About three weeks ago I received in the mail Imagining Paradise, the new book highlighting the world-class collection of photographically illustrated books in George Eastman House’s Menschel Library. I immediately read the book cover to cover. It represents a concise, well-designed and beautifully printed book offering an overview of many of the publications that are represented on this site.
Then I recalled, when learning the wet-plate collodion process several years ago, I was allowed access to the GEH collection to view examples of vintage ambrotypes. I realized I could take a field trip to Rochester to see, in person, the books highlighted in Imagining Paradise.
So I assembled a list of titles that interested me (using their powerful Voyager catalog.) The list was ambitious to say the least, but it did not intimidate my gracious host, Rachel Stuhlman, the curator of rare books. She said she would see what she could do and agreed to meet me early the day I arrived so I could get a jump on the project. I was joined by friend and fellow photogravure enthusiast, David Spencer. His list doubled the number of titles I wanted to see.
When we arrived she was ready and waiting in the study room with carts of books. We wondered – could it really be this easy? We were beginning to understand what a powerful resource the George Eastman House is. Rachel was not just an accommodating hostess, but she was also a wealth of information when it comes to the photographically illustrated book. Having nurtured the library since 1982, she could answer questions about obscure variations in editions of ancient titles and could immediately put her hands on anything.
Believe it or not, our time was not spent only looking at books. We also had the good fortune to meet with and learn from the superb and talented staff of the GEH.
Mark Osterman, the process historian for the Advanced Residency Program for Photographic Conservation, gave us a crash course on a plethora of early photographic techniques including the use of a Camera Lucida and a Physionotrace.
Valentina Branchini, a research fellow in the Advanced Residency Program, provided fascinating insight into the work of Alvin Landon Coburn, teaching me more in a couple of hours than I have garnered from any book I have read on the subject. Together we examined Coburn photogravures, prints and negatives, comparing the subtle variations that may have motivated the directio
n of his work.
Sheila Foster, an independent researcher and co-editor of Imagining Paradise, (and a big fan of Camera Work photogravures) shared with us plans for an exciting new web resource on which the GEH is working and plans to unveil at the upcoming APAID.
Joe Struble, assistant archivist of the photo collection, pulled from the collection some rare examples of George Davison gravures as well as the large Coburn plates. Knowing we were in a hurry, he allowed us to take over the print viewing room, spreading out work that he would happily put away after we left.
Even Director of the ARP program, Grant Romer, made a point of stopping by to introduce himself and welcome us.
In short, we were very well taken care of at the GEH, so well in fact that we left with way more than what we originally expected to see, and plan on returning for we only scratched the surface of this great resource – a resource available free to anyone interested in almost any facet of history, processes, conservation or art of photography.
Thank you, GEH.
Please consider helping the George Eastman House continue to fulfill its responsibility as stewards of its consequential collection of photographs by visiting their website where you can find information about becoming a member or making a donation