May 18, 2016 is International Museum Day, a day to celebrate museums and cultural heritage institutions around the world. As stated in their mission, the objective of this day is to raise awareness of the importance of museums in enriching cultures, improving intercultural exchange, and developing understanding between peoples. This event has been ongoing since 1977, and various museums plan events and activities that highlight the importance of this unique type of institution, both locally and internationally.
The theme for this year’s International Museum Day is “Museums and Cultural Landscapes,” exploring the combination of nature and history. With this in mind, we want to highlight our upcoming exhibit that exemplifies this theme of natural and human identity intermingling: Photography and America’s National Parks.
The National Parks Service is celebrating their 100th anniversary, and as part of this historic event, the George Eastman Museum has brought together a unique exhibit that demonstrates the interconnectivity of photography and protected natural landscapes. National parks are not just areas of great natural beauty—they have been defined and shaped by human intervention. Photography has played a critical role in this, crafting our understanding and perception of these unique landscapes across America, creating a sense of awe and wonder, as well as a desire to maintain and protect them. It was through photographs that many people in the late 19th century were introduced to the natural wonders of America, and it inspired people to visit these sites to take their own photographs. Photography and America’s National Parks examines this role of late nineteenth and early twentieth century photographers in influencing public opinion and awareness of these sites.
As part of International Museum Day, all day today on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, we will give you a sneak peek into the behind the scenes work that is going into creating an exhibit that showcases both the natural beauty and cultural perceptions of America’s national parks as seen through the lens of a camera. Here, we will showcase some of the behind the scenes work going into preparing the images.
Preparing the Photographs for Display
Preparing photographs for display in a gallery may seem like a simply task—but with historic materials, it is a careful balancing act between sharing the photo with the public and protecting it from damage. Each piece needs to be carefully prepped for display within specially constructed frames that provide them with a stable environment. This means ensuring that the photographs are properly mounted to prevent any damage, and that the humidity is controlled to inhibit fading or cracking. At the stage where we are right now, each photograph in Photography and America’s National Parks is currently being prepared for display in the exhibit.
In this image to the left, Zack Murray and Emily Phoenix from the Object Preparation Department are framing a Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe panorama. Zack is using a volume static eliminator to reduce the static charge from the acrylic glazing as the protective paper is removed. To the right, you can see Zach Long from our Conservation Department mounting a snapshot using v-hinges. These special hinges allow the photograph to be mounted into the frame without harming the edges.
Stereoscopic images are a fascinating type of photography that creates the illusion of depth in a two-dimensional object. Without the aid of the stereoscope, the tool used to view these images, the photograph simply looks like two copies of the same image set next to one another. However, they are slightly offset, and when viewed through the stereoscope are seen separately by the left and right eye of the viewer. These two-dimensional images are combined in the brain, and we perceive them as being three-dimensional. These types of images were quite popular throughout the last half of the 19th century through the early 20th century, and national parks were a subject of interest. In Photography and America’s National Parks, visitors will have the opportunity to see original photographs of national parks taken in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and use stereoscopes to see them in their three-dimensional glory.
Chris Holmquist from the Object Preparation Department tests out the hanging height of the stereoscopes and photographs to make sure they will function properly in the exhibit.
There are many other activities and surprises at our upcoming exhibit, so stay tuned in to social media over the next couple weeks as we begin preparing the exhibit and opening it to visitors! Photography and America’s National Parks begins at the George Eastman Museum on June 3 with an Exhibition Preview Celebration, and will be open to the public from June 4 through October 2, 2016, in the museum’s Main Galleries. Leading up to the exhibit, we welcome followers on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to share their favorite photos from national parks, and once the museum is open, to take photos in the museum’s exhibit using the hashtag #GEMParks or tagging @EastmanMuseum.