A processor’s perspective

Boxes of Morton negatives Piles of Morton negatives

These views of our work areas give some idea of what it is like to process a collection as large, varied, and disorderly as the Morton photos. Since I began working on the collection two months ago, I have had regular moments of crisis during which I become nearly paralyzed by all the challenges associated with and possible approaches to this project. How do you impose order on chaos, while respecting what few pockets of order do exist? How do you decide what to digitize, and when? How do you balance the needs and interests of the many people who will use this collection with the preservation needs of the material itself?

I usually manage to calm myself with a few simple mantras:

1) In essence, all I am doing is taking one huge pile of stuff, sorting it into smaller piles, sorting those piles into smaller piles, then sorting those piles, and on and on into infinity (OK, I exaggerate) – and, finally, describing the piles. That doesn’t sound so bad . . . right?

2) By documenting carefully and making smart use of descriptive tools, we can ultimately provide access to the collection in a variety of ways – through a traditional archival finding aid, through digital images, by subject, by date, by format, etc. – offering lots of options. Then, once the collection is available, we can listen to what actual users have to say and incorporate their suggestions.

Morton film cans

3) I will never get bored at this job. Hugh Morton crammed more into a given month than most of us do in a lifetime, e.g., saving lighthouses, fighting air pollution, attending countless sporting and political events, hanging out with celebrities, bears, and cougars, and still finding time to enjoy the really important stuff – his family and friends. I’m lucky to have this opportunity to learn from and get to know him through the images he created.

11 thoughts on “A processor’s perspective

  1. Great blog and great collection! I am impressed — half a million photographic images! I’ve staggered beneath smaller collections than that, but this is truly staggering. Good luck. Hugh Morton has done so much for this state, it is good to see this collection will be archived.

  2. You have our family’s full sympathy and undying appreciation for taking on this task! Trust me when I promise you that every one of us tried to get him to slow down long enough to sort out at least his negatives. He could read a negative upside down and backwards, plus the memory of an elephant.

    The problem was he was MUCH more interested in the picture he was about to take than the ones he had finished taking. When he thought he had a special picture, he’d mail it to interested friends and carry a copy around with him for a while to show people, but then it would go in the pile with all the rest.

    The Morton family waits in great anticipation to learn what you’ll find, because the chances are it will be news to us too!

  3. Believe it or not, this is the first blog I have ever looked at. The reason for the new Orleans ’45 photos is that Hugh and I were there on our honeymoon. He went to N.O. for the Sugar Bowl games the Justice team played in, also. And the two NCAA basketball finals Carolina won. Any more questions?

  4. Thank you Julia! I guessed right and came sooooo close to speculating in my post that it might be your honeymoon, but decided not to just in case it was the prior New Years Day.

    I hope you visit the blog often because we’re going to have about 500,000 questions!

  5. What an adventure–and what treasures–await discovery! Thank you, NCC staff for taking care of this treasure for the rest of us. And thanks to the Morton family for donating these important photos so that the rest of us might use and enjoy them.

  6. Julia, I am both sympathetic and empathetic. I am presently doing exactly the same task with 60 years of my father’s negatives taken from the 1930′s into the last of the 1990′s when he died. My father carried a camera everywhere he went in, and around, Frederick County, MD.

    Before he died the Smithsonian Institute took about 120 of his prints for their archives but I estimate that I have 60 or 70,000 negatives to scan. They are mostly 2 1/4 x 2 1/4, 2 1/4 x 2 3/4, 35mm and 4×5 but there are also a large number of 127 negatives.

    So far, I’ve managed to scan about 6,650 of them…. about 10% of the total. I’m 65 and I hope I last long enough to finish the scanning. Luckily, my father left a few notes and I grew up knowing many of the people he photographed. But not all by any means.

    What you’re doing is very important for the social record it leaves and I hope you can scan and catalog each and every image taken by Mr. Morton.

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  8. A very impressive undertaking.
    Their are probably thousands of images detsroyed everyday.
    Preseverving the visual histroy of our society is os important.
    Createing directories with meaningful keyords is essential to make these accessible. Many of my wordpress blogs are esentially archiving stuff so i dont have to hold it all in my head.

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  10. In the very first post of the blog, there’s a photo of a bunch of negatives, some of which are warped. Have you had problems scanning these due to some of them being warped? Lots of negative holders are too small for these bigger negatives.

  11. Thanks, Ryan, for your question!

    We have to scan those on a flatbed scanner without film holders. Our scanner has a manual focus capability, so if it’s really warped I pick the most important part of the image so it’s the sharpest part of the scan. The resultant scan may not be perfect, but the negative will only warp and shrink more in the future, so we get the best scan we can before it does.

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