Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sweet, Flickering Heaven.

You are a savvy fan of the Internet, so I don't have to tell you how amazing the treasure trove at your fingertips is--but I will anyway. The glowing screen you are reading, which is a conveyance for a limitless, wireless, wall-less archive of everything and anything ever produced by human culture is astounding. I spent today surrounded by books; first at the flagship, marble-carved 5th Avenue branch of the New York Public Library, and then in the stacks of FIT's Gladys Marcus Library. Both are incredible resources filled with bound volumes of magical storytelling paper, original physical artifacts, and recordings of all kinds. Both smell amazing. Both have their own atmosphere and their own set of glowingly dorky, mostly bespectacled staff so eager to help you research your topic that the apples of their cheeks hurt when they hand you your sources. They are phenomenal, historic places worthy of our utmost care and conservation, but I couldn't help foreseeing all of those rooms weighted with heavy tomes replaced by slim hand-held e-readers. Don't get me wrong--the imagined scenario filled me with a sinking sadness, but it was buoyed by the certainty that the portable, light-emitting archive that is the Internet is a gift to all of us. For everyone who can't make it to the library today to request appointments with special collections departments in order to spend a pre-determined period of time with actual artifacts, the galaxy of resources on the web is a fantastic alternative. That may seem to be an instant grasp of the obvious, but today it struck my just how fantastic it is.

What has sparked this rave? A growing love of old things and a really wonderful, rare old thing. I have recently embarked on a journey to become a fashion historian (for realsies, not just for blogsies). In the two days that I've been an enrolled student in FIT's MA Museum Studies program, I've been delightfully inundated with evidence for just how important fashion history is (not that I needed much convincing). It is the history of politics, of nations, of every culture, all wrapped on the form of the human body. It is a window into the development of technology, the resources of the natural world, and the evolution of creative expression. It is studied, like any other aspect of time past, through the analysis of artifacts and written accounts. These artifacts in their original form are held in a web of museums, galleries, and libraries all over the world. These institutions were created in efforts to encourage the public to take pride in their culture and develop it further, thus they are incredibly accessible and public friendly. As a student I now have even more access to the collections of these places. I can head to individual institutions, seek out actual items, and view artifacts or read documents on any subject in person as an aspiring scholar: I can take my academic queries to institutions far and wide. Or, I can click on a few links and suddenly be at home viewing an original, rare visual document in my pajamas, on my bed, with a pillow under my head and a MacBook heating up my lap (that's an accurate description of my current state, BTW).

What's glowing on the screen is absolute gorgeousness. It's a reel of test footage from Kodak's archives showing hand-cranked color motion picture footage. This footage was shot in 1922, a full 13 years before the release of the first color film. It's magic.

As an aspiring historian, this document is invaluable. It shows materials from the time coming to life. It shows their texture, which is important in identifying their type. It shows hair color, makeup, posture, all of the contextual information that allows for a firmer grasp on the time. I can't stop watching it. Here, take a look:

The past is everywhere, and it's such a present.

Credits: My friend Jenny alerted me to the film clip as posted on The Daily What. The original publisher of the piece was Kodak them selves, via their YouTube channel. You can read more about the footage at their website.

1 comment:

Charlotte said...

Oh they really are magical! Such beautiful images. Having studied history for my degree I can also appreciate how important an exciting a piece of evidence this is. Great post, really interesting - thanks.

Charlotte xx

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