FAMSF Blog

Preserving Images of the 1906 Earthquake

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco is home to a unique collection of 167 film negatives taken by photographer Arnold Genthe chronicling the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake and fires. The negatives were acquired by the Legion of Honor in 1943.

Arnold Genthe (photographer), American, 1869–1942
Untitled (Earthslip on San Francisco's Union Street), 1906
Cellulose nitrate negative
Museum purchase, James D. Phelan Bequest Fund. 1943.407.6.1

On the day of the earthquake Genthe, an established photographer best known for his society portraits and views of old Chinatown, took to the streets of San Francisco equipped with a handheld Kodak camera and pockets full of roll film.

The film Genthe used was composed of a gelatin silver emulsion on a thin plastic support of cellulose nitrate. Cellulose nitrate film was introduced commercially at the end of the nineteenth century and remained in use until the mid-twentieth century. Lightweight, transparent and flexible, cellulose nitrate film freed photographers from the inconveniences of its predecessors, paper and glass plate negatives.

Genthe 2b
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Marvelous Menagerie Unmasked

In 1996 construction workers accidentally uncovered a mosaic while widening a road in the modern Israeli town of Lod, near Tel Aviv. A preliminary excavation immediately conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) revealed that three feet below the modern surface there was a mosaic floor dating to about AD 300. The three most complete and impressive panels from the floor are on view at the Legion of Honor through July 24.

Mosaic floor central panel, Roman, ca. AD 300. Excavated at Lod (Lydda), Israel. Stone tesserae. Israel Antiquities Authority and the Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Center. Image courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

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FRAME|WORK: Ponds and Streams by Wayne Thiebaud

FRAME|WORK is a new weekly blog series that highlights an artwork in the Museums' permanent collections. This week we feature a landscape painted by one of our marquee artists, Wayne Thiebaud.

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Will Work for Art: Rich Rice

"Will Work for Art" takes you behind the scenes to meet the people who make the Fine Arts Museums possible. Rich Rice, the AV/IT Coordinator, is about as behind-the-scenes as you can get! Originally from Connecticut, Rich has been with the Museums for 15 years (he thinks).

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The Conservator’s Role in Honoring Artistic Intent

When objects conservators design a treatment for a corroded sculpture, they often have to grapple with the issue of the artist’s intent.

For instance, would Henry Moore at age 29, who made a sculpture with a shiny metallic surface, be in agreement with Henry Moore at 75, who, when interviewed about a treatment, stated that he quite liked the idea that surfaces went green, dry and streaky with time?

One way a conservator can help tease out these contradictions is to interview contemporary artists about the materials and techniques they use and then record how these artists would like their sculptures cared for in the future. At the Fine Arts Museums we are developing a database tracking this information for contemporary sculpture under our care.

Artist Al Farrow with his sculpture The Spine and Tooth of Santo Guerro previously on view at the de Young
Al Farrow, The Spine and Tooth of Santo Guerro, 2007
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Cutting Edge Photography Technique Comes to the de Young!

My name is Sue Grinols and as the director of photo services and imaging, I witness the intersection of art and technology on a daily basis. This is an exciting time to be working in photography. Just seeing how technology is changing the field can be breathtaking, not to mention challenging.

Photographing artwork is a sub-specialty of studio photography. Here at the Museums, we use the same equipment and techniques as photographers who produce beautiful images of cars, perfume bottles, leather couches, and the perfectly grilled steak. But instead of trying to capture the steak’s sizzle or the couch’s inviting warmth, we attempt to bring out the essential character of the artwork while emphasizing its sublime beauty whenever possible. When we’re not doing that, we can make images that show the hard, cold details of an object in order to help conservators as they work through treating the artwork, or to help curators in their scholarly study of an object. It is this second type of photography that I want to blog about today.

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