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Photo Friday

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Please be aware that Photo Friday will be on hiatus during the summer, but will return in September.

Author Kevin Powers speaks with Ransom Center members prior to his talk. Photo by Pete Smith.
Author Kevin Powers speaks with Ransom Center members prior to his talk. Photo by Pete Smith.
Musician Michael Hall performs at Poetry on the Plaza: Singers and Songwriters. Photo by Pete Smith.
Musician Michael Hall performs at Poetry on the Plaza: Singers and Songwriters. Photo by Pete Smith.
At a volunteer appreciation party this week, Ransom Center volunteers Carol Headrick, Doris Mohler, and Elizabeth Jones were honored for dedicating the most time to docent tours, visitors desk, and special events, respectively. Photo by Margaret Burke.
At a volunteer appreciation party this week, Ransom Center volunteers Carol Headrick, Doris Mohler, and Elizabeth Jones were honored for dedicating the most time to docent tours, visitors desk, and special events, respectively. Photo by Margaret Burke.
University of Tulsa Associate Professor of Film Jeff Van Hanken and Associate Professor of English Grant Jenkins interview Ransom Center Director Thomas F. Staley about poet Ron Padgett. Photo by Jennifer Tisdale.
University of Tulsa Associate Professor of Film Jeff Van Hanken and Associate Professor of English Grant Jenkins interview Ransom Center Director Thomas F. Staley about poet Ron Padgett. Photo by Jennifer Tisdale.

Scholar discusses research in De Niro collection

R. Colin Tait, a Ph.D. candidate at The University of Texas at Austin, has used the Ransom Center’s Robert De Niro collection as the basis for his dissertation, “Robert De Niro’s Method: Acting, Authorship and Agency in the New Hollywood (1967–1980).” Tait argues that De Niro has been a major intellectual and creative contributor to the world of film and acting and writes about his research in the De Niro archive. Tait shares how the papers reveal the actor’s commitment to his craft with examples of his “meticulous research, collaborations with directors, and extreme bodily transformations.”

In the above video, Tait discusses De Niro’s place in the film canon.

R. Colin Tait works with papers in the Robert De Niro archive in the Ransom Center’s reading room. Photo by Pete Smith.
R. Colin Tait works with papers in the Robert De Niro archive in the Ransom Center’s reading room. Photo by Pete Smith.

From the Outside In: Illustration for Lewis Carroll's "Hiawatha's Photographing," Arthur B. Frost, 1883.

Illustration for Lewis Carroll's "Hiawatha's Photographing."
Illustration for Lewis Carroll's "Hiawatha's Photographing."

The atria on the first floor of the Ransom Center are surrounded by windows featuring etched reproductions of images from the collections. The windows offer visitors a hint of the cultural treasures to be discovered inside. From the Outside In is a series that highlights some of these images and their creators. Interact with all of the windows at From the Outside In: A Visitor’s Guide to the Windows

This he perched upon a tripod—
Crouched beneath its dusky cover—
Stretched his hand enforcing silence—
Said “Be motionless, I beg you!”
Mystic, awful was the process.
—from Lewis Carroll, “Hiawatha’s Photographing”

The image etched into the Harry Ransom Center’s windows of a wooden camera with a photographer crouching behind, hand outstretched, is an illustration by Arthur B. Frost for the poem “Hiawatha’s Photographing” by Lewis Carroll. The poem parodies Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha (1855), an epic ballad that became popular despite its awkward meter that was often mocked. Although the protagonist in Longfellow’s poem is based on a Native-American hero, Carroll’s Hiawatha is a photographer who arrives at a family’s home and attempts to take each relative’s portrait, yet continually fails because the sitters move too soon and pose too strangely. Hiawatha finally manages to tumble “all the tribe together” and create a photograph in which “the faces all succeed.” But the family members then criticize the image as “the worst and ugliest picture / They could possibly have dreamed of,” and assert that “Really any one would take us / (Any one that did not know us) / For the most unpleasant people!” Carroll satirizes not just vanity in this poem but also the Victorian fad for families to have their pictures taken while adopting poses of affected elegance. Though “Hiawatha’s Photographing” appeared in the magazine Train in about 1857, this illustration did not accompany the poem until its publication within Carroll’s 1883 anthology Rhyme? And Reason?, to which Arthur B. Frost contributed 65 illustrations.

Although Carroll is well known as the author of the beloved Alice books, he was also an accomplished mathematician, logician, and photographer. He was born in Daresbury, Cheshire, England, in 1832, and given the name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. He later chose the pen name Lewis Carroll to separate his academic life from his career publishing comedic poetry and nonsense writings. As a mathematics lecturer at Christ Church College, Oxford, between 1855 and 1881, Carroll published reputable works on mathematics and logic, many of which are still valued by scholars today. During the summer of 1856, Carroll adopted the then-burgeoning practice of photography as a hobby. He purchased an Otterwill folding camera, much like the one pictured in the illustration, which used the collodion-plate process and required finesse in timing and technique to produce a successful picture. Although this technique was difficult to master, Carroll produced more than 80 successful albumen-print photographs during his first summer, primarily portraits of his family. With the camera, Carroll had found a real-life “looking glass.” Inspired by Oscar Gustave Rejlander—the first photographer to create art photos comparable to paintings—Carroll settled on the genre of child portraiture. His most frequent subjects were his “child-friends,” many of whom were the daughters of his Oxford colleagues. The most notable of these children were Alice Liddell, who inspired the stories of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and Alexandra “Xie” Kitchin, Carroll’s favorite subject, of whom he created about 50 photographs that spanned her childhood. Carroll carefully organized his photographs into albums to be given as gifts, which he kept within his own personal collection, and as portfolios to display to potential sitters. Although Carroll assembled at least 34 of these albums in his lifetime, only a third of these are known to exist today. Because of Carroll’s gift for putting his subjects at ease, he was able to capture youthful innocence with contented expressions not previously achieved. Biographer Morton N. Cohen claims that “his studies of children reached the apex of the genre in the earliest days of photography and retain their authority today.”

The Ransom Center holds a large collection of Carroll’s photography, with five complete albums and more than 380 photographs. One album, labeled nonchronologically as “Album A (VI),” is believed to contain Carroll’s earliest photographs. Peter C. Bunnell, in his introduction to the book Lewis Carroll: Photographer, refers to this “small and intimate album” as “most likely his first and perhaps intended to be seen only by the Dodgson family and close friends,” and continues that “[t]his album reveals just how quickly [Carroll] was able to grasp and master the complexities of the process as well as compose exceptionally elegant images.” These photographs came to the Center through the acquisition of the Gernsheim collection, whose images document the history of photography from its beginning. The Center’s Warren Weaver collection holds rare editions of Carroll’s books, including two inscribed copies of the 1883 Rhyme? And Reason?, from which this illustration for “Hiawatha’s Photographing” originates. Manuscripts, correspondence, and juvenilia fill out the Center’s Carroll collection. In addition, a large number of items related to Alice in Wonderland are found in the Byron and Susan Sewell collection, which includes translations of the work into 21 languages, as well as parodies and adaptations of the story for television, theater, and film. Viewing Carroll’s photographs, especially in the preserved albums in which he arranged them, provides not only insight into his life’s story and the people with whom he associated, but also an understanding of his talents as an artist outside children’s literature.

Ransom Center volunteer Amy Kristofoletti wrote this post.

Fellows Find: John Steinbeck’s “ideal woman”

Cover of July 1950 issue of "Flair" magazine.
Cover of July 1950 issue of "Flair" magazine.

Heidi Kim is an assistant professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She visited the Ransom Center in December 2012 on a travel fellowship to research her monograph in progress, Invisible Subjects: Asian America in Postwar American Literature.

Some archival trips, like my recent trip to the Harry Ransom Center, are highly directed expeditions. I was on a mission to look at the revision of specific sections of John Steinbeck’s novel East of Eden (1952). But there is also always the pleasure of the archive, given time and an extensive collection like the Ransom Center’s, which draws a researcher to explore the small pieces of an author’s oeuvre that can shed light on the concerns of his more famous works.

One of the detours I took was to look at a piece of Steinbeck’s with which I was not familiar, a minor feature in the short-lived but highly ambitious fashion magazine Flair (the Ransom Center holds a rare, complete set of its run). In Flair’s July 1950 “All Male Issue,” several famous men, including child actor Brandon de Wilde and industrial designer Raymond Loewy, were asked to draw and describe their ideal woman. Steinbeck drew a curvaceous nude, a sketchy, muscular outline emphasizing her attributes. The caption read:

“Novelist John Steinbeck snorted as he drew, sounded off: “Guys that talk about the ideal woman just don’t like women. I don’t want an ideal woman. I just like dames. Anyway, the ideal woman is for kids. I think a couple of centuries from now people are going to look back on these times and think all babies were born from mammary glands…”

For any Steinbeck scholar, this brings up an all-too-familiar debate about his unrealistic or misogynistic depictions of women—certainly a fair critique in some respects. However, through this almost defiantly sexualized sketch, Steinbeck was also exploring a growing concern about the repression, conformity, and over-civilization of the postwar era, popularly identified with the 1950s. In his mind, this was far more perverse than the healthy animal sexuality and physicality he extolled in his 1930s naturalist works, sometimes to a degree that readers found uncomfortable. The best-known example is the ending of The Grapes of Wrath (1939), in which the character Rose of Sharon, who has just had a stillborn baby, breastfeeds a half-dead, starving man and smiles mysteriously.

I’m skeptical of Steinbeck’s flippant claim that he was “just” drawing a dame rather than an ideal woman, and that the ideal woman is “for kids” (implicitly only for kids). A domesticized dame who can make a home and family was decidedly his ideal woman, as embodied by Abra in East of Eden. She likes to cook and is also a “straight, strong, fine-breasted woman, developed and ready and waiting to take her sacrament,” that is a sexual awakening from her boyfriend, who is living in an ecstasy of religious purity. Similarly, Suzy, the prostitute with a heart of gold in Sweet Thursday (1954), is no good at “hustling” because she is “too small in the butt and too big in the bust,” a state of body that reflects her state of mind: affectionate, faithful, and nurturing.  Steinbeck’s heroines have generous hearts and generous bodies.

This is not simply objectification; as a naturalist (or post-naturalist) writer, Steinbeck depicts one facet of danger to mankind as the unfitness or unwillingness to bear and nurture in a harsh world where, in Darwinian fashion, fertility of land, women, or even mind contributes to survival. As with animals, human fitness must be shown physically. The purely evil Cathy of East of Eden has a boyish body with undeveloped breasts that do not enlarge even during her unwanted pregnancy, seemingly through sheer willpower. Her body mirrors her stunted moral sense and her deviant use of sexuality as power, and symbolizes how unfit she is to be a force of good in Steinbeck’s myth-inflected narrative. In death, her already insufficient body vanishes from life and human history: “And then her eyes closed again and her fingers curled as though they held small breasts. And her heart beat solemnly and her breathing slowed as she grew smaller and smaller and then disappeared—and she had never been.”

Conservator preserves stitched manuscript for Elizabeth Barret Browning poem

Detail of the manuscript of the poem “The Battle of Marathon” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, dated 1819.
Detail of the manuscript of the poem “The Battle of Marathon” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, dated 1819.

Paper Conservator Jane Boyd recently completed a treatment of the 1819 manuscript for Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “The Battle of Marathon,” which was recently digitized. Browning’s method of revising involved sewing pieces of paper containing handwritten notes directly into the manuscript, which had to be removed and preserved during the digitization process.

From the Outside In: "Migrant Mother," Dorothea Lange, 1936

Dorothea Lange, "Migrant Mother," Gernsheim collection, Harry Ransom Center.
Dorothea Lange, "Migrant Mother," Gernsheim collection, Harry Ransom Center.

The atria on the first floor of the Ransom Center are surrounded by windows featuring etched reproductions of images from the collections. The windows offer visitors a hint of the cultural treasures to be discovered inside. From the Outside In is a series that highlights some of these images and their creators. Interact with all of the windows at From the Outside In: A Visitor’s Guide to the Windows

This powerful portrait depicts the weariness of a hard existence in poverty. Florence Owens, the migrant mother of the title, crouches in the foreground flanked by two of her children, their faces hidden. Her eyes seem not to be directed outward, perhaps contemplating an uncertain future with little hope.

The photographer, Dorothea Lange, was born in 1895 and contracted polio in childhood, leaving her with a lasting limp. She believed that this impairment increased her empathy for those down on their luck. Her photographic career began at a New York portrait studio in 1914, and she studied at Columbia University under Clarence White. She then moved to San Francisco to do freelance photography until 1919, when she opened her own portrait studio. During the Great Depression, however, fewer people had money to spend on portraits, and Lange moved to Taos, New Mexico, where she began work with several of the New Deal projects.

Owens lived a very different life. Of Cherokee descent, she worked as a pea picker in California. She had six children by 1932, and on remarriage, three more arrived. In 1935, however, the pea crop failed, and the family was forced to sell their tent to get food. In the following year, when Owens was 32, Lange arrived on assignment for the Federal Resettlement Administration and met the family. She took six photographs of Owens, including Migrant Mother. It was published in a number of magazines, including as a full-page image in the September 1936 issue of Survey Graphic.

Despite the image’s fame, Owens never profited personally from her portraits. In middle age, she often acted as the straw boss—the one who negotiated wages—for her fellow migrant workers, and she continued to work in the fields until the age of about 50. She married again and settled down with her new husband in Modesto, California. Despite the difficulty of much of her life, she lived to be 80; she died of cancer and heart problems in September 1983, survived by many of her children.

The Ransom Center’s photography collection holds the work of important early-twentieth-century documentary photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, as well as the more recent work of the Magnum Photos agency.

Ransom Center volunteer Alan Herbert wrote this post.

Photo Friday

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Magnum photographer, poet, and folk musician Larry Towell presents a selection of his work in a multimedia performance at the Belo Center for New Media last Thursday. Harmonica virtuoso Mike Stevens, at right, accompanies. Photo by Pete Smith.
Magnum photographer, poet, and folk musician Larry Towell presents a selection of his work in a multimedia performance at the Belo Center for New Media last Thursday. Harmonica virtuoso Mike Stevens, at right, accompanies. Photo by Pete Smith.
Christine Lee and Margi Tenney of the Ransom Center visit with students at the Libraries Fair at Perry-Castañeda Library. Photo courtesy of UT Libraries.
Christine Lee and Margi Tenney of the Ransom Center visit with students at the Libraries Fair at Perry-Castañeda Library. Photo courtesy of UT Libraries.
Author Morris Dickstein presented the lecture "America's Best Magazine?: Commentary in the 1960s" on Thursday. Photo by Pete Smith.
Author Morris Dickstein presented the lecture "America's Best Magazine?: Commentary in the 1960s" on Thursday. Photo by Pete Smith.

From the Outside In: "Milk Drop Coronet," Harold Edgerton, 1936

© Harold Edgerton, "Milk Drop Coronet," 2013. Courtesy of Palm Press, Inc.
© Harold Edgerton, "Milk Drop Coronet," 2013. Courtesy of Palm Press, Inc.

The atria on the first floor of the Ransom Center are surrounded by windows featuring etched reproductions of images from the collections. The windows offer visitors a hint of the cultural treasures to be discovered inside. From the Outside In is a series that highlights some of these images and their creators. Interact with all of the windows at From the Outside In: A Visitor’s Guide to the Windows

This simple image captures a milk drop as it strikes a thin layer of milk. The photographer Harold Edgerton maintained that he was a scientist rather than an artist, but he and his colleagues nonetheless produced many stunning pictures, of which Milk Drop is but one. National Geographic called him “the man who made time stand still.”

Harold Eugene Edgerton (1903–1990) graduated with an engineering degree from the University of Nebraska and continued his studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). For his doctoral thesis, he used strobe lights to study electric motors and the motion of everyday events. Among his early works are renowned photos of a balloon bursting and bullets penetrating apples. In 1947 he founded his own company, EG&G, which, among other things, supplied special cameras for recording nuclear explosions. He also contributed to the development of side-scan sonar and worked with Jacques Cousteau to provide lighting for undersea filming. Over the course of his career, Edgerton received most of the honors possible for a technical wizard, including the National Medal of Science and the Royal Photographic Society’s Bronze Medal.

He taught at MIT for many years, and in 1992 the Edgerton Center, devoted to hands-on engineering and technical education, was named in his honor.

The most eye-catching of Edgerton’s contributions was his spectacular stop-motion photography. The human eye cannot time-resolve events shorter than a fraction of a second, which is why movies appear to be continuous, rather than the sequence of still images that they really are. Edgerton’s discoveries and inventions enabled him to reduce photographic exposure times to less than a millionth of a second. He achieved this feat by opening a camera’s shutter in a darkened space, generating a flash of light to expose the film, and then closing the shutter. With associated electronics, he could control both the brightness and duration of the flash, creating a very brief light that, by coincidence, had a color similar to daylight. The challenge was to trigger this flash at just the right moment. It is said that Edgerton tried many times to produce a symmetrical version of Milk Drop, but he was never completely successful.

The Ransom Center holds a collection of 35 of Edgerton’s prints from throughout his career. His primary archive is housed at MIT. The book Stopping Time: The Photographs of Harold Edgerton provides a comprehensive account of his work.

Ransom Center volunteer Alan Herbert wrote this post.

Photo Friday

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Paper Conservator Jane Boyd treats a scrapbook with newspaper clippings of cricket stories from the J. M. Coetzee papers for the summer exhibition “Literature and Sport,” which opens June 11. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Paper Conservator Jane Boyd treats a scrapbook with newspaper clippings of cricket stories from the J. M. Coetzee papers for the summer exhibition “Literature and Sport,” which opens June 11. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Fellowship recipient Teal Triggs views photographs from the Fleur Cowles archive as part of her research project on Flair magazine. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Fellowship recipient Teal Triggs views photographs from the Fleur Cowles archive as part of her research project on Flair magazine. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Students from the Butler School of Music set up for Saturday's concert crawl of Austin's Cultural Campus. Photo by Sydney Reed.
Students from the Butler School of Music set up for Saturday's concert crawl of Austin's Cultural Campus. Photo by Sydney Reed.
Students from the Butler School of Music perform in the atrium of the Ransom Center as part of a music crawl of Austin’s Cultural Campus. Photo by Ryan Goodland.
Students from the Butler School of Music perform in the atrium of the Ransom Center as part of a music crawl of Austin’s Cultural Campus. Photo by Ryan Goodland.

From the Outside In: Typescript of "Death of a Salesman," Arthur Miller, ca. 1948

Typescript of "Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller, ca. 1948.
Typescript of "Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller, ca. 1948.

The atria on the first floor of the Ransom Center are surrounded by windows featuring etched reproductions of images from the collections. The windows offer visitors a hint of the cultural treasures to be discovered inside. From the Outside In is a series that highlights some of these images and their creators. Interact with all of the windows at From the Outside In: A Visitor’s Guide to the Windows

Etched into the windows of the Ransom Center is an image of one of Arthur Miller’s typescripts for the play Death of a Salesman. The excerpt depicted is between the title character, Willy Loman, and his wife, Linda, in the opening scene of the second act. Large scratch-outs zigzag through whole paragraphs, arrows rearrange the words, and new lines have been handwritten into place. The first lines discuss the couple’s dreamy expectations for a brighter future soon to come—a business loan his son might be given, a new house in the country, and an office job in the city so Willy can stop traveling. But Linda’s reminder “to ask [Willy's boss] for a little advance” in the last lines “because we’ve got the insurance premium” exposes the discrepancy between their dreams and a reality in which they are barely getting by. The passage encapsulates the play’s central theme that valuing oneself in terms of the American dream is a setup for failure.

Although Death of a Salesman was not Miller’s first successful play, it was the play that established him as a great American playwright. Miller wrote the play in the spring of 1947, within a small studio he built himself next to his Connecticut farmhouse. The writing flowed easily for Miller, who finished the first half of the play in one day and night, and the second half in the next six weeks. According to his biographer Christopher Bigsby, Miller wanted “to take the audience on an internal journey through the mind, memories, fears, anxieties of his central character.” Rather than adhering to earlier playwrights’ conventions, Miller gave the play a radical structure in which the past and the present coexist, and where walls can sometimes be stepped through. The play opened at the Morosco Theatre on February 10, 1949, and was met with critical acclaim, winning Miller numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. The play has remained popular and has since been produced into films, translated, performed internationally, and revived on Broadway. Playwright Tony Kushner, while discussing the continuing importance of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, has stated, “Willy is part of our mythology now.”

This typescript represents one of several papers within the Arthur Miller archive held at the Ransom Center, which includes the manuscripts of 34 different works, dated from 1935 to1953. Viewing Miller’s early notebooks and seeing how his works took shape gives one a more intimate understanding of the playwright who represented his generation so well by writing about the dreams and tragedies of his era. A leading scholar of Arthur Miller’s work and life—Christopher Bigsby, Professor of American Studies and Director of the Arthur Miller Centre at the University of East Anglia—benefited from studying these papers. Regarding his 30 years of research in the archive, Bigsby has stated, “The Ransom Center is what the House of the Medicis once was to 14th century Florence… it has had a hand in a new Renaissance.”

Ransom Center volunteer Amy Kristofoletti wrote this post.