Jul 25, 2019

Daguerreotype of Earth's moon (1840)

Sharing. In this month during which so much media archiving has helped public memory of the 50th anniversary of earthlings visiting their moon.

"Daguerreotype of Earth's moon" (1840)

attributed to John W. Draper
2.75 x 3.25 inches
University Archives, Bobst Library, NYU

The Orphans in Space DVD (2012) cover image comes from the Draper Family Collection, housed in the New York University Archives. The collection includes celestial photographs taken by John William Draper (1811-1882) and his son Henry Draper (1837-1882). Both were physicians, professors of chemistry, and amateur but innovative photographers.
The photograph derives from a 3.25" x 2.75" daguerreotype of the moon made by the father, probably on March 26, 1840. A newly-appointed professor at what was then named the University of the City of New-York, the elder Draper created the image from the rooftop of the university's main building on Washington Square (less than a block from where the collection now resides, in NYU's Bobst Library). Alongside its observatory, the rooftop featured a glass-enclosed photographic studio, where Draper and fellow faculty member Samuel F. B. Morse made some of the earliest daguerreotype portraits that year.

Rather than the first photograph of the moon taken, this image is the earliest one among those known to survive. As early as 1837, photologist John W. Draper experimented with the effects of light (including moonlight) on salted paper. In 1838-39, after Louis Daguerre invented his method of fixing photographic images on metal plates, French astronomers asked their countryman to record the moon, but his attempts failed to maintain focus as the satellite moved during his long exposure times. When knowledge of daguerreotypy reached New York, Draper used a camera literally made from a cigar box to render at least two images of the moon during the winter of 1839-40. The first, "about one-sixth of an inch in diameter," was overexposed, the silver iodide on the copper plate turning black. The second, "nearly an inch" in diameter, fixed the light of a waning gibbous moon. Draper called it "deficient in sharpness" and "confused," although the "position of the darker spots on the surface of the luminary was distinct" in this "stain."

"I placed a flat gas-burner (bat’s-wing) in a magic lantern, and received the image of one of the grotesque transparencies, on a plate three inches square: in half an hour, a very fair representation was obtained."  

("Remarks on the Daguerreotype," American Repertory of Arts, Sciences, and Manufactures, July 1840, 401-4. Reproduced here.)

On March 23, 1840, Draper reported this limited success to the New York Lyceum of Natural History. Three nights later he recorded a last-quarter moon (i.e., a visible half moon), the positive image mirror-reversed by his telescope. This detailed daguerreotype became the source from which many copies derived. So many digital copies of this 1840 image now populate the internet, subject to so many manipulations of photographic variables, that it is difficult to discern that each derives from the same source. Some reverse the image horizontally, vertically, or both. Others switch the positive-negative values. Still others reproduce the later water-damaged daguerreotype plate; others the plate after its 1960s cleaning and restoration. Digital enhancements and alterations abound. Adding to the confusion of images, son Henry Draper became a prolific astrophotographer. After building an observatory at his home in 1860, he took more than a thousand images of the moon, and later the sun, planets, comets, and stars. These were reprinted in both the popular press and scientific literature, as well as on lantern slides, stereographs, and other formats.

The provenance of the 1840 John W. Draper daguerreotype is difficult to trace. From the beginning, the scientist himself re-photographed his own photographs. "There is no difficulty in making copies of Daguerreotype pictures of any size," he wrote. In the winter of 1839-40, "I made many copies of my more fortunate proofs . . . copying views on very minute plates, with a very minute camera." Later, these were enlarged "to any required size, by means of a stationery apparatus." What became of these daguerreotypes of daguerreotypes? In what ways did subsequent reproduction technologies alter the look of the original?

In 1960, some daguerreotypes were rediscovered amid a miscellany of Draper material, stored in the attic of Gould Memorial Library at NYU's University Heights campus in the Bronx. Before an extended loan to the Smithsonian in 1962, the NYU Photo Bureau made a copy photograph, which bears a confusing label: "First known photograph of the moon was taken by John W. Draper ca. 1839-40. The spots in this photo are caused by mold and water damage on the original daguerreotype, which apparently [?] no longer exists." Since 1993, when the moon photographs returned to the University Archives, experts have concluded that the daguerreotype seen here is most likely that taken by John Draper in 1840.

If so, its survival as an object happened against the odds. The senior Dr. Draper saw much of his work destroyed by an 1844 fire. Another devastating fire in 1866 obliterated the University Medical College, of which he was president. In addition to Draper's own papers and apparatus, the invaluable collections of the Lyceum of Natural History, which NYU had taken in, were completely consumed by the flames. After the fire, the New York Evening Post, recognizing the need to protect museums and archives, wrote on May 25: "What we want in New York is a great fire-proof building, sufficiently capacious to afford shelter to all the societies which possess valuable collections.”


Dan Streible, with research contributions from Ashley Sena-Levine, Simon Baatz, Nancy Cricco [university archivist], Howard McManus, Len Walle, Deborah Jean Warner, and Gregory Wick. Special acknowledgement for Walter Forsberg, who willed the Orphans in Space DVD into being and who brought the Draper moon photograph to my attention in the first place. The medium-resolution digital copy of the framed daguerreotype is my amateur snapshot taken with an iPhone 4 when Nancy Cricco showed the original to us in 2011.

Slide show at 2014 Orphan Film Symposium, Eye Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.

Downloadable. Booklet (40 pages) for the two-DVD set Orphans in Space: Forgotten Films from the Final Frontier (NYU Orphan Film Project, 2012). Produced and edited by Walter Forsberg, Alice Moscoso, Dan Streible, and Jonah Volk. Booklet design by Kramer O'Neill.

Jul 2, 2019

Orphans in China -- - “影展与城市” 国际论坛

Orphan films in China? 

Many, of course! So at last the Orphan Film Symposium visits China.

Xiamen University invited me to talk about the symposium-as-festival (“Screening Orphan Films: Why and How?”) and to screen a sample of shorts at this week's two-part conference on festivals and archives. Most of the other works presented here also fit within the orphan rubric. We saw a variety of previously neglected, forgotten, obscure, seldom-seen, or undistributed titles: ethnographic films, a found-footage remix, video art appropriation, a propaganda drama about comradeship among Chinese and North Korean soldiers during the Korean War, home movies from Taiwan, indie Malaysian movies, and restorations of feature films from Singapore, Mexico, the Philippines, and Thailand. 

How did we get here? 

In 2018, professors Li Xiaohong and Ray Jiing first visited NYU Cinema Studies with a group of other faculty and students from Xiamen University in Fujian, China. Our NYU faculty colleague Zhang Zhen was the conduit for dialogue among our Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program, NYU Cinema Studies, and XMU's team, who are creating a media archiving degree similar to NYU MIAP.  The  university now operates an expanding film archive and study center, guided by Professor Jiing, best known for establishing what is now the Taiwan Film Institute.

Professors Li Xiaohong (Deputy Dean of Humanities) & Ray Jiing, 井迎瑞.
This week the interactions culminated in a large conference, "影展与城市" 国际论坛 -- the International Film Festival Forum -- hosted by Xiamen University's College of Humanities and co-organized with the NYU Asian Film and Media Initiative. Part 1 (June 28-29) brought 16 speakers together for daytime presentations and evening screenings. Zhang Zhen and Sangjoon Lee conceptualized the panels.

Our generous host Prof. Li and her impressive students from the Department of Film and Drama took this commemorative photograph on day one and delivered laminated copies to each of us the next day.

Part 2 (June 30 - July 3) addressed Film Archives and Film Restoration, with a new set of presenters, led by Dr. Jiing, assembling again on the beautiful campus. MIAP Director Juana Suárez and I were the fortunate two who got to present at both, with Dina Iordanova (St. Andrews U), Hee Wai Siam (Nanyang Technological U), and Nitin Govil (University of Southern California) participating in both as well.

Most attendees were Xiamen University faculty and students, working alongside invited artists, archivists, programmers, and researchers from across China and southeast Asia -- Yunnan, Guizhou, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines. Others came from North America, Europe, and Australia, including Jan-Christopher Horak (UCLA Film and Television Archive), Howard Besser (NYU), Bono Olgado (U of California, Irvine), Miao Song (Concordia U, Montreal), and Kirsten Stevens (U of Melbourne).

We learned about the histories and practices of film festivals including the Hong Kong IFF (from Roger Garcia), Singapore IFF (Yuni Hadi), Southeast Asian FF (Sangjoon Lee), Canada China IFF (Song Miao), Japanese festivals (Ma Ran), Latin American preservation festivals (Juana Suárez), and Taiwan's Women Make Waves (Huang Yu-Shan) and Golden Harvest Award and Short Film Festival (Ming-Yeh Rawnsley).

The fact that China's Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival has located to Xiamen this year* was a key reason the university organized the forum on this theme. We heard from Professor Li about the founder of the Golden Rooster Awards, and from Zheng Guoqing (Xiamen U) about Taipei's Golden Horse Awards and Festival. Other topics analyzed included the marketing of festivals (Liao Gene-Fon, Taiwan U of Arts), "cities of film" (Zhang Aigong, XMU), film collecting (Zhang Jin, China Film Archive) and Lin Liang-wen (Taiwan U of Arts), and Home Movie Day (Hsieh Yu-en, Film Collectors’ Museum).

Media art and ethnographic filmmaking were given particular attention, with screenings of the Chinese-language works Miasma, Plants, Export Paintings (Wang Bo & Pan Lu, 2017) Kawa People (Tan Leshui, 1958; introduced by the filmmaker’s son), and Tail After Those Old Photos (Chen Xueli, 2015). Yunnan was also well represented by Tan, Chen, media artist Li Xin, and film rescuer Xiong Libo. They were joined by Wei Wei (Guizhou Minzu U) on the Miao series of ethnographic films from the 1970s.


Each section of the conference ended with a visit to the XMU Film Archive Studies Center, located on the top floor of the library on the larger Xiang'an campus. Shiyang Jiang led our tour of the archive. A new film scanner sits alongside an acre of projectors and old film cans -- displayed to remind us of the noted cultural heritage site, the Terracotta Army of Xi'an. There's also a lecture room set up with working 35mm projectors on the floor, which were used to good effect.

Shiyang Jiang of the XMU film archive will be entering the NYU MIAP master's program.

Photos and videos by Dan Streible, June 27, 2019. 

Ray Jiing's Archivist's Code of Ethics on display in Chinese concludes with a paragraph about the English terms "orphan films" and "public domain."  Shiyang translated. 

A special treat concluded the visit: projection of a 35mm print from the Military Collection, nothing less than a reel from Wong Kar-wai's Ashes of Time Redux (1994/2008). 

The evening screenings on the giant screen of the 700-seat theater were especially memorable. These included 

Chris Horak introduced UCLA restorations of the handsome Enamorada (Emilio Fernandez, Mexico, 1946), shot by Gabriel Figueroa, starring Maria Félix & Pedro Almendáriz; and, from Hollywood, the odd 1929 Best Picture nominee Alibi (sound version)

• Man with a Movie Camera: The Participatory Global Remake (1929/2017), January 19, 2017 edition; introduced by Howard Besser as an example of database cinema and our forum theme of cities.

• Lino Brocka's Maynila, sa mga Kuko ng LiwanagManila in the Claws of Light (Philippines, 1975), a 2013 restoration by the World Cinema Foundation, introduced by Benedict Salazar Olgado, former director of the National Film Archives of the Philippines.

• The fabulous martial arts flick 血指环 / Ring of Fury (Singapore, 1973), restored by the Asian Film Archive, with Cineric Portual solving the serious mold and color fading problems; introduced by Karen Chan.

The before-and-after demo for Ring of Fury is more striking than most.

• Santi-Vina (Thavi Na Bangchang, Thailand, 1954) 
Introduced by Sanchai Chotirosseranee of Film Archive (Public Organization), Thailand; restoration from the BFI National Archive's 35mm nitrate release print. The first Thai color feature film -- and such colors! 

My orphan shorts (small films screened on the small screen) included [Elsa and Albert Einstein at Warner Bros.- First National Studio] (US, 1931); the amateur production Na odnoi zemle / On the Same Earth (USSR, 1976); and the particularly well-received 轻骑姑娘 / Light Cavalry Girls (China, 1980) from the University of South Carolina's Chinese Film Collection. This Central Newsreel and Documentary Film Studio production by Shen Jie highlights the Chinese army’s Bayi Women Light Motorcycle Team. The XMU students were particularly intrigued by this anomalous experimental documentary. (My thanks to the researchers who rediscovered these three films: Becca Bender and Maria Vinogradova, as well as Zoe Meng Jiang, Yongli Li, and Lydia Pappas.) I was also able to screen clips from my forthcoming annotated, on-line filmography of 50 terms for newsreel  elements, including the item that serves as the frontispiece for the 2020 Orphan Film Symposium -- If the Antarctic Ice Cap Should Melt? -- outtakes (Fox Movietone News, 1929). 

Special recognition here for artist-curator Qin Dao and his presentation on the Guangzhou City cinematheque "On Kino." Here's a quintessential icon of orphan films in China, as seen on the Facebook page

My gratitude to the Xiamen University team for the hospitality all week. They gave us access to the famous local cuisine, a tour of Gulang Island (UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site), and extraordinarily friendly attention to every detail. 

Don't be surprised if there is another forum next year. 

-- Dan Streible 

p.s. Special thanks to XMU student, 华莱士 Young, my translator, problem-solver, and fellow basketball fan.

Also, it must be noted that the XMU student team of Alice, Shiyang, and Young all gave up what should have been their first day off to make sure I got through the emergency room process. 

(Total out-of-pocket cost for emergency room visit, doctor's exam, lab tests, and medications:  about $50 USD for this non-citizen.)


* Rebecca Davis, “Xiamen Woos Film Industry, Becomes New Home of Golden Rooster Festival,” Variety, June 16, 2019.