Cinema Studies
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Students from the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation (MIAP) Program visit The Smithsonian Institution, Suitland, MD and Washington, DC

Tuesday, February 8, 2005
Photographs by Howard Besser

On February 8, 2005, students from the NYU Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program visited the Human Studies Film Archive of the Smithsonian Institution.

Here, films in archival storage cans sit next to the highly visible storage box for flammable materials such as film cleaner--a standard precaution in the Suitland, MD facility.

Some more archival storage cans at the Human Studies Film Archive.

Pam Wintle, Senior Archivist at the Human Studies Film Archive, with some of the collection's finding aids.

The student group in the hallway of the massive Suitland storage facility, shared by a number of Smithsonian museums. The self-contained storage units these hallways connect are referred to as "pods."

Glass-fronted storage cabinets, containing artifacts--not film.

An array of antlers--an example of the broad range of stored at the Suitland facility. Film materials are held in this same vault.

Videotapes are stored in drawers in the pod--the shelves were not designed for tapes, but have been put into service here nonetheless.

Archivist Mark White with storage cabinets designed for storage of flat items...

...that have been adapted for use as film can storage.

Smithsonian technician Nora Lockshin with an archival still photo negative, with which she is about to demonstrate the FTIR spectrometer.

Lockshin placing the negative under the reader on the spectrometer, which is used to determine the composition of photographic negatives and other materials. For example, if archivists are unsure if a negative is nitrate or acetate based, the spectrometer can tell them without the necessity of destructive testing such as burn testing.

FTIR spectroscopy (which stands for Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopy) operates by exposing the sample to a very short burst of electromagnetic radiation and then plotting the transmission of the radiation through the substance. The spectrometer then compares the resultant curve with curves it has in its memory; a match means that the substance has been identified. The spectrometer originally was created for military use; thus its memory initially held (and still holds) a number of samples related to explosives. The lab has gradually built up a library of curves based on known substances commonly encountered in their work--nitrate photographic negatives, etc.

Lockshin with some of the labels used to mark negatives after testing. They're color-coded: Green labels (also marked with smiley faces) mean polyester; yellow (with neutral faces) mean acetate, and pink (with frowning faces) mean nitrate. The Smithsonian's various departments and institutions are required to identify and segregate any nitrate-based photographic material in their collections.

Later that day, the students also visited the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History. Here students (l to r) Huiming Yu and Jeff Martin listen to archivist Wendy Shay's introduction of the facility's work.

The Archive Center's audio remastering setup, which can handle 1/4" audiotape, cassettes, and LPs.

Compact storage in the Archive Center.

Shay displays archival storage boxes that have been adapted to hold videotapes.

Here, Shay shows the students how storage boxes originally designed to hold baseball cards have proven to be the perfect size to hold DAT tapes.

When accessioning 78 RPM record albums, the Archives places the discs in archival paper sleeves and discards the original albums--retaining, however, any portions of the albums that contain relevant information.

Film and media storage in the Archive Center. The Archive Center's collections range from jazz music--one of the most important collections in the world, including recordings from Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and many other legendary performers--as well as business-related collections from companies such as Carvel Ice Cream, Maidenform Bras, and many others.

A Smithsonian technician with a deteriorating acetate negative from the collection of the Scurlock Photographic Studio. Scurlock photographed nearly all aspects of African-American life in and around DC for decades, including weddings, social events, graduations, and many musical performers. The collection is being preserved under a grant from the "Saving America's Treasures" program, awarded in 2002.

A photo of Duke Ellington by Scurlock.

Shea displays a pair of photographs of Ann-Margret, taken by Hollywood director George Sidney. Sidney was an avid photographer, and mounted and labeled most of his photos on boards such as these. The Archives Center has acquired his papers and photos, which are awaiting processing.