Posted on Jun 23, 2016
From Caroline Dechert, Librarian & Archivist
It sounded so simple: create a little text for a label to display with one of the Museum’s most reproduced images, the picture of our Founder Florence Dibell Bartlett examining a gift from the French Republic in the company of our first Director Robert Bruce Inverarity (seated) and French Consul Paul Coze. This shot has been a favorite, appearing in many publications over the years. Sometimes it is cropped to remove the Consul and produce a more compact view (see the Spring, 2009 issue of El Palacio). There are not many pictures of Miss Bartlett actively engaged with the Museum collection, and this is one of the best.
So it should be easy to create a label for a reproduction, right? Well, no.
In the label text, I want to credit the photographer and also include as good a date as possible, but none of the published captions I saw included that information. When we need to use the image ourselves, or reproduce it for a publication, we start from a digital image created from a slide in the so-called “general slide collection” in the archives. This slide is number 08173. The log sheet that accompanies this slide says the photographer is unknown, and doesn’t give a date.
It’s fishy, though, that the slide number should be so high. We know the French gift arrived before the Museum opened, so why are there more than 8,000 images ahead of it? It’s possible, of course, but…odd…
While researching something else entirely, I came across a note that another slide in the general collection had been made from an older negative, since the slide would be easier to use than the 4x5 negative. This would also save the negative from wear and tear. Was that how slide 08173 came to be as well?
Off to the negative log, a lovely relic from the days before digitization and computerized metadata. This meticulous log records all the photos taken for the Museum from 1952 through February, 1960. We know the gift arrived before the opening in 1953, so the start of 1953 is a good place to begin scanning – visually scanning, that is, since we don’t have the log in a machine-readable form.
And there it is: slide 08173 originates from the negative series 1228-1255, a series of photos showing the arrival and unpacking of the crates holding the French gift, followed by the photo of Bartlett, Inverarity, and Coze, and one of a group of handsomely-uniformed French couriers (couriers don’t dress like that anymore, I'm afraid). Slide 08173 is the image from negative 1252.
Success! The date of the photo is July 27, 1953, and the photographer is Johanson. Johanson? Who’s that? Looking through the log, the only trace of a first name is the initial E. E? Surely E stands for something? From the log, there’s no way to tell anything more. E Johanson took so many of these early photos that everyone knew who E Johanson was, so they never bothered to write down the full name. So near, and yet so far from knowing.
I had to give up here, and move on to trying to identify people in the photo from the museum groundbreaking. There is, after all, a finite time in which to create label text. But a funny thing happened on the way to the groundbreaking information – I took down an old scrapbook I hadn’t looked through before, hoping for the groundbreaking to be included in it (which it was), and there, looking up at me from a staff photo in a yellowed newspaper clipping (Santa Fe New Mexican May 25, 1955) was the Museum’s first photographer, Ernest Johanson. Johanson continued to work for the Museum for several years, first as photographer and later as both photographer and registrar.
And there it is: Miss Bartlett, the French Gift, and the Mystery of the Missing Photographer. Just another day in the Archives.