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New digital collection highlights work of early special effects creator Norman Dawn

By Alicia Dietrich

The Ransom Center recently launched a new platform of digital collections on its website, which includes the Norman O. Dawn collection. More than 240 items from that collection, including the cards highlighted in this blog post, can be viewed on the new platform.

 

Leslie Delassus worked as a graduate intern in public services at the Ransom Center in 2005–2006, and she returned to the Center in 2013 as a dissertation fellowship recipient to conduct research in the Dawn collection. Below, she explores Dawn’s working method and approach to special effects.

Norman O. Dawn was a relatively obscure yet historically significant early special effects cinematographer, inventor, artist, and motion picture director, writer, and producer. The image above is an example of the 164 cards in the Dawn collection that illustrate special effects processes.

 

Produced by Dawn himself during the 1970s, these 16×20-inch cards explicate the process of special effects Dawn produced during his career as a filmmaker, dating back to as early as 1907. Between 1907 and 1951, Dawn created more than 800 special effects for more than 80 films, ranging from his early non-narrative “scenic” films to his subsequent narrative films. All of these effects consist of the juxtaposition of two or more images, a process Dawn refers to as “image manipulation.” The cards include artifacts from the production process including oil, watercolor, pencil, and ink sketches; film clips; frame enlargements; camera records; and production stills. The cards also contain ancillary documents such as movie reviews, advertisements, other trade press clippings, and sections from textbooks and pages from an unpublished autobiography.

 

This wealth of materials visually traces the history of cinematic special effects, situating their development within film scholar Tom Gunning’s notion of the “cinema of attractions,” a much earlier period vastly different from popular narrative film. The cinema of attractions was a more sensational cinema that appealed to audiences through overwhelming spectacle and images of the unfamiliar associated with tourism.

 

The card above explains the production process of the footage Dawn shot for Hale’s Tours of the World (1907), a cinema of attraction par excellence. Combining spectacle and tourism, Hale’s Tours was an amusement park ride set in a trolley, which simulated the sensations of a train ride as riders watched films shot from the point of view of a train in motion. In his footage for the ride, Dawn deployed arguably his most famous special effect innovation, the glass-shot, in which he shot a live scene through a large glass painting. In this particular shot, Dawn juxtaposed footage of members of an indigenous community in Mexico with a painting of ancient Mayan ruins situated in the background, thus combining two spatially distinct objects of tourism into one view. With his glass-shot, Dawn raised the stakes of spectacle by transporting his audience to a place otherwise inaccessible, one only possible through special effects cinema.

 

Significantly, images of spectacle and tourism resurface in Dawn’s fiction films, which are largely underrepresented in film history. While Dawn produced effects for—and in many cases directed—over 80 films, most of these films no longer exist. The few that remain reveal the way in which Dawn’s work in early cinema, like Hale’s Tours, influenced his narrative filmmaking. Often shot in remote and unfamiliar locations, such as the Arctic tundra, these films emphasize spectacle and tourism as integral narrative elements. Much like the audience of the attraction film, the protagonist of these films is overwhelmed by spectacular locations and charged with the task of navigating this unfamiliar terrain. This emphasis on spectacle over narrative links Dawn’s fiction films not only to the much earlier period of the attraction but also to the high-budget blockbuster of contemporary cinema. In this sense, Dawn’s protagonists have much in common with archetypal figures of New Hollywood cinema such as Indiana Jones, thus bridging the gap between the distant past of early cinema and the present moment of popular film.

 

Related content:

Special Effects: Norman Dawn creates earliest techniques

 

Please click on thumbnails below to view larger images.

 

James Salter: What’s occupying my time lately

By Alicia Dietrich

James Salter, author of A Sport and a Pastime and the acclaimed new novel All That Is, will discuss his life and work with Professor Thomas F. Staley tonight at 7 p.m. at the Ransom Center. Salter’s archive resides at the Center. Below, he updates Cultural Compass on what he’s been up to this year.

 

Following a long period of writing, I’ve finally gotten around to some reading.

 

I’ve been reading a book, not yet published, about the artist-heroes in the works of Thomas Mann.  There are so many magnificent German names and cultural references that I decided to read Doctor Faustus in the Vintage edition, or maybe The Magic Mountain. I like the intoxicated feeling of having a great number of things I want to read and the excitement of beginning. A French writer, Jacques Bonnet, in a book called Phantoms on the Bookshelf writes about the pleasure and great burden of owning a huge collection of books, that is to say books made of paper. He likes to surround himself physically with books that over the years have come to fill every available foot of wall space in his house. He likes to be able to see all the books, let his eye fall on them and when reading them feel the pages in his hand. It was in Bonnet’s book that I came across the names of many writers, usually European, I had never heard of, but also some Japanese writers including one named Kafu Nagai who had lived in the United States for a time, wrote about the Floating World, and sounded interesting. I’ve always liked Japanese writers, not only the famous ones but also some little known, such as Masuji Ibuse and Motojiro Kajii.

 

I ordered a book by Kafu Nagai and it arrived, but before I could begin reading it, an obituary appeared in the paper a few days ago for Marcel Reich-Ranicki who had died in Berlin at the age of 93. I am 88, so I felt a kinship. Reich-Ranicki was the pre-eminent German literary critic, born in Poland, Jewish, who miraculously survived the war and devoted his life to the literature of a people he never stopped fearing. He had written a highly praised autobiography, which I learned had been translated. I looked it up on Amazon. It was for sale for $5,700. Instead of pursuing that astounding discovery or misprint, I settled for ordering another of his books instead, Thomas Mann and His Family, six children, several of them becoming writers themselves, two of them committing suicide. I am half way through it, and as soon as I finish must get back to Nagai.

Related Content:

-Read about Salter’s writing advice discovered in his archive

View a list of books recommended by Salter

Listen to an audio interview with Salter from March 2007

Image:  Photo of James Salter by Corina Arranz.

James Turrell events on campus this weekend include talk by Turrell and tour of Ransom Center display

By Alicia Dietrich

To complement The University of Texas at Austin’s new James Turrell piece The Color Inside opening on campus this week, a selection of books and artworks associated with Turrell are on view at the Harry Ransom Center in the third-floor Director’s Gallery. Several events are planned around campus today and tomorrow to celebrate the opening of the new Skyspace on the roof of the Student Activity Center.

Today at noon

Conversation with James Turrell

Friday, October 18, 12-1pm

Student Activity Center Ballroom

Artist James Turrell and Lynn Herbert, former senior curator of the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, discuss The Color Inside, a Skyspace on the rooftop garden of the Student Activity Center at The University of Texas at Austin. Free and no reservations required; limited seating available.

 

Saturday, October 19, 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Tours of The Color Inside, the Blanton Museum of Art, and the Harry Ransom Center

Various locations on campus

The tour begins on the rooftop of the Student Activity Center with a music performance by a string quartet from the Butler School of Music inside the Skyspace. The tour will walk to the Blanton to view a large-scale aquatint by Turrell entitled First Light, Plate B1, which is on display through mid-December. The tour concludes at the Ransom Center with James Turrell: Deep Sky, an exhibition of seven aquatints created by Turrell in collaboration with the publisher Peter Blum Editions, on display through December 13. The tour will last between 60 and 90 minutes.

 

Saturday, October 19, 2 p.m., 3 p.m., and 4 p.m.

Music Performance

Inside the Skyspace, rooftop of the Student Activity Center

On opening day, Landmarks presents three unique performances of Lightscape, a new composition by University of Texas graduate student, assistant instructor, and award-winning composer Joel Love. Landmarks commissioned Love to create a composition inspired by The Color Inside. Lightscape will be performed by Butler School of Music students Yunji Lee, Chloe Park, Andrew Haduong, and Mic Vredenburgh. It will also stream live online.

 

Share your experience on social media with the #UTskyspace hashtag.

75 Years, 75 Days: Donate now to support the fall 2014 “Gone With The Wind” exhibition

By Alicia Dietrich

The Ransom Center is raising $50,000 in the next 75 days to support the upcoming exhibition “The Making of Gone With The Wind.”
The Ransom Center is raising $50,000 in the next 75 days to support the upcoming exhibition “The Making of Gone With The Wind.”

The Harry Ransom Center is raising $50,000 in 75 days for the Center’s 2014 exhibition The Making of Gone With The Wind. This Hollywood classic premiered in 1939 and will mark its 75th anniversary in 2014.

Film producer David O. Selznick’s 1939 epic film Gone With The Wind was embroiled in controversy before a single frame was shot. Based on the 1936 novel by Margaret Mitchell, the film’s depictions of race, violence, and cultural identity in the South during the U.S. Civil War and Reconstruction continue to both compel and trouble audiences around the world.

The exhibition will reveal surprising new stories about the making of this quintessential film from Hollywood’s Golden Age and illustrate why it remains influential and controversial 75 years after it was released.

The exhibition will include over 300 original items from the Selznick archive housed at the Ransom Center, including behind-the-scenes photographs, storyboards, correspondence, production records, audition footage, and fan mail. The exhibition will also feature gowns worn by Vivien Leigh as the beautiful and ambitious Scarlett O’Hara. These recently conserved costumes will be displayed together for the first time in more than 25 years.

Your support will provide funds for outreach, additional docent-led tours, a published exhibition catalog, and complementary programming and presentations. Donors will be acknowledged on the Ransom Center’s website and receive the following:

$10-$499: Commemorative save-the-date postcard with an image from the Ransom Center’s collection.

$500-$999: Complimentary Ransom Center membership for one year, at the dual level, which includes two tickets to the exhibition opening party.

$1,000-$4,999: Complimentary copy of the exhibition catalog.

$5,000+: Special curators’ tour for up to six people.

Registration closes next week for symposium “Magnum Photos into the Digital Age”

By Alicia Dietrich

Image credit: Jonas Bendiksen, “Russia. Altai Territory. Villagers collecting scrap from a crashed space¬craft, surrounded by thousands of white butterflies. Environmentalists fear for the region’s future due to the toxic rocket fuel,” 2000. © Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos.
Image credit: Jonas Bendiksen, “Russia. Altai Territory. Villagers collecting scrap from a crashed space¬craft, surrounded by thousands of white butterflies. Environmentalists fear for the region’s future due to the toxic rocket fuel,” 2000. © Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos.

The Harry Ransom Center presents the symposium “Magnum Photos into the Digital Age.” Scheduled for October 25–27, the symposium is in conjunction with the Ransom Center’s current exhibition Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age.

Twelve Magnum photographers, including Christopher Anderson, Bruno Barbey, Michael Christopher Brown, Eli Reed, Jim Goldberg, Josef Koudelka, Susan Meiselas, Mark Power, Moises Saman, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Alec Soth, and Chris Steele-Perkins, as well as Magnum CEO Giorgio Psacharopulo are scheduled to appear in panel discussions with a focus on the cooperative’s evolution and future.

To celebrate the fact that this many Magnum photographers are coming to Austin, we’re giving away a copy of panel moderator Kristen Lubben’s coffee table book Magnum: Contact Sheets (Thames & Hudson). To be eligible to win, retweet information about the symposium on Twitter or “Like” our Facebook post about the symposium on Facebook by midnight CST on Thursday, October 10.

The symposium brings together photographers, curators, and historians to discuss the ways in which Magnum Photos has continually reinvented itself from the moment of its founding.

Symposium information, including registration, is available online. Registration closes on Thursday, October 10. Register now.

Panel moderators include Kristen Lubben, Curator and Associate Director of Exhibitions at the International Center of Photography, New York; Anne Wilkes Tucker, Gus and Lyndall Wortham Curator of Photography at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; David Little, Curator of Photography and New Media at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Stuart Alexander, Independent Curator and International Specialist, Photographs, Christie’s, New York; and Jessica S. McDonald, Nancy Inman and Marlene Nathan Meyerson Curator of Photography at the Ransom Center.

The Magnum Photos collection was donated to the Ransom Center by Michael and Susan Dell, Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman, and John and Amy Phelan.

Explore the Ransom Center in a photography-themed open house this weekend

By Alicia Dietrich

Photo by Pete Smith.
Photo by Pete Smith.

Enjoy a day of photography at the Ransom Center’s open house on Saturday, September 28 from noon to 5 p.m. Join us for activities including “jet-setter” tours of the current exhibition, Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age, gallery activities, and mini-tours of the conservation department. Attendees will have the rare opportunity to learn how staff of the Ransom Center preserve and conserve collection materials, including photographs.

Commemorate your visit by posing in a photo booth inspired by the golden age of travel.

On the plaza, enjoy the music of the 1950s and 1960s with GirlFriend. Food trailers including mmmpanadas will have snacks available for purchase.

The first 100 guests will receive a gift bag that includes items from Austinuts, Tommy’s Salsa, Dr. Kracker, Texas Olive Ranch, and more. Maine Root sodas and KIND bars will provide complimentary treats.

The Ransom Center’s pop-up store will feature a merchandise sale, including glass water bottles inspired by the Center’s windows and Magnum Photos-inspired t-shirts, postcards, and publications. Attendees will have the opportunity to win a prize package that includes signed books.

Special thanks to these sponsors and participants: Austinuts, Dr. Kracker, KIND bars, Maine Root Soda, Texas Olive Ranch, and Tommy’s Salsa.

The event is free and open to the public.

Magnum Photos collection donated to the Ransom Center

By Alicia Dietrich

George Rodger, Sahara Desert, 1957, verso. With permission of Magnum Photos.
George Rodger, Sahara Desert, 1957, verso. With permission of Magnum Photos.

The Magnum Photos collection, which contains nearly 200,000 press prints of images taken by world-renowned Magnum photographers, has been donated to the Ransom Center. The gift was made by Michael and Susan Dell, Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman, and John and Amy Phelan.

Mr. Dell is Founder, Chairman and CEO of Dell Inc. Messrs. Fuhrman and Phelan are Co-Managing Partners and Co-Founders of MSD Capital, L.P., the private investment firm for Mr. Dell and his family.

In 2009, the Dells, Fuhrmans and Phelans purchased the collection from Magnum Photos. Since late 2009, the collection has resided at the Ransom Center, where it is being preserved and made accessible for research.

The collection, more than 1,300 boxes of photographic materials, has been integrated into the university’s curriculum, accessed by students and scholars, and promoted through a variety of lectures, seminars, and fellowships.

“The establishment of the Magnum Photos collection at the Ransom Center gives the work of these photographers new life,” said Stephen Enniss, director of the Ransom Center. “This photographic collection will be an invaluable resource, for decades to come, for students and scholars and all who wish to understand the cultural and historical moment through which we have recently come.”

The Ransom Center’s current exhibition, Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age, draws from the vast collection of prints, exploring the evolution of the photo agency from the post-war golden era of the picture magazine to the digital age. Organized by Ransom Center photography curators Jessica S. McDonald and Roy Flukinger, the exhibition includes more than 300 photographs, plus a selection of contact sheets, documents, tear sheets, magazines, books, films, videos, and other multimedia. It is on view through January 5.

Complementing the exhibition is the Ransom Center’s symposium “Magnum Photos into the Digital Age.” The October 25–27 symposium brings together photographers, curators, and historians to discuss the ways in which Magnum Photos has continually reinvented itself from the moment of its founding. Symposium participants include Magnum photographers Christopher Anderson, Bruno Barbey, Michael Christopher Brown, Eli Reed, Jim Goldberg, Josef Koudelka, Susan Meiselas, Mark Power, Moises Saman, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Alec Soth, and Chris Steele-Perkins.

Reading Magnum: A Visual Archive of the Modern World is the first publication to examine the Magnum Photos collection itself. Published by University of Texas Press in September and edited by Steven Hoelscher, academic curator of photography at the Ransom Center, the book explores prominent themes in the collection—war and conflict, portraiture, geography, cultural life, social relations, and globalization—and includes evocative portfolios of images.

Jim Crace shortlisted for Booker Prize

By Alicia Dietrich

Cover of Jim Crace's novel "Harvest."
Cover of Jim Crace's novel "Harvest."

Author Jim Crace, whose archive resides at the Ransom Center, has been shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for his novel Harvest (Nan A. Talese/Picador).

Crace was previously shortlisted for the Booker Prize for his 1997 novel Quarantine. The winner of the Booker will be announced at a ceremony in London on Ocober 15.

To celebrate this news, Cultural Compass will be giving away a signed copy of Crace’s novel The Pesthouse. To be eligible to win, tweet a link to this blog post and mention @ransomcenter. If you’re not on Twitter, send an email to hrcgiveaway@gmail.com with “Booker Prize” in the subject line. All tweets and emails must be sent by midnight CST tonight, and winners will be drawn and notified tomorrow, September 12. [Update: The giveaway is now closed. A winner has been selected and notified.]

Related content:

Writer Jim Crace gives writing advice and discusses why T. H. White’s archive at the Ransom Center brought tears to his eyes

Writer Jim Crace discusses his creative process in two videos

Driftwood in an archive

View Recommended Reading from Jim Crace

Opening today: "Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age"

By Alicia Dietrich

"Russia. Altai Territory. Villagers collecting scrap from a crashed spacecraft, surrounded by thousands of white butterflies. Environmentalists fear for the region's future due to the toxic rocket fuel." 2000. © Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos.
"Russia. Altai Territory. Villagers collecting scrap from a crashed spacecraft, surrounded by thousands of white butterflies. Environmentalists fear for the region's future due to the toxic rocket fuel." 2000. © Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos.

The exhibition Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age opens today and will be on view through January 5.

Magnum Photos photographers have produced some of the most memorable images of the last century, shaping history and revolutionizing photography’s influence on modern culture. Founded in 1947, it was the first cooperative agency to be established and operated by photographers, thus ensuring unprecedented creative, editorial, and economic independence.

Its founders, including renowned photographers Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, David “Chim” Seymour, and George Rodger, united in their pursuit of creative freedom and their commitment to sharing their images with the world. Membership in this collective empowered photographers to document conflict and liberation, revolution and reform, while preserving their own powerfully distinct points of view.

Established during the post-war golden age of the picture magazine, Magnum has flourished despite the impact of radical technological, economic, and cultural transformations on publishing and media. When television began to take over as the dominant form of mass communication in the 1950s, Magnum photographers explored motion picture and book formats. As the editorial market continued to shrink, photographers found new audiences in museums and galleries. Over the last decade, new technologies have dramatically changed the way photographic imagery is captured, distributed, and consumed. In this new environment, Magnum photographers have kept pace, experimenting with a variety of multimedia platforms to publish their work.

Organized by Jessica S. McDonald and Roy L. Flukinger, this exhibition of approximately 300 works investigates the evolution of Magnum Photos from print photojournalism to the digital age, revealing a global cooperative in continual flux, persistently exploring new relationships between photographers, their subjects, and their viewers.

Coinciding with the exhibition is the publication of Reading Magnum: A Visual Archive of the Modern World (UT Press), edited by Steven Hoelscher, Academic Curator of Photography at the Ransom Center.

The Magnum Photos Collection resides at the Harry Ransom Center courtesy of MSD Capital, Michael and Susan Dell, Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman, and John and Amy Phelan.

Beginning September 17, free docent tours will be offered Tuesdays at noon, Thursdays at 6 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m.

For groups larger than 10 people, please contact the Ransom Center to make arrangements for a private group tour.

The fall calendar includes many Magnum Photos-related programs, including “Boundless,” the opening celebration for the exhibition on Friday, September 20.

The Ransom Center presents the symposium “Magnum Photos into the Digital Age” on October 25–27. This symposium brings together photographers, curators, and historians to discuss the ways in which Magnum Photos has continually reinvented itself from the moment of its founding. Twelve Magnum photographers, as well as Magnum CEO Giorgio Psacharopulo, are scheduled to appear on panels with a focus on the cooperative’s evolution and future.

Collection of Materials by Robert E. Howard, Creator of Conan the Barbarian, is Donated to Ransom Center

By Alicia Dietrich

Robert E. Howard's map of the Hyborian world. © Conan Properties International LLC.
Robert E. Howard's map of the Hyborian world. © Conan Properties International LLC.

The Ransom Center has received a gift of materials related to writer Robert E. Howard (1906–1936), a prominent and prolific writer in the fantasy genre. Though Howard is perhaps best known for creating the character Conan the Barbarian, he wrote more than 100 stories for pulp magazines of his day, though his career spanned only 12 years before he committed suicide at the age of 30.

The collection, which includes more than 15,000 pages of manuscripts, sketches and ephemera, was donated by the estate of Glenn Lord (1931–2011), a Texas literary agent, editor and publisher of Howard’s prose and poetry. Lord is considered the first and most important researcher of Howard’s life and writings.

Howard was born in Peaster, Texas, and he sold his first story at the age of 18 when the magazine Weird Tales published “Spear and Fang” in 1924. Weird Tales would go on to publish many of Howard’s stories during the remainder of his life, including two stories in 1932 that introduced Conan the Barbarian, a character who roams the primitive lands of Earth’s mythical Hyborian Age fighting evil. Howard created other enduring characters such as Puritan duelist Solomon Kane, boxing sailor Steve Costigan, enigmatic Atlantean fugitive King Kull, and great warrior king Bran Mak Morn.

“The Ransom Center has one of the largest collections of classic science fiction novels, as well as the papers of several important science fiction and fantasy writers,” said Richard Oram, associate director and Hobby Foundation Librarian at the Ransom Center. “The Glenn Lord collection of Robert E. Howard will add an additional dimension to these materials.  Everyone is familiar with the Conan the Barbarian books or films, and the franchise originated in Howard’s Underwood No. 5 typewriter. Today, original typescripts of this Texas writer are sought after by collectors around the world, and we are grateful that Mr. Lord decided to place them here.”

Howard maintained a regular correspondence for six years with fantasy writer H.P. Lovecraft, and the two debated the merits of civilization vs. barbarianism, cities and society vs. the frontier, the mental vs. the physical, and other subjects. Some of this correspondence is preserved in the collection.

Lord became a collector of Howard’s work in the 1950s and amassed the world’s largest collection of Howard’s stories, poems and letters. Lord served as the literary agent for Howard’s heirs for almost 30 years, and his collection was used as the source text for almost every published Howard work appearing in books and magazines between 1965 and 1997.

The materials will be accessible once processed and cataloged. Two cases of Howard materials will be on display in the Ransom Center’s lobby through September 3.