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Revealed: Photographer’s Highlights of a Decade

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Let’s face it; The New York Public Library has great stuff.  Its vast and exceptional collection inspires and draws many into its doors and to nypl.org. I recently overheard a patron say, "This is not just a library… it’s a repository for civilization."

Ole Worm, Museum Wormianum [Worm's Museum}, Leiden, 1655. Rare Books Division. Illustration of a 17th-century cabinet of curiosities. (Image ID: ps_rbk_cd6_092)Over the course of my time at the NYPL, I have been responsible for delivering high-quality reproductions of material from its world-renowned collection for Premium Services clients around the world.

Initially hired as a freelance photographer in 2000, while earning my Master of Fine Arts degree at Pratt Institute, since 2003 I’ve been Head Photographer.  Within the past decade, Premium Services has gone from sending large format film out to the lab for processing and printing to a fully digital workflow capable of delivering files within several hours.  Since March of 2010, the Digital Imaging Unit has been in its new home at the Library Services Center, in Long Island City, Queens - which now boasts a top notch studio that rivals many other libraries and museums.  We also have our smaller satellite studio at the main research library, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

I help co-manage and supervise the DIU team of photographers/technicians, work directly with curators and clients, manage day-to-day operations, and oversee off-site scanning projects at both the Schomburg Center and the Library for the Performing Arts, while meeting turnaround times and maintaining quality control of all photographic and digital reproductions, and assuring that Library archival standards are met.

Over the years, I've had the pleasure of handling, photographing and taking in a multitude of rare and priceless materials.  From etchings and drawings by Rembrandt and Salvador Dali to silver gelatin prints by Walker Evans and Lewis Wickes Hine; from humor and satire of the contemporary social and political scene in the pages of Punch, Puck and Judge to the influential scene of the Beat Generation…I've been able to experience many moments in history.

Here are just a few of the highlights:

Declaration of Independence.  Draft in the handwriting of Thomas Jefferson., Digital ID psnypl_mss_1228, New York Public LibraryThe Declaration of Independence in Thomas Jefferson's hand, one of two known to survive intact.

Carrying out the photography of Gilbert Stuart's paintings of George Washington involved the pleasure of working with art handling company, Marshall Fine Arts and their crew of five seasoned pros; they worked like a well-oiled machine when moving the paintings from their walls to the A-frame easel for photography. It was quite the production and went extremely smoothly. The reproductions were made with a 4x5 view camera and strobe lighting.

George Washington, circa 1800-1801 (Image ID: psnypl_coll_002)

George Washington, 1797 (Image ID: psnypl_coll_003)

To make small beer, Digital ID ps_mss_729, New York Public LibraryGeorge Washington's beer recipe - "To make small beer"

This painting wasn’t required to be removed from the wall and was photographed with a 4x5 view camera, using tungsten lighting with polarizing gels and lens filter.  It can be admired in person in the Salomon Room of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

(Blind Milton dictating "Paradise Lost" to his daughters),Milton aveugle dictant 'Le Paradis Perdu' à ses filles, Digital ID blind_milton, New York Public LibraryBlind Milton dictating "Paradise Lost" to his daughters. Painting by Mihály Munkácsy (1877)

The meticulously painted scenes of the Tale of Genji, a Japanese narrative handscroll of the mid 17th century, has such an exceptional level of detail, it's difficult to fully appreciate without seeing them in person.  It was an honor and a pleasure to photograph.

Scene 1a, Digital ID psnypl_spn_580, New York Public Library

John Cage scores and illustrations with instructions and timing of how to play.

John Cage, "Water Walk" 1959 (Image ID: ps_mus_cd20_298)John Cage, "Water Walk" 1959 (Image ID: ps_mus_cd20_300)

John Cage, "Water Walk" 1959 (Image ID: ps_mus_cd21_301)John Cage, "Water Walk" 1959 (Image ID: ps_mus_cd21_303)

Seeing this Josef Albers portfolio, “Formulation : Articulation,” brings up fond memories of the ‘Phenomena of Color’ course I took while in undergrad at Maryland Institute College of Art…and the love/hate relationship so many had with Color-aid.  Loved that course and the revealing aspects of the relationship and placement of color.

Formulation : Articulation, "Title Page" (Image ID: 1991671)Formulation : Articulation, "Folder I/5" (Image ID: 1991672)

Berenice Abbott was known widely for her Changing New York series, which spanned the 1930’s and was later supported by the Federal Art Project. Seeing images like "Birds wing" gives greater insight into her work as a photographer and her interest in science.

"Bird's wing" (Image ID: 1801050)

In February of 1940, the magazine Popular Photography asked Berenice Abbott to name her "favorite picture." Her response:

"Suppose we took a thousand negatives and made a gigantic montage: a myriad-faceted picture containing the elegances, the squalor, the curiosities, the monuments, the sad faces, the triumphant faces, the power, the irony, the strength, the decay, the past, the present, the future of a city—that would be my favorite picture." (Popular Photography, February 1940) 

Versos of photographs and such, something the everyday viewer doesn’t often have the opportunity to see.

Jack Kerouac and friend with beers; "Life without travel is only half living" [verso] (Image ID: 1693390)Read about and view other versos which Photography Specialist, David Lowe, recently featured in his NYPL blog entry for The Huffington Post, 'Verso: Looking Behind the Picture'.

Edward Hopper's earlier works and etchings from 1921, rendering his strong attention to geometric balance, his interest in urban American life, and his often isolated subjects within their environments.

House tops., Digital ID psnypl_prn_1075, New York Public Library

Night shadows., Digital ID psnypl_prn_1076, New York Public LibraryThe ability to walk from the studio to the various exhibitions, programs and lectures within the Stephen A. Schwarzman building, has been phenomenal too!

This is the start to regularly featuring some of the noteworthy digitization projects and materials we’ve worked on, from patron driven requests and grant funded projects, to upcoming exhibition materials.  I’ll be highlighting some of the behind-the-scenes production and what's involved in reproducing certain rare and fragile materials, and some items of interest to me as an artist.  Stay tuned!

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