On November 6, Archives and Special Collections opens its latest exhibit, “All Aboard!” We are celebrating our L&N Railroad collections — the Photographic Archives collection of L&N photographs (including glass negatives), Rare Books’ early railroad publications, and University Archives’ L&N Railroad Company records. For the last few months, I’ve had the privilege of going through these materials looking for photographs, documents, maps, menus, timetables… all sorts of items that will help tell the story of the L&N.
I was already familiar with the L&N collections, since these records are frequently used by academic historians, community researchers, and train modelers. But preparing this exhibit helped me see it in a whole new way. First, it made me appreciate the tremendous variety and quality of photographs in this collection. As you would expect, there are many pictures of trains – interiors, exteriors, loaded freight cars, locomotives — you name it, and there is a picture of it.
Among my favorites are several shots of workers on and around the locomotives, as in this image of locomotive number 209 in Decatur, Alabama, taken around 1915.
The photographs sometimes include sweet surprises, as with this image of the of Ringling Brother-Barnum and Bailey circus train. If you look closely, you can see elephants reaching their trunks out of the car:
Working with the L&N Magazine has also been a special treat. In addition to stories on different cities, it ran features on the different types of freight carried by the railroad: the L&N shipped everything from bananas, peanuts and other types of produce, to coal (lots of coal!), to appliances, to special shipments including “Iron Lungs” and race horses.
The magazine also featured photographs of company sports teams, and shared information about different employees’ hobbies and family events including weddings. It warned workers of possible threats to their safety and their health, including alcoholism and heart attacks. It also profiled employees, departments, and services, helping promote a wider understanding of the tremendous variety of activities going on within this large and multi-faceted organization.
All Aboard! runs through February 7, 2014. Archives and Special Collections is open Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; we are having a special Sunday showing of the exhibit on Sunday, November 10, from noon to 5:00 p.m.
Card photographs were as ubiquitous in the second half of the nineteenth century as camera phone and Instagram images are today. Primarily albumen prints mounted on card stock, card photos varied in several sizes. First came the carte de visite, French for “visiting card,” in the 1860s. Measuring 2½ x 4 inches, cartes de visite, or CDVs for short, took America by storm and created the world’s first photography craze. For the first time since the introduction of photography in 1839, portrait photographs were available to all classes as they were cheap to make, could be easily copied and sent through the mail without threat of damage. In fact, so many CDVs were sent through the mail as men were off fighting the Civil War, that the US government put a tax on them to help fund the war.
Cabinet cards were a larger version of the CDV, measuring 4¼ by 6½ inches and became very popular after 1870. The larger size allowed for greater decoration of the card mounts which advertised the photographer’s name and address. Gradually the mount designs, known as backmarks, grew larger and more ornate, often including many decorative elements common to Victorian design. Popular motifs included painter’s palettes and brushes with cameras to imply the association of photography with fine art, and the sun to symbolize the photographer’s dependence on light. Gilded borders, scalloped edges, colorful mounts and inks, patterned backgrounds, and highly stylized typography all appeared on the mounts of cartes de visite and cabinet card photographs. Some photographers hired artists to create original designs for their card mounts, but the majority chose designs from catalogs of photo supply companies. As a result, many studios from around the country produced card photographs with similar mount designs and backmarks.
Card photographs orphaned by their original owners and descendants that can today be found in thrift stores and flea markets may no longer hold the identity of the person pictured, but they can still be admired for their beauty and what they reveal about larger trends in Victorian culture, photography and graphic design. To see many more nineteenth century card photographs created in Louisville, visit the exhibit “Under the Skylight: Louisville’s Nineteenth Century Portrait Studios” in the Photographic Archives gallery from October 10 – November 1.
The only problem being the Imaging Manager in the Photographic Archives is the urge to know every photograph and fine print in our vault. That’s about 2 million images and, I guess, a bit impossible. Even if I could look through every image, I cannot look without wondering. It’s easy to spend a good thirty minutes observing one photo and asking what may be going on in the scene:
Is that man in the white suit looking straight at the camera? Where is the photographer standing? Why did he take a photo of this scene? What’s in that caged truck? What is going on with that traffic pattern?! How common was it to still be using a horse and cart? What is being constructed? How many of those buildings are still here? Arg, so many questions! But that last question, that’s one I can easily determine. When I run across an interesting photograph of a building or space in Louisville, I search Google maps, pick out a camera, go on a little adventure, and have some Photoshop fun:
This exercise in photography, research, and navigation works to expand my knowledge of our collection and its relevance to Louisville’s history. And it answers a few of those burning questions along the way!
Our latest exhibit, Famous Faces: Picturing Celebrity in the Photographic Archives, highlights over 40 photographs of nineteenth and twentieth-century celebrated personalities and historical icons held in the University of Louisville collections. From gathering and researching these images I have learned a number of interesting facts about a few celebrities related to Louisville.
Elvis Presley (1935–1977) is one of the most iconic American celebrities of the twentieth century, having been a hugely popular singer and actor for over twenty years, earning the nickname “The King of Rock and Roll.” But the photos held in the archives of Elvis Presley, performing in Louisville at a special employee party put on by tobacco company Philip Morris, don’t tell the whole story. A little research revealed that this show, held on December 8, 1955, was a mere month before Elvis’ very first record was released – “Heartbreak Hotel” in January of 1956. He was an unknown! In fact, it has since been reported that the president of Philip Morris, in the audience during the performance, tried to get Elvis kicked off the stage because he considered the singer’s hip gyrations obscene.
The Modjeska, the delectable caramel covered marshmallow candy is an original Louisville creation that is continued to this day by confectioners like Muth’s Candies on East Market Street. It sounded like a strange name for a candy until I learned that it was named after a famous stage actress of the late nineteenth century. Helena Modjeska (1840–1909) was a Polish-born Shakespearean actress who was hugely popular in the United States after she emigrated here in 1876. In 1883, the year she received her American citizenship, she starred in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House in Louisville, Kentucky, the first Ibsen play staged in the United States. As a testament to her appeal, Anton Busath, a candy maker who immigrated to Louisville from France, was so infatuated with the actress that after her visit to Louisville he decided to give the “caramel biscuit” confection he had spent years perfecting her name: the Modjeska.
Colonel Sander’s in his coffin? It’s not often that we see photographs of celebrities taken after they have died. Sure, post-mortem photography was popular in the Victorian era when families would have a professional photograph their recently departed child or other loved-one to memorialize them; often the post-mortem photograph would be the only image the family had. But this practice went out of style as handheld cameras and snapshot photography proliferated, and as medicine advanced and death became more removed from everyday lives in Western society. It turns out that photographer John Ranard snuck a camera with him while visiting Sanders’ body as it lay in the Taylor-Hall Funeral Home. Shooting from the hip allowed Ranard to remain undetected and as a result, we get to see Colonel Harland Sanders (1890–1980), founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, as he was buried – with his trademark mustache and goatee, white suit, and string tie.
Come see the entire exhibit, Famous Faces, up now through September 27th, located in the Photographic Archives Gallery in Ekstrom Library, lower level, Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM.
“Not only is Louisville famous for its annual event at Churchill Downs but it has also become famous for its many social courtesies extended those who visit at Derby time.”
The University of Louisville Libraries’ collections include visual and written documentation of Derby races and parties. Travel back in time to Derbies past through these images freely available in our Digital Collections.
Best of luck finding the perfect turkey…
and have a Happy Thanksgiving!
Halloween and All Souls’ Day seem like a good time to talk about corpses and death rites. People all over the world honor their dead around this time of the year – tending the graves of loved ones, and preparing special foods and decorations.
Post-mortem photography is another tradition centered on the dead. While it might seem morbid according to today’s sensibility, the practice of photographing the dead had less to do with fetishizing death than it did with memorializing loved ones. In the early days of photography having an image of your spouse or your children was a rare and expensive luxury. Photographs of the newly departed were often the last (or only) opportunity to create a memento.
Nineteenth century examples frequently showed the deceased posed in lifelike ways, for example, seated with their eyes open. This type of photograph attempted to capture the spirit of the living person. As time went on the poses became more natural with the body recumbent on a bed or in a coffin with eyes shut. Ironically, the more natural the treatment of the corpse, the more the images seemed to be glorifying death rather than memorializing the departed.
The tradition became less popular as photographs became more obtainable. It lingered on, though, developing a stigma of sentimentality and morbidity. With people having more opportunities to get a photograph of their loved ones while they were alive, the “now or never” mentality necessitating post-mortem photography nearly disappeared. The main exception to this was babies and young children. Many of the later examples of post-mortem photography depict infants, presumably because there had been no opportunity to take a photograph while they lived.
A number of photographs from the Royal Photo Company Collection in our Photographic Archives exemplify this tradition near the end of its popularity. These photos are all of the deceased in a coffin and most of them depict babies or children.
While collectively death photography has a certain creepy morbidity, individually the images show something else. Each one shows somebody who was loved enough to be memorialized.
The UofL Photographic Archives recently acquired three photographs by amateur street photographer Vivian Maier for addition to the fine print collection. Though not famous in the canon of photography along the lines of others found in the fine print collection, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus and Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Maier has been the buzz of the photography world for the last few years.
Her work was discovered when two separate men purchased boxes of unknown negatives and undeveloped film from an abandoned storage unit at a Chicago auction house in 2007. Shortly before the name of the photographer and her work began to attract attention, Vivian Maier died in April 2009 at the age of 83. A search for information about Maier revealed that she had worked most of her life as a nanny around Chicago and remained unmarried, having no children of her own. Her former charges described her as an intensely private, proud, opinionated yet very caring woman, who never showed anyone her photographs.
As Maier’s work has come to light through blogs set up by the owners of her archives, it has garnered national acclaim from photography experts, amateurs, fans and casual viewers alike. A master of the “decisive moment,” Maier captured street life in Chicago, New York, and beyond in France, Egypt, Asia and everywhere else she traveled throughout the 1950s, 60s, and 70s with a distinct sincerity. The quality of her work is undeniable, and the rate of successful images appears staggering. It is no wonder solo exhibitions of Maier’s work have appeared in galleries and museums all over the world, with a book published in 2011 and a documentary about her life impending.
The Photographic Archives is proud to add these three images by Vivian Maier to the collection, and is thrilled that the history of photography continues to evolve in such exciting ways. Come see our collections – we are free and open to the public Monday through Friday, 9:00am – 5:00pm.
Today’s guest blogger is Pam Yeager from the University of Louisville Libraries Photographic Archives.
Unidentified images in the Photographic Archives provide me with lots of opportunities to indulge my love of getting the story under the surface. But one well-identified photo from a recent acquisition provided some fun and surprises, as well. The Speed Art Museum recently de-accessioned a small group of Louisville photographs. One of these is a photo of a Louisville mansion at 214 W. Broadway that was identified on the back as belonging to William H. Dillingham. Three people sitting on the front steps are almost invisible in the picture, which includes the entire massive façade of the building. Caron’s City Directory for 1885 tells us that Mr. Dillingham owned a woolen mill supplies company at 421 W. Main St. There’s another figure off to the side of the house and farther back – so I assume she is not part of the family – perhaps an employee?By 1905, the residence is listed as owned by J.C. Lewis, and the company on Main St. is not listed. In 1914, Caron tells us that at 214 W. Broadway, Ms. Mattie B. Russell had furnished rooms to let, one of which was occupied by Pauline Bredelli, a music teacher. Perhaps Ms. Bredelli was the connection that led to 214’s next occupant: In the 1916 Directory,the Louisville Conservatory of Music is listed at the address.
From Robert Bruce French’s article about the Louisville Conservatory of Music in The Encyclopedia of Louisville, I learned that the Conservatory opened on September 7, 1915, “in the former Dillingham mansion at 214 W. Broadway.” The Conservatory was a great success, so much so that another larger school was built on Brook St. in 1926-7. But after the Depression hit, student enrollment dropped and the school ultimately declared bankruptcy and closed in 1932. It then merged with the University of Louisville’s part-time (no degrees granted) Department of Music. Faculty and students from the Louisville Conservatory became U of L teachers and students, and in only four years the School was accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music. French’s article also tells us the Brook St. site is now covered by I 65. And instead of the soaring arches of the Dillingham mansion at 214 W. Broadway, you’ll find a Subway restaurant, across from the more modest golden arches of a McDonalds.
Through October 25, 2012 the photo of the Dillingham mansion is part of Special Collections’ exhibit: “Samuel W. Thomas, Louisville Historian”, in the Photographic Archives gallery. Dr. Thomas used the photograph (when it belonged to the Speed Museum) in his book The Architectural History of Louisville, 1778-1900.
“Libraries exist to preserve society’s cultural artifacts and to provide access to them. If libraries are to continue to foster education and scholarship in this era of digital technology, it’s essential for them to extend those functions into the digital world.” – The Internet Archive
Earlier this year, the University of Louisville Libraries began digitizing and adding texts to our very own corner of The Internet Archive, a nonprofit internet library which provides free, permanent access to digital collections from all over the world. Several of the items we’ve added so far are souvenir booklets containing some wonderful photographs of the city of Louisville from the early 20th century.
Other items include biographies and histories of industries in Kentucky, including one of our most downloaded items to date, Fine Whisky Facts compiled by George C. Buchanan.
The books UofL Libraries have uploaded to The Internet Archive can be viewed in several formats including online, on a Kindle e-reader device, downloaded as a PDF file, etc. UofL’s contributions were scanned and assigned metadata by Sarah Frankel and MARC cataloging records were created by Tyler Goldberg.