From the Chair

Greetings, colleagues, from the first blog edition of Views!

In these times of decreased staff and budgets, and increased workloads, I find it challenging to be engaged professionally beyond the demands of my current position. Maybe it’s just me, but something tells me I’m not alone there. I hope the flexibility of the new platform proves less taxing on our dedicated editorial staff and encourages more of us (myself included) to contribute content. The ongoing success of Views going into the future depends on it.

A belated thanks to all of you who made the Section meeting a great success. Patrick Cullom’s presentation, which addressed the challenges of processing a newspaper photo morgue, and Elliot Williams’ presentation, which addressed the challenges of creating metadata for large collections, were informative and thought provoking. Both generated lively audience discussions, demonstrated the collective experience of Section members, and created an atmosphere of comradery. An especially big thanks goes to Sandra Varry for organizing and running the meeting, her leadership throughout the past year, and preparing me to assume the office of Chair. For those of you who attended the preconference tour of the Wittliff Collection, tasted Tex-Mex fare at the Section dinner, or shared pastries, ramen, or Israeli street food at one of the meetups, I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did. And if you took pictures of any of the Section activities, please send them along so we can update the website.

Following the flurry of activity surrounding the Annual Meeting, I returned to work inspired by the presentations and sessions, excited to have met new colleagues, and utterly exhausted. Now, nearly three months later, it’s time to get back to VMS business and focus on the future.

2020 marks the end of the Section’s current Three-Year Plan that laid out core activities and specific initiatives. It also marks the start of SAA’s Strategic Plan 2020-2022, approved by Council in May, that asks the question, “What will constitute future success?” The plan defines four specific goals and provides strategies to achieve them with the intent of answering the question. Over the next several months, leadership will review the Section’s current plan and begin drawing up a new one with an eye towards incorporating elements of SAA’s plan. But to create a robust plan that truly reflects the Section’s membership, leadership will need your input. Next month I will convene leadership to begin strategizing, and minutes of the meeting will be posted on the VMS website. Of course if you’re already champing at the bit to participate, by all means send me an email. Otherwise, stay tuned for future communications.

Mary Alice Harper

Head of Visual Materials Cataloging

Harry Ransom Center

The University of Texas at Austin

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Get to Know Our Newest Steering Committee Members

Alison Anderson, MSLIS, CA 

Senior Processing Archivist

Harvard Planning Office, Property Information Resource Center

VMS Member-at-Large, 2018-2021

Hi, I am the incoming Visual Materials Section member-at-large. I am the Senior Processing Archivist at the Harvard University Property Information Resource Center (PIRC), which is the repository for Harvard’s buildings and land records. I work primarily with architectural drawings, but I also process maps, photographs, and property records. I enjoy the challenges that architectural drawings pose, including their size, condition, and various formats. What I love most is that even though our collections only directly relate to Harvard’s properties, they are actually extremely diverse. Instead of an archive that collects the works of a few architects or an architectural firm that retains only their own work, I get to view the works of hundreds of architects across centuries, each possessing a unique style. Also, after I process a drawing, I can walk out onto the campus and see the finished product! It is fascinating to see the growth of a university that has existed for almost 400 years.

Lilli Keaney

Harrison D. Horblit Photograph Librarian

Houghton Library, Harvard University

VMS Member-at-Large, 2019-2022

Hi everyone! I’m excited to be more involved in VMS and SAA and serve the Section as a member-at-large. I’m fortunate to work exclusively with photographs, and love that I can really dive into the complexities these materials require. We often don’t have a lot of accompanying information to identify the photographs in our collection, and I truly enjoy the occasional foray into a little detective research work. Sometimes this can be quite fruitful, but even when it isn’t, I always learn something new about the history of photography. The information I do find is critical to my work and to providing access; I primarily work on digital projects and putting a photo online without a lot of metadata can make it difficult for users to find. As an added benefit, that data also gives me the chance to experiment with new ways of presenting the material to our users.

Polaroids from Heaven: Developing an Active Learning Session with Unconventional Visual Resources

Examples of student work from the “Alterations” assignment in the course, Alternative Photography.

A photograph of the Blessed Virgin Mary appearing on a rose petal, a Polaroid of unexplained religious symbols in the clouds, and an image of a mysterious flash of light that eerily resembles the name of a Portuguese child visionary from 1917… How can archivists use controversial or unconventional photographs like these to support student learning? This post provides a lesson plan for an active learning session with archival visual resources that was part of the Alternative Photography course at the University of Dayton.  

As the liaison to the Department of Art & Design, I have many wonderful opportunities to collaborate with faculty in fine art, art history, and art education. I was particularly excited when I was put in touch with a faculty member teaching the course Alternative Photography, which focuses on non-traditional photographic processes and emphasizes experimentation with the photograph as a physical, social, and intellectual phenomenon. The content of this course was a perfect opportunity to use a fascinating archival collection of photographs and accompanying documents related to Marian apparitions–reported supernatural appearances by the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The teaching faculty member and I developed a special collections instruction session that served as the foundation for an assignment called Alterations: Negative, Print, Space. The goal of the assignment was to introduce students to manipulation of the photographic negative, print, and viewing space. For this assignment, students were involved in all aspects of the photographic process including concept development, exposure of the film, formal manipulation of the negative/print, the making of the final print, and final display. The special collections instruction session provided context, historical background, and critical perspectives for the image-making portion of this assignment.

Prior to the session, students read the article, “Polaroids from Heaven: Photography, Folk Religion, and the Miraculous Image Tradition at a Marian Apparition Site” by Daniel Wojcik. During the session, students engaged in three separate but related activities: speed-dating with archival visual resources, pair and share, and affinity mapping. This culminated in a final discussion on the collection themes as they related to the assignment.

Students at work during the “speed-dating” activity with the Marian Apparitions collection.

Lesson Plan Outline

Speed-dating activity: Students analyzed an item from the archival collection and answered the questions: What is the item? When, where, and/or by whom was it created? What are some keywords that describe this item? What questions does this item raise for you?

Pair and share: Students shared their findings, initial reactions, and questions with a partner and discussed the prompts: Where do you see the photographer’s hand in these images? How might you think about this collection in the context of photographic alterations?

Affinity mapping: Students identified keywords from the speed-dating activity, wrote them on post-its, and mapped them into themed categories on a whiteboard. This became a launching point for further discussion on collection themes.

Outcomes and Reflection

Over the next two course meetings, students created images and then critiqued them. As a librarian teaching mostly one-shot sessions, the critique was the perfect opportunity to engage with students after the archives session and learn more about the outcomes and any potential impact of their experience with the collection. During the critique, students identified both direct and indirect impacts of engaging with the archival collection as a foundation for creating their own images. For example, one student identified the “spiritual experience” she had while creating images and another student mentioned that her images were directly inspired by the idea of creating an apparitional experience for the viewer. Other student work aesthetically referenced the archival collection. 

Through active learning, the collection facilitated encounters with analog photographic processes, analysis of the various dimensions of religious imagery, critical perspectives on photographic manipulation (both of the image and of the viewer), and discussion on the history and contexts of apparition photography.

Jillian Ewalt
Librarian for Visual Resources/Associate Professor
Marian Library, University of Dayton



The Image of Whiteness: Contemporary Photography and Racialization

by Daniel C. Blight, editor

“A unique study of art photography as a means to understand whiteness. In a time of new fascist and alt-right politics, from Donald Trump to Tommy Robinson, this book attempts to locate the “image of whiteness” as a thing both imagined and pictured so that we can better understand its meaning and construction. In over 60 images, a contextual essay and a number of interviews with artists and scholars, this book seeks to introduce its reader to some important extracts from the troubling story of whiteness and describe its falsehoods, paradoxes and oppressive nature. At the centre of these pages lies a set of important questions all white people should ask themselves: How was whiteness invented? What does whiteness look like? And is it really ever ok to be “White”? This book argues that the invention and continuation of the “white race” is not just a political, social and legal phenomenon, but also a complexly visual one.”

Hardcover, 224 pages – SPBH Editions/Art on the Underground – October 2019 – $31.15 – Available at


Documentary Photography Reconsidered: History, Theory and Practice 

by Michelle Bogre 

“Documentary photography is undergoing an unprecedented transformation as it adapts to the impact of digital technology, social media and new distribution methods. In this book, photographer and educator Michelle Bogre contextualizes these changes by offering a historical, theoretical and practical perspective on documentary photography from its inception to the present day.  Documentary Photography Reconsidered is structured around key concepts, such as the photograph as witness, as evidence, as memory, as narrative and as a vehicle for activism and social change.”

Paperback, 264 pages – Bloomsbury Visual Arts – October 2019 – £31.49 – Available at Bloomsbury 


Notes on Archives 2: Culture Is Our Business

by Ines Schaber, editor

“In the process of transferring analog material to digital data banks, small independent archives are often not able to keep up with bigger, economically driven archives, such as stock-image companies.

Notes on Archives 2: Culture Is Our Business considers the case of Willy Römer, who in 1919 took a photograph of the street battles in the media district of Berlin during the German Revolution. Circulating widely throughout the twentieth century, Römer’s photograph in 2004 came to be owned simultaneously by a number of archives. Among them were the commercial stock-image agency Corbis, founded by Bill Gates, and the Agentur für Bilder zur Zeitgeschichte (Agency for images on contemporary history), an independent organization established by photo historian Diethart Kerbs. Both Corbis and Kerbs’s agency handle and make available the same image based on extremely different concepts and working processes. The book considers the complex issues around these two agencies. At stake in these differences are how the image’s story should be told, and how this telling is embedded in the viewing and understanding of history. This publication includes material from the artwork Culture Is Our Business by Ines Schaber along with a conversation with Diethart Kerbs and a text by Reinhard Braun.”

Softcover, 44 pages – Archive Books and Camera Austria Graz – September 2018 – €12.00 – Available at Archive Books



Communist Posters 

by Mary Ginsberg

“One of the common features of communist regimes is the use of art for revolutionary means. Posters in particular have served as beacons of propaganda – vehicles of coercion, instruction, censure and debate – in every communist nation. They have promoted the authority of state and revolution, but have also been used as an effective means of protest.  This is the first truly global survey of the history and variety of communist poster art. Each chapter is written by an expert in the field and examines a different region of the world: Russia, China, Mongolia, Eastern Europe, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba. This beautifully illustrated, comprehensive survey will appeal to a wide audience interested in art, history and politics.”

Paperback, 272 pages, 295 illus. – Reaktion Books – April 2020 – £25.00 – Available at Reaktion Books, Ltd. 



Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings + Landscapes

Oct. 19, 2019–Feb. 2, 2020 / October 17-December 21, 2019

Need a reason for a road trip? Head down to Atlanta, where two exhibitions featuring the photography of Sally Mann are on display this Fall. Through February 2, 2020, the High Museum of Art is hosting Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings, which explores how her relationship with the land has shaped her work and how the legacy of the South—as both homeland and graveyard, refuge and battleground—continues to inform American identity. Through December 21, 2019, Jackson Fine Art is host to Remembered Light, an intimate, personal series documenting a creative fellowship between herself and the artist Cy Twombly, as well as images of the tactile traces remaining after his passing in 2011. The results are a luminous rumination on what a life leaves behind.


 Nature Self-Portrait #2, 1996, Laura Aguilar. Gelatin silver print, 14 x 19 1/16 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council, 2019.19.2. © Laura Aguilar Trust of 2016

Laura Aguilar Photographs

J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

The largest museum acquisition of Laura Aguilar’s photography, a cache of 35 photos produced during her three-decade career, was recently obtained by the J. Paul Getty Museum. The photographs–often featuring Aguilar, who died last year–explore her Latinix, working-class, and queer identity, providing insight into the creative vision of an artist gone too soon. A selection of the prints will go on view in Unseen: 35 Years of Collecting Photographs (December 17, 2019–March 8, 2020 at the Getty Center).


Hilversum, Netherlands Symposium

“Archives, assumed to be containers of memory, are vested with a particular power to constitute and define who is and who is not included in (his)stories. We explore what “decolonizing” the archive – within and beyond the walls of established institutions – could offer for the production of new bodies of knowledge.”

Organized by the KITLV/Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies & the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision , Inward Outward will investigate the status of moving image and sound archives worldwide as they intertwine with questions of coloniality, identity and race. Registration for the symposium opens at the end of October and is free of charge.

Online Symposium

Did you miss SFMoMA’s symposium “The Artist Initiative Symposium on Photography: Reprinting Color Photographs as a Preservation Strategy”? Never fear, video and transcripts are now available! The symposium includes discussions from photographers, conservators, and curators on the issues and challenges concerning the reprinting of color photographs, a history of reprinting photographs at MoMA, as well as philosophical and ethical framework for projects.

Good to Know

Get some standards! New to Audiovisual processing or just curious on how other institutions handle these complex collections? Check out the newly revised Guidelines for Processing Collections with Audiovisual Material from the Archives of American Art. 

Get Social


Explore the unexpected beauty of found imagery with Lost and Found Archive, a collection of scanned 35mm slides found at boot fairs, jumble sales, garage sales, junk shops and markets. Curated by U.K. artist Neil Brown.


Lose yourself in this continuous delight of graphic materials selected by the staff of University of Wisconsin-Madison.