Renewed attention to the collection of lantern slides, led by Leila Anne Harris, Edith Gowin Curatorial Fellow, started in Summer 2020. The project began as part of the Morgan’s Critical and Ethical Cataloging working group. See the Statement on Critical Cataloging at the Morgan Library & Museum.
The first phase of work entailed a physical inventory which resulted in an accurate count of lantern slides. Through the process, we corrected accessioning issues, updated housing for any unprotected slides, and made low-resolution photographs to aid in the initial catalog record enhancements.
Next, a cross-departmental team began researching and updating the catalog records. Through research spearheaded by Sandra Carpenter, Gordon N. Ray Cataloger, over sixty previously unidentified slides were given more precise titles. Thus far, Carpenter has identified sixteen individuals depicted in the photographs and substituted their names for generic headings. In addition, the records were augmented with descriptions of color and the name of the lantern slide manufacturer. References to any handwritten inscriptions or added stickers were also included.
A general conservation survey in March 2021, organized by Reba Snyder, Paper Conservator, offered new insight into the range of colors seen on the slides. In May 2021, all lantern slides were digitized. High resolution images were made by Graham Haber and Janny Chiu. By use of both transmitted and reflected light, the photographic image, as well as any inscriptions and stickers, are visible. Recto (front) and verso (back) images were made for all lantern slides that include added tapes or paper. The recto of the slides was determined by positioning the photograph emulsion-side down. For the finished items—made of two pieces of glass held together with binding tapes—the sticker or decorative frame indicated the orientation. In some cases, the signature and negative number included in the image is printed in reverse.
In May and July 2021 an advisory committee met to guide the next steps of catalog updates, stewardship of the lantern slides, and outreach to Native nations and communities. The committee consisted of experts on Indigenous art and photography, as well as photography archivists, a librarian, and an art historian. Work on the Curtis lantern slide collection is ongoing, including investigation into how the slides were originally displayed.
Leila Anne Harris
Imaging & Rights
Lee Ann Daffner
María Beatriz H. Carrión
Christopher Scholz and Inés Elskop