Welcome to a SLIS Capstone Experience:
Mysterious Collection: Film Print-Block from Galena, Ill
Coming into this project, I was faced with a significant challenge: I did not have a large data-set or previous research coming into my Capstone experience. I knew however that I wanted to work on a project that was based on visualization and digitization—a blending of art and metadata that can help to create new territories of intellectual explorations, understandings, and/or unforeseen connections, ideas, and theories. I was aware that students usually come into this course with a larger passion project that they have been able to develop over time to create a singular facet of their interest and gain new insight/s. Although I had a lot of ideas, some of which I will briefly discuss, I had no firm direction. After thinking about my interests and passions to formulate a digital humanities project plan, I did online investigations to see what had already been done in those areas. I ran by some of my thoughts with friends, and classmates for their feedback. After that, I had to figure out an appropriate path forward and reached out for professional advice. I not only emailed my ideas out to the Capstone committee, but I also emailed my ideas to my advisor. In the end, I was left with four ideas from which to select my project.
My initial idea was inspired by my friend’s 1930s-40s film print-block collection, which I believe are from Galena, IL. There are probably 100 of them, but they needed to be cleaned up and I was not sure what connections I could make with them. My advisor suggested that I check out the book, Looking Past the Screen, and I might be able to get a research idea from that. I, also, thought about researching to see if there are any other digital platforms of other film print-block collections to see if my friend’s collection could be connected to others. What fascinated me about this idea was that it was mysterious, could contain hidden secrets, and involve graphic design. But before I did further investigation, I thought I should get feedback about this idea and consider other potential ideas.
A second major idea I had was inspired by another course I took where I became intrigued about media literacy and the potential for incorporating K-12 media literacy through state legislation. I discovered that there are some states that passed K-12 media literacy bills and that there are also media literacy programs in K-12 outside of the U.S. My thought was to see if I could find out how beneficial those legislations are in the US and/or internationally through recent assessments on students enrolled in school systems that have already passed legislation. My hope was that the potential beneficial factors of media literacy legislation could be displayed through assessments or reports on students’ media evaluation skills. I thought that it might be interesting to visualize this data through a map generated in ArcGIS. For this project, my plan was to reach out to researchers whose focus is on information and literacy in public education or on false information in the media in order to build my data set. However, there was a significant issue that I could not overcome—media literacy legislations are fairly recent, and the limitations in potential data would not display a thorough understanding of the methodologies they used, and how to interpret the findings. In a nutshell, my idea was too early and would be better achieved after more data is available.
A couple of other ideas that occurred to me were possibly researching and mapping drone activities over Iraq and the Middle East, or U.S. illegal bombings of whole villages in a couple of areas near Cambodia and/or Laos (over a 20 year period), to show how many civilians died in each village of the focused area (perhaps getting data from the U.N.). I wanted to then find the current economic standings of the bombed area and compare that to current economic conditions to neighboring areas that weren’t bombed (e.g. the southern tip of Cambodia to Bangkok). I wanted to investigate how bombings negatively impacted the economic factors of an area through time. For these two ideas, I thought it would be very interesting to study and I would learn a lot and contribute to many different fields of study, however, I had not researched either of these topics prior, and my fear was that doing the additional research would not allow enough time to focus on the digital experience.
I was not sure if any of my ideas would have potential from a digital humanities perspective, but by reaching out, I was relieved to learn that they all did. After receiving feedback on my ideas, I was able to limit my choices down to two. One idea would incorporate cataloging and organizing the film print-block collection, and then possibly investigating the potential for interoperability with other collections, or building a narrative exhibit through genre, representation, a map, and/or timeline. My second option was mapping a historical comparison of a couple of bombed villages during the Vietnam war to their current economical standing to similar areas that were not bombed. And for this idea, I knew that a potential issue would be the time involvement factor and locating the economic data, and then creating a timeline of what I could work on each week and set goals after all the research.
From this point, what helped me decide on my ultimate choice was a recommendation that I got from my advisor and mentor. Both my mentor and advisor suggested that I think about how my Capstone experience could help me build skills and methodologies that I would want to develop and learn. Due to the fact that I am interested in archives and special collections or working in other gallery settings, such as museums or art libraries, I researched archival jobs to see some of the required job responsibilities in hopes to be able to design an experience that could enhance my resume. The job applications I researched into had aspects dealing with digitization require digital asset management, system management, processing, and preserving and accessing archival materials, as well as providing guidance in electronic records disposition and digital workflows. The job ad stated that an applicant should embrace digital editing tools, such as photoshop. There were other applicable job responsibilities that I was considering, which include tracking and managing master, service, derivative, exhibition versions of collections’ images, and digital documentation of collections, as well as arranging, describing, and establishing file-naming standards, and creating metadata.
I do feel that any of my ideas could be adapted to create an experience that could incorporate several of those responsibilities, contingent on if I could get the information that I would need. However, I feel that my initial idea to have an adventure with the print-block collection and learning to work with a client’s needs would best match the job-market and provide applicable hands-on skills. Through this experience, I want to be able to let other students without a body of data know that they too can create a project that can further their personal development and incorporate something they are passionate about.
Due to bad storage conditions, i.e. an attic and garage, the blocks were extremely dirty and stained with a tar residue. Also, this specific collection of print-blocks has already started to deteriorate. Therefore, they took a lot of restoration and needed a particular-cleaning process, which I researched how to do. The subject of my digital surrogates is from film ads that were created on zinc plated print-block, which are mounted on wood. One of the goals of this collection is from an archival value and is meant to help preserve the print blocks for future use and access.
Next, I will be including an example of what will be in my Omeka collection, which is shown in figure 1 below. This surrogate is taken of a film print-block from 1946, which came from an inherited collection of print-blocks from Galena, IL. All the print-blocks in this collection were used to create newspaper advertisements for the films they represent, and the subject displayed in the surrogate is one of those print-blocks. The ads were made by a process called letterpress printing, which is formed by the technique of relief printing with a printing press. Therefore, for this image, all the light and dark colors that are shown are reversed from the image the print block creates. The graphic design I will be studying is displayed in the art and technique from the engraving and etching in the zinc plate. The printing is done with a platen press that can show relationships between the type/forme, the pressure, the ink, and the paper. Presented in the photo-etching is the female star’s face (and her flowing hairstyle), who is also the main headliner for this specific film. The words in the actual print-block would be back-words to create a readable mirrored image for the print ad. The fact that the title is engraved would have it printed in black with a lighter blocked background for the newspaper ad.
To create these surrogates, there will be several editing steps taken of the original image to generate a similar version. For the first edit, the color of the digital image will likely be shifted, and they will be cropped. Another part of the editing process will include the reversal of the digital image surrogate, which will then allow the ad to be readable. The idea is to have the image display in a similar manner as the ad would have appeared in the newspaper and seen by its audience.
I will also go through the print-block collection and categorize them by genre and bias gender representation. To select a manageable amount of the print-blocks to work with, I learned from Archives and Media, that I could manage my time by keeping track of how long each part of the process takes to figure out how many print-blocks from each genre I should select. Another tip I considered that could help measure out my expectations on what is workable in 16 weeks, was to develop a timeframe for my workflow and a potential concept for the film print-blocks. Additionally, I have already modified my timeframe based on other people’s schedules and unforeseen complications, such as technical issues. My modified timeframe is below:
Here is my finalized Capstone Experience Idea and Workflow Timeframe Plan:
Topic: Building a 1930-40s print-block collection that could possibly represent aspects of gender bias.
Purpose: Creating an exhibit for the film print-blocks and examining how graphic art used in film advertisement might have elements of gender bias.
OUTLINE OF PLAN
Weeks 1-8: Building the Collection:
Week 1-5: Researching
Step 1: Researching scholarly articles to discuss different design elements that can be displayed in graphic film ads or movie posters! This might include such elements as:
a. Examining the graphics and drawings.
b. Looking for clues from different types of gender eye gaze.
c. Gender stereotypes:
1. Are women made to appear miserable due to domineering men or as the innocent girl next door type?
2. Are men made to appear domineering or controlling?
3. Are women just a prop and not a main part of the design?
4. Are men shown to be more active?
5. Are women’s bodies display more than men’s?
As an aside: I realize that some of this might be subjective because some may see images as not harmful or offensive, but more as generic self-created personalities with ranging emotions (i.e. thought of as a more of a projection of female power?). Therefore, I will be using articles by professionals in the field, that I researched in InfoHawk, to provide some elements and theories to back up decisions! My thought is to use the scholars’ articles to generate different classifications examples and base those examples on the scholar’s theories.
Step 2: Creating an archival consult and contract.
Step 3: Having that filled out and setting up a day to take photographs.
Step 4: Cleaning, photographing selected print-blocks, & taking measurements
Step 5: Research on Wood Blocks
a. Collecting contextual Information by using IMBD
1. Production company
2. Date of Movie
3. Description of Graphics
4. Size of print-block
5. Artist of ad, if available (?)
6. Maybe find out where the films were shown (?)
b. Categorizing the print-blocks based on potential gender bias, or lack of bias
c. Other ideas to think about
1. What might this collection tell us (?)
2. Are there comparable collections (?)
3. What can be reproduced or found vs what cannot be (?)
Step 6: Learning Excel and Building a Spreadsheet
Step 7: Learning Photoshop
Week 10-12: Creating Metadata Schema
Steps yet to be decided, but perhaps:
Step: 8: Working on the controlled vocabulary
Step 9: Figuring out which elements to use in Omeka
Step 10: Which collected metadata should be included
Step 10: Deciding what aspects of the Omeka platform to use
Step 11: Learning how to set up an exhibit for my collection.
Step 12: Entering the data
Step 13: Presenting my data and exhibit
Lastly, I wanted to mention that a problem that exists with images, art, special collections, and/or rare books that I have stumbled upon in the process of my research. That challenge is being able to fully describe the object/s in a way that someone else can visualize what you might be seeing. In figure 1 is an example surrogate of one of the film print-blocks that I will be working with and how this problem can manifest. The exact layout and features, and its potential gender bias, are difficult to describe and then use metadata, such as controlled vocabulary, to access the conceptual objects in a database that may be restricted. When it comes to images, descriptive metadata is often subjective; therefore, to solve this some archivists are including URLs in their metadata to similar material that helps provide additional information. Another part of my plan is to provide some brief textual dialog about what this digital image represents, along with the collection’s brief history, which will help to provide the contents and context. I will be working on this process and trying to contextualize my digital objects. Next Steps in the upcoming weeks include going through all 120 images I have taken, editing, categorizing, and researching further information and metadata. My end goal is to build an Omeka collection that represents aspects of gender bias that was used to sell and promote the films through the creation of the graphic design. Although, I am open to other ideas that may come to light as I research each specific film. A final bonus is that as I go through the collection, I will be learning about the films, cultural elements my parents and grandparents were exposed to, and ideologies of the recent past, as well as investigating a medium that had a lot of potential impact on society.
Figure 1: Surrogate Example of a Film Print-Block