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Steps—not dance steps—to digitizing a collection

By Chelsea Weathers

At the recent Texas Conference on Digital Libraries—held last week at The University of Texas at Austin—Ransom Center graduate interns Jordan Mitchell and Emily Roehl and Research Associate Chelsea Weathers delivered a presentation about the Ransom Center’s Fred Fehl dance collection. The poster illustrates the steps of the digitization process, from creating metadata to scanning to image processing.

 

Between 1940 and 1985, New York-based stage photographer Fred Fehl documented more than 50 dance companies and choreographers, including the American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet. The Ransom Center holds more than 30,000 dance photographs by Fehl, mostly black-and-white, 5 x 7″ prints.

 

Fehl’s work in stage photography was revolutionary at its time. He was among the first stage photographers to take candid photographs using only available light, and he used high-speed film that captured dancers in mid-flight. Fehl photographed performances from the perspective of an audience member in the first row, bringing a new urgency and sensitivity to American stage photography.

 

Digitizing any collection requires numerous steps. Using the Fehl collection as an example, one can see and understand the process  for digitizing an item and making it and accessible online. The collection is one of many digital collections now available on the Ransom Center’s website.

 

At this time, photographs of the Martha Graham Dance Company and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater are available on the Ransom Center’s digital collections page. More photographs from the Fred Fehl dance collection will be added as the digitization project progresses.

James Turrell display at the Ransom Center complements university’s new Skyspace installation

By Chelsea Weathers

James Turrell, Untitled, from “Deep Sky.” Published by Peter Blum Edition, New York, 1985. Courtesy Peter Blum Edition, New York and James Turrell Studio.
James Turrell, Untitled, from “Deep Sky.” Published by Peter Blum Edition, New York, 1985. Courtesy Peter Blum Edition, New York and James Turrell Studio.

 

On October 15, a selection of books and artworks associated with artist James Turrell will go on view in the Ransom Center’s third-floor Director’s Gallery. Included in the display is Deep Sky, a suite of seven aquatints that Turrell executed with printer Peter Kneubühler, and that were published by Peter Blum Edition in 1985. The Ransom Center’s edition of Deep Sky is one of several portfolios in the Peter Blum Edition art collection, which showcases Blum’s collaborations with contemporary artists such as John Baldessari, Eric Fischl, and the collective General Idea.

 

Like many of the artists with whom Blum has worked, Turrell is not best known for his works on paper. Throughout his career, which has spanned half a century, Turrell has made a name for himself constructing spectacular installations that focus on light and space—or more specifically, the way the eye perceives different types of light in different spaces. This past summer, three major U.S. museums mounted simultaneous retrospectives of Turrell’s work, which includes illusionistic light projections and fully immersive spaces that bathe the viewer in colored light. For nearly 35 years, he has been working to transform Roden Crater, an extinct volcano in northern Arizona, into a series of rooms and tunnels that open onto vistas of the desert sky.

 

In addition to Roden Crater, Turrell has executed scores of site-specific installations all over the world. On The University of Texas at Austin campus, he recently completed a Skyspace entitled The Color Inside, which will open to the public on October 19 as part of the University’s Landmarks program. The work, like all of Turrell’s Skyspaces, is architectural—a structure built with its location in mind—and it is intended to facilitate a specific viewing experience of the sky above. At sunrise and sunset, a carefully programmed sequence of colored LED lights causes the eye to perceive the shifting colors of the sky as a series of dramatically different hues. Emerging from a Skyspace light sequence, a viewer is often more attuned to the surrounding environment—as if the mind, used to believing that the sky is blue without ever taking notice of its true color, has been recalibrated.

 

For an artist so invested in utilizing light and color as the materials of his art, it is somewhat surprising that the prints in Deep Sky are absent of color. The seven aquatints are meticulously printed, with velvety swaths of black ink and subtle variations of grey. But these prints, which represent seven views of Roden Crater, are explorations of space and scale and how they factor into one’s perception. The prints serve as experimental renderings; they are nearly abstract pictures of how a viewer might apprehend space at Roden Crater.

 

The catalog published to accompany Turrell’s recent retrospectives includes the artist’s description of a visit to a garden in Japan:

 

I noticed a small, low, triangular window, which provided another view of the garden. The view opening onto the same part of the garden as a larger window above, except the view was scaled down. The small rocks appeared as mountains, blades of grass became wooded hillsides and the bonsai looked like large trees. The microcosm had become a macrocosm, which perfectly echoed the motifs and forms of the larger view. I then realized that the garden should be viewed from numerous vantage points.

 

The Deep Sky prints are just a few examples of the numerous vantage points that Turrell has explored in his work with Roden Crater. Ultimately, there is no way to view the site all at once, but in the microcosms represented in these superbly printed aquatints, one can at least begin to understand the completeness of Turrell’s vision.

 

James Turrell: Deep Sky will be on view in the Director’s Gallery, on the third floor of the Ransom Center, until December 13. The Director’s Gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

 

James Turrell, Untitled, from “Deep Sky.” Published by Peter Blum Edition, New York, 1985. Courtesy Peter Blum Edition, New York and James Turrell Studio.
James Turrell, Untitled, from “Deep Sky.” Published by Peter Blum Edition, New York, 1985. Courtesy Peter Blum Edition, New York and James Turrell Studio.