Click to search the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library Skip Navigation


The Time Machine of Moving Image Collections


Time Machine: if you could see what I have seen with these eyes.

Time travel is possible within the narrow bounds of my studio. It is remarkable that this can be accomplished with such primitive accessories. Wires and cables are sometimes strewn about reminding me of the Chris Marker film La Jetée. I have had the privilege of moving through time with many artists, through their early choreographies and refining rehearsals. I have watched the curtain open on their stage performances.

Moving Image collections that document an artist's career over a span of time also document the evolution of moving image recording. Artists have employed a range of formats to make affordable records of living arts such as dance. Through Time Machine I intend to give a glimpse of some of the machines/formats that we use for our travels here in the moving image labs of the Barbara Goldsmith Preservation Division at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

There is usually a lag of about twenty to twenty-five years before an artist's working reference collection matures, approaches technical obsolescence and leaves home to be housed in archival enclosures, preserved and made safely accessible at an archive. Over twenty-five years ago when I started at the New York Public Library's Dance Division (Dance Collection at that time) these collections still had significant film components. Sometimes collections included Regular 8mm or Super 8mm films, but this gauge was soon superseded by contemporary developments in portable video. Most often the films were 16mm, often silent, black and white reversal shot at silent speed to maximize exposure and running time. Notable amateur camera operators included Jerome Robbins, Andre Eglevsky, and Paul Petroff, who confided to me that he had been the cameraman for many of the Massine ballets in the Library's collection. Before the widespread use of video recording, television appearances were documented by Kinescopes, 16mm sound films of live television performances that recorded the image of a cathode ray tube.

To preserve and provide access copies of camera original reversal and reversal prints (the VHS dub equivalent of its time) these positive films were preserved film to film. Duplicate negatives and answer prints were generated by labs such as Guffanti in the Film Center Building on Ninth Avenue. Karl Malkames, who designed and built his own equipment, was used for the preservation of older, shrunken and distressed films that could not be duplicated on continuous contact printers. Despite the suspense of waiting for latent images to develop and the sheer bulk produced by the various iterations from duplication of these materials there was comfort in this very obvious photographic and mechanical process.

When video was included in these collections it was usually a mixture of CV ½ inch open reel, ca. 1965, AV ½ inch open reel, ca. 1970 and U-matic, ca 1971. I will visit these time machines in future posts.


Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.

Back to the Future

A wonderful, informative and heartfelt post. TARDIS, watch out!

I agree with Daisy! I

I agree with Daisy! I stumbled upon this, and was regaled by Fran's charming way of conveying this fascinating information about both content, collections, and formats. Fran, keep it up. I just wish there was a way to "subscribe" to your scintillating posts!

Post new comment