how Smith interpreted what he saw—they shine light on his own subject position in the field that complicates his fixed role as military personnel/ethnographer. In “What do Drawings Want,” Michael Taussig romanticizes the potential of drawing in contrast to photographs, and perhaps rightfully so. He writes, discussing John Berger (2007), “a photograph stops time, while a drawing encompasses it” (Taussig 2009:265). Creating images through drawings inevitably takes a greater amount of time then capturing that image in a photograph. Drawings also indicate a more intimate connection between creator and object, inevitably exposing the subject position and viewpoint of creator in a different way than photography. And, in the case of Smith’s collection, in a way that complements the text and gives it deeper nuance of life and meaning.

Portrait, MS 2014-06: Papers and Artwork of Robert T. Smith, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.  According to donors of collection, “The enclosed portrait was the individual who was Smitty’s guide of many years.” 
According to his friends, Donna and Sue, Smitty was “an intensely private person, he revealed very little about family or his past life, except stories he loved to tell about New Guinea or Greece, two of his favorite places to travel” (Ewing and Minahan n.d.). Smith may have kept his drawings private, feeling more inclined to publish written text—but the drawings and text together continue to tell vivid stories, and are further imbued with meaning as they live on in the NAA. One of the most fascinating pieces of Smith’s collection is a large framed portrait of “Smitty’s guide of many years” (image 5). But the collection does not explicitly say: who was this guide, and how did he and Smitty meet? Where did this fabulous portrait live before coming to NAA? Did it reside among the other artifacts of Smith’s life? What kind of history and network of relationships does this material subsume? What story does this—can this— portrait and collection continue to tell? Rather than strictly telling one particular story, the Robert T. Smith collection—mixed like all mixed boxes (Edwards and Hart 2004)—is “syncretic” of life. The materials live on at NAA where they continue to garner life history.

Evy Vourlides, Ph.D. Student, Anthropology
George Washington University

*Please be aware that the Robert T. Smith Papers at the National Anthropological Archives are currently unprocessed; please contact the Reference Archivist for access information.

References:
Berger, John. 2007. Berger on Drawing, Edited by Jim Savage. London: Occasional Press.
Edwards, Elizabeth and Janice Hart. 2004. “Mixed Box: The Cultural Biography of a Box of
'Ethnographic' Photographs.” In Elizabeth Edwards and Janice Hart, eds. Photographic Objects Histories: On the Materiality of Images, 47-61. London: Routledge.

Ewing, Donna and Sue Minahan to Robert T. Smith. n.d. “Robert T. Smith Papers (Unprocessed)” The National Anthropological Archives. Smithsonian Institution.

Geismar, Haidy. 2014. “Drawing It Out.” Visual Anthropology Review 30: 97-113.

Taussig, Michael. 2009. “What Do Drawings Want?” Culture, Theory & Critique 50(2-3): 263-274.