Written by John Hickman, MVZ Archives volunteer and graduate student at the San Jose State University’s School of Library and Information Science.
Photographs are a valuable part of the MVZ story. But unless they are carefully stored and managed, they are treasures that can easily disappear, taking with them irreplaceable visual information that give a rare glimpse into the past of rare species, long ago landscapes and former MVZ faculty. The images come in different formats; glass slides, prints, old nitrate negatives and 35mm slides, and each presents it’s own challenges for preservation. At the MVZ archives we work to move images to digital formats so that users can view the images, while the originals are safely stored for long-term preservation.
I recently began a new photo research project to organize, process and scan a box of images taken by O. P. Pearson. Part of the process is determining if the particular photo is already a part of our online image collection. Sometimes there’s metadata available with the physical photograph that narrows the search, but often there is little to go on other than the photographer’s name, and the research process turns to detective work using previously cataloged images for clues. It can be a fun challenge when there are one or two images to identify, but imagine working through a stack of fifty or a hundred! Patience is a necessary quality for an archivist.
In working through this project I found myself faced with identifying various black and white negatives. We’ve all experienced how hard it can be to make sense of a negative. Sure you can tell there are people, for example, but it’s usually impossible to tell who is actually in the photo. So, I found myself wondering is there such a thing as a negative viewer that would allow me to quickly flip the image from negative to positive for easier identification? Turns out I had one in my pocket! The Accessibility settings on my iPhone offers an Invert Colors function, which when used with the viewer on the built-in camera turns a mystery negative into a normal looking black and white image. A very cool and useful addition to my archival tool belt.