Written by Fani Gargova, Byzantine Research Associate
Edited by Rona Razon, Archivist
The Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives (ICFA) proudly presents the first online release of fourteen (14) moving images from its film collection, which have not been available to an audience outside of Dumbarton Oaks for the past 60 years. First, ICFA holds unique footage of the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, documenting the property and the institution between the mid-1920s to 1940s. More importantly, ICFA preserves the 16mm films of the Red Sea Monastery of Saint Anthony in Egypt and Hagia Sophia and Kariye Camii in Istanbul, Turkey. These films record the restoration and conservation activities of the Byzantine Institute between the 1930s and 1940s.
In 2011, ICFA conducted an assessment and inventory of its film collection to address urgent preservation issues, i.e. the films were suffering from vinegar syndrome. The original 16mm film reels and Betacam SP copies were sent to Colorlab in Rockville, MD, where they were digitized and reformatted. Once digitized, we were able to make these unique films available through Vimeo. Our initial task was to compress the large .MOV files to a suitable size for web access. This proved to be a time-consuming task, as it was important to show the content of the films in high quality. While we started out using iMovie, we quickly discovered that the quality of the image decreased, especially in darker scenes as seen below:
We also experimented with Adobe Media Encoder, but learned that the program does not have flexible editing features, such as the ability to add introductory and end titles. Finally, we decided to use FinalCut Pro to edit and compress the video files, which proved to be the right program for our purposes. Our goal was to compress the films for accessibility, while retaining as much of the original quality of the moving images as possible. After much effort, ICFA’s film collection is now available through Vimeo and also on our website, on a page dedicated to our Moving Image collection.
The first film we are proud to present is the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, which has given our colleagues from Garden and Landscape Studies, Gardens, and Dumbarton Oaks Archives incredible insight into the history of our “secret garden.” Based on the film edge codes, clothing, and garden scenes, portions of the film may have been recorded as early as the mid-1920s, and through 1930s and 1940s. In black and white and color, the film contains garden views, winter scenes, and summer scenes at the pool. There are also tantalizing glimpses of the Dumbarton Oaks’ founders, including Mildred Barnes Bliss and her friends in the Orangery and Robert Woods Bliss in the gardens. For further information, please see the posts on ICFA’s blog and the DO/Conversation blog.
ICFA is also proud to show the films from The Byzantine Institute, a non-profit organization that was founded and directed by Thomas Whittemore, starting in 1930. As evident from these films, you will see that Whittemore and The Byzantine Institute started to experiment with moving images as early as 1930 to document their fieldwork activities and work progress. The black-and-white film of the Red Sea Monastery of Saint Anthony in Egypt is the first film from the Institute and illustrates their early interest in film documentation. The film shows scenes of the monks’ and local men’s everyday life and the surrounding landscape.
The Byzantine Institute also documented and presented their work through film while uncovering the mosaics in Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey. In 1936 and 1940, Thomas Whittemore used color film to show the process of cleaning, restoration, and preservation in great detail, as well as the quality and visual impression of the mosaics in their most shining state. For further information, please consult the fieldwork notebooks and correspondence in ICFA’s leading collection The Byzantine Institute and Dumbarton Oaks Fieldwork Records and Papers, which document the process of filming and how the films were used to promote the Byzantine Institute’s ongoing endeavors.
Similarly, the Byzantine Institute documented their work at Kariye Camii through film, shortly before Whittemore’s death in 1950. This film shows Whittemore examining the mosaics and their structure along with the fieldworkers. It also displays the extensive iconographic program in the exonarthex at an early stage of its uncovering.
As you will see, these films are visually compelling and are valuable historical sources for the Dumbarton Oaks community and the study of Byzantine art and architecture. We are extremely excited to share them with you as they are absolutely one of a kind!