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Ransom Center appoints Chief Curator of Photography

By Jennifer Tisdale

Jessica S. McDonald. © Caren Alpert Photography.
Jessica S. McDonald. © Caren Alpert Photography.

The Ransom Center has appointed Jessica S. McDonald, a curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, as its new chief curator of photography. McDonald begins her position at the Ransom Center in September.

As the Nancy Inman and Marlene Nathan Meyerson Curator of Photography, McDonald will oversee a collection that spans from the world’s earliest-known photograph to prints from some of the great masters of the twenty-first century. The Center’s photography holdings include the Helmut and Alison Gernsheim collection, a seminal collection of the history of photography and one of the world’s premier sources for the study and appreciation of photography.

In addition to the history of photography, the Ransom Center’s photography collection focuses on photojournalism and documentary photography, with holdings of more than 5 million prints and negatives, supplemented by books, manuscripts, journals, and memorabilia of photographers.

“McDonald’s broad experiences —  from teaching to curatorial — confirmed that she can lead our photography department, build the collection, support research, and plan exhibitions,” said Ransom Center Director Thomas F. Staley. “The possibilities under her guidance are exciting.”

McDonald’s professional experience includes affiliations with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Visual Studies Workshop and George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film. In 2011, McDonald received an Ansel Adams Research Fellowship from the Center for Creative Photography.

McDonald recently curated the exhibition Photography in Mexico: Selected Works from the Collections of SFMOMA and Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser and edited the anthology Nathan Lyons: Selected Essays, Lectures, and Interviews, which University of Texas Press published in June.

Clues help date pair of Hebrew Bibles with common thread

By Paul Johnson

Behold this pair of Bibles. They were both owned by Andrew Fletcher (1653–1716), noted as the “Scotch patriot” in the Dictionary of National Biography. Fletcher had an interest in politics and letters but is often remembered today for his extensive library, believed to be the finest library in Scotland at that time. His distinctive signature can be seen on both images and in a Ransom Center copy of the first edition of the King James Bible (1611).

The first image is of the title page of a 1525 Hebrew Bible printed in Venice by Antwerp-born painter Daniel Bomberg. This was his third Hebrew Bible and the first to present the Masora, critical notes made on manuscripts of the Hebrew scriptures before the tenth century. It is dated ‫ה”רפ on the title page, indicating 1525. The colophon, shown in the second image, is dated ח”רפ, but Darlow and Moule (no. 5086, Historical catalogue of the printed editions of Holy Scripture in the Library of the British and Foreign Bible Society, 1903) cite C.D. Ginsburg, who believes that the letter ח was substituted in error for the letter ה, thus changing the date from 1525 to 1528.

Also shown is a second Hebrew Bible. It was printed by Christopher Plantin of Antwerp in 1566. Leon Voet’s extensive bibliography on the Plantin Press [no. 650, The Plantin Press (1555–1589): A Bibliography of the Works Printed and Published by Christopher Plantin at Antwerp and Leiden, 1980] notes that the matrices for the type used in this Bible came to Plantin from his partner, Cornelis van Bomberghen, whose uncle was Daniel Bomberg, the printer of the 1525 Hebrew Bible. So, the two Bibles have a common thread.

Please click on the thumbnails below to view full-size images.

Letters in Knopf archive show challenges Ray Bradbury faced early in his career

By Jean Cannon

Legendary science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, author of the classics Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, died last Wednesday at the age of 91. In his long writing career, Bradbury published hundreds of novels and short stories, becoming an icon in the world of literature that describes aliens, space ships, faraway planets—and the future of books.

Like the 13-year-old characters in his Something Wicked This Way Comes, Bradbury spent much of his boyhood visiting the public libraries of his Midwest hometown, where he was inspired by the works of such writes as Aldous Huxley, Jules Verne, and H. G. Wells. Throughout his life he was an enormous supporter of libraries, advocating them as some of the most important institutions in American life and culture. The son of an electrician father and a Swedish immigrant mother, Bradbury lacked the means for a formal college education and prided himself on being largely self-taught. In 1971, in aid of a fundraising effort for public libraries in southern California, he published the essay “How Instead of Being Educated in College, I Was Graduated From Libraries.” Like the characters in his most famous novel, Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury feared a future wherein books would become obsolete.

Bradbury faced an arduous challenge in making his own futuristic novels part of the libraries he so dearly loved. Early in his career, he had difficulty garnering interest for his science fiction stories from mainstream publishing houses. He was famously “discovered” by a young Truman Capote, then a staff member at Mademoiselle, who picked Bradbury’s 1947 short story “Homecoming” out of the slush pile of submissions to the magazine and encouraged its publication. The Alfred A. Knopf archive at the Harry Ransom Center, however, reveals that despite Capote’s early advocacy, Bradbury continued to meet with difficulties when seeking a home for his work. In a rejection letter from 1948, a reader at the publishing house professes hesitation toward Bradbury’s first novel, Dark Carnival. The evaluator states that though there is “much talk about town” of Bradbury’s “weird, unusual, and tricky” stories, “the style, while adequate, lacks distinction.”

Three decades later Bradbury, by then a seasoned author with dozens of publications to his credit, became a highly valued writer at the Knopf firm. During the 1970s he worked closely with editors Robert Gottlieb and Nancy Nicholas, who published his Where Robot Mice and Robot Men Run Round in Robot Towns, Dandelion Wine, and When Elephants Last in the Dooryard Bloomed, among others. In a letter to Nicholas (shown in the slideshow above), Bradbury, who often wrote nostalgically of childhood, included a picture of himself at the age of three. He jocularly describes the photograph as “beautifully serious, as if the young writer had just been disturbed in the midst of some creative activity.”

The Ransom Center also houses manuscripts and letters related to Ray Bradbury in its Lloyd W. Currey, Sanora Babb, Eliot Elisofon, Lillian Hellman, B. J. Simmons, and Tim O’Brien archives. Additionally, the Ransom Center’s Lewis Allen collection contains screenplay drafts, correspondence, casting notes, call sheets, and promotional materials for François Truffaut’s 1966 film adaptation of Fahrenheit 451.

Please click on the thumbnails below to view full-size images.

Win a signed copy of an Alan Furst book

By Alicia Dietrich

Alan Furst. © Shonna Valeska
Alan Furst. © Shonna Valeska

Alan Furst, whose papers reside at the Ransom Center, has added a new novel to his list of historical espionage tales set in pre-World War II Europe. Mission to Paris (Random House) follows the story of Hollywood film star Fredric Stahl who travels to Paris in 1938 to make a movie and participate in an informal spy service being run out of the American embassy in Paris.

To celebrate this publication, the Ransom Center is giving away a signed copy of a book by Furst. Visit the Center’s Facebook page to enter to win.

Read a Q&A with Furst about the new novel and his writing process in the Wall Street Journal.

Need more for your Furst fix? Cultural Compass has compiled a list of interviews, videos, recommended reading, and more.

-Watch videos of Furst discussing how he develops atmosphere, the importance of first drafts, his archive at the Ransom Center, and why he writes spy novels.

-Furst’s novel Spies of Warsaw is being turned into a miniseries starring David Tenant and Janet Montgomery by the BBC. Listen to Furst read from the novel.

-View a list of books recommended by Furst

Read a Q&A with Furst

-Read “Interrogation of a Spy Novelist,” which originally appeared in The Alcalde magazine.