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Steps—not dance steps—to digitizing a collection

By Chelsea Weathers

At the recent Texas Conference on Digital Libraries—held last week at The University of Texas at Austin—Ransom Center graduate interns Jordan Mitchell and Emily Roehl and Research Associate Chelsea Weathers delivered a presentation about the Ransom Center’s Fred Fehl dance collection. The poster illustrates the steps of the digitization process, from creating metadata to scanning to image processing.


Between 1940 and 1985, New York-based stage photographer Fred Fehl documented more than 50 dance companies and choreographers, including the American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet. The Ransom Center holds more than 30,000 dance photographs by Fehl, mostly black-and-white, 5 x 7″ prints.


Fehl’s work in stage photography was revolutionary at its time. He was among the first stage photographers to take candid photographs using only available light, and he used high-speed film that captured dancers in mid-flight. Fehl photographed performances from the perspective of an audience member in the first row, bringing a new urgency and sensitivity to American stage photography.


Digitizing any collection requires numerous steps. Using the Fehl collection as an example, one can see and understand the process  for digitizing an item and making it and accessible online. The collection is one of many digital collections now available on the Ransom Center’s website.


At this time, photographs of the Martha Graham Dance Company and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater are available on the Ransom Center’s digital collections page. More photographs from the Fred Fehl dance collection will be added as the digitization project progresses.


[…] A large part of my job is public services. I help researchers who come to the Reading and Viewing Room and off-site patrons who contact me with questions about collections. Recently, I helped a curator who was researching his newly acquired Denton Welch watercolor. I went through the Ransom Center’s Denton Welch art collection and tried to find similar images that might help him to determine the date of his artwork. I also help patrons to prepare for long visits to the Ransom Center to look at specific collections. In addition to public services, I also have worked on some exhibitions. I have been helping Peter Mears, the art curator, with his Frank Reaugh exhibition. We are also publishing a book to accompany the show, which takes a lot of planning. I have also done some cataloging; I oversaw and worked with graduate interns to digitize the Fred Fehl dance photographs. […]

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