Written by Carrie Ferguson, ICFA Intern (Fall 2014) and degree candidate, Catholic University, Library and Information Science; Edited by ICFA staff
This fall I worked as an Image Cataloging intern in the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives and one of my primary projects was to create a comprehensive list of photographers represented in the archive. I compiled these photographers’ names from the legacy metadata exported from EmbARK, ICFA’s former collection management system. These legacy datasets are contained in large Excel spreadsheets full of names, titles, locations, and other cataloging information. The comprehensive list of photographers is intended to serve as a decision-making tool for the department’s prioritization of the ongoing work of cleaning up legacy datasets for import into AtoM@DO, ICFA’s new online inventory.
While I knew there would be many records to go through, I anticipated that the project would be fairly straightforward. Once I really started digging into the records, however, I realized that there were several challenges. The first is that cataloging practices in the archive changed over the years and this resulted in many different forms of spelling, abbreviating, or displaying names. One example of this is the case of Richard Anderson, who served as architect and photographer for several Dumbarton Oaks fieldwork projects. While going through Anderson’s records, I came across not only this full name, but also “R. C. Anderson,” “D. Anderson,” “Anderson,” and the initials “RA.” Did all of these name variations refer to the same individual? By investigating additional record information like the subject and date we were able to disambiguate some of the names. It is likely that “Richard Anderson” and “R.C. Anderson” refer to the same individual (AtoM link: http://atom.doaks.org/atom/index.php/anderson-richard). The solo last name “Anderson” probably refers to the famous 19th century photographer James Anderson (VIAF link: http://viaf.org/viaf/7646014/), while “D. Anderson” appears to be his son and fellow photographer Domenico Anderson (VIAF link: http://viaf.org/viaf/56885300/). The set of initials “RA” typically appear in negative numbers for individual images. “RA” likely refers to the work of Richard Anderson, too, but there’s also a chance that it could be Nicholas Artamonoff, who also numbered his negatives with “RA” prefixes. Indeed, in the past, the ambiguity of initials led to some Artamonoff images being incorrectly attributed to a fictitious “Richard Artamonoff.” Unfortunately, there is very little or no documentation to explain the cataloging process for these names. Therefore, in confusing situations such as this, we often need to turn to the photographs themselves to disambiguate authorship. However, as you might imagine, this is a time-consuming process for a collection of more than half a million images!
As I slowly made my way through the names, I was surprised to discover several instances of common surnames, reflecting marriages between scholars. The first occurred with the discovery of Marlia Mundell Mango’s images while identifying Cyril Mango’s works and then again with the discovery of Nancy Ševčenko’s images while compiling those of Ihor Ševčenko.
Marlia Mundell Mango and Nancy Ševčenko are both Byzantine scholars with ties to Dumbarton Oaks. However, their photographs have remained somewhat hidden within ICFA’s larger holdings, in contrast to the work of their spouses, which are more prominently represented in terms of numbers of photographs. Our review of Marlia Mango’s and Nancy Ševčenko’s images has allowed ICFA to more closely examine their work and has also raised some interesting questions relating to their authorship. Do these images reflect the research interests of the credited authors or do they relate instead to the research interests of their respective spouse or the fieldwork expedition? The same questions can be asked about the images of Cyril Mango and Ihor Ševčenko, in particular, the photographs taken when they traveled with their spouses. How can we be sure that the photos are properly credited?
This fall term, Merih Danalı, a 2014-2015 William R. Tyler fellow, has been researching the work of both the Mangos and the Ševčenkos. In one instance, she found a number of images of works related to St. Nicholas that were credited to Ihor Ševčenko. However, Nancy Ševčenko wrote her 1973 dissertation and several books on the life of St. Nicholas. Were these images correctly credited to Ihor or can we assume based on Nancy’s research interests and publishing background that they were incorrectly attributed to her husband? Then again, we have to consider the nature of joint fieldwork, which can blur the notion of authorship, since scholars may share cameras or capture images that relate to their colleague’s known research interests.
Unfortunately, I won’t be able to answer these questions as my time in ICFA has already wrapped up. Other ongoing research in the department will help to establish the biographical context for these images, which will not only enrich ICFA’s understanding of its photographic collections, but may also eventually enhance the description of these photographers’ collections in AtoM@DO. Certainly, my time in ICFA has underlined the fact that establishing the context of creation – indeed, investigating the actual people behind the names in the Creator field of a descriptive record – is necessary for a proper understanding of both image and document collections.