Right now, in the Pearce Foyer of Gorgas Library (2nd floor, Quad side), you’ll find a pretty cool exhibit:
Highlighting the collections of Rev. Wylheme Ragland of Decatur, Alabama, A North Alabama Clergyman’s Passion for History: Preserving Black History through Words and Images features cookbooks, scrapbooks, diaries, funeral worship bulletins, letters, and photographs from the Schaudies, Banks, and Ragland families. Their generous gift illustrates the everyday lives of African Americans living and working in the post-Civil War South through a wide variety of materials that will provide unique research opportunities for students and faculty. (source)
Recently, we were able to digitize some amazing portraits from this collection — most of them featuring African-American soldiers from the WWI and WWII eras — frames and all. They were a bit of a challenge, but it was well worth it!
If you go see the pictures on exhibit at Gorgas, you’ll find that many of them have curved glass. Our usual capture process involves lights that shine down on an item, but for these portraits, that would’ve meant a lot of light reflection.
To compensate, Jeremiah, camera guru, reconfigured the capture station to allow us to hang the portraits on the wall and shoot them straight on, so that the lighting could hit them in a different way.
See, no reflection in the glass! (Click on this image or any in this post to see it up close in Acumen.)
Of course, there’s just one problem: the frame is also reflective. We decided shine-free portraits were more important than shine-free frames, but we tried to minimize all reflection as much as possible.
However, some of the bulkier frames gave us the added challenge of casting shadows across the portrait surface, as you’ve already seen. Jeremiah was able to counteract this through tweaking the lighting setup, but sometimes it was impossible to completely get rid of the shadows.
Challenges aside, there were so many advantages to shooting these portraits — curved glass, difficult frames, and all. First of all, many of the frames added real character to the portraits they held:
The collection also provides an interesting window into photographic techniques of the day. Some of them don’t even look like photos — by design. According to Jeremiah, artists would often take a black and white photo and color it in by hand, so that it looked more like a painting.
Last but not least, these photos are a reminder that many African Americans served their country in the two World Wars, as evidenced by images like these:
To see more, visit the Schaudies-Banks-Ragland collection page online. There, you’ll find more images like this, as well as images of white servicemen and other African Americans.
And don’t forget to check out the exhibit at Gorgas Library!