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Meet the Staff: Diana Diaz Cañas, Photograph Conservator

By Marlene Renz

Meet the Staff is a Q&A series on Cultural Compass that highlights the work, experience, and lives of staff at the Harry Ransom Center. Diana has a Bachelor of Arts in Conservation from Bogotá, Colombia and she specialized in Photograph conservation in Mexico City, Mexico. She has worked in private workshops and labs and came to the Ransom Center following her work at the Frida Kahlo Museum and the National School for Conservation (ENCRyM) both in Mexico City.

 

What do you like best about your job?

I like the fact that we can actually touch the objects and handle them carefully but with confidence. Usually when you go to a museum, you are not allowed to touch anything, you are only allowed to see and be very careful. In conservation, while performing a treatment, it is usually necessary to handle the objects to take care of them. This allow us to better understand the materiality of the object.

 

What is your favorite item that has come through your office?

I was very lucky when I first arrived because the “First Photograph” was coming back from an exhibition in Germany. The case needed some maintenance after the exhibition, so it was brought to us at the Photograph Conservation Lab, and I had the chance to view the photograph outside of its case and look at it closely to check its condition. It was amazing.

 

What was your most challenging project?

In Mexico City, I worked on a huge collage with photographs from the end of the nineteenth century. It was a commemoration of Mexico’s independence, with portraits of independence heroes as well as politicians and diplomats of the time. It measures approximately 8 x 10 feet and has more than 700 photographs. It had several structural problems that needed attention and became very complicated due to the size and the mixture of materials in the collage, and it was a lot of work to treat each photograph, one by one. Here at the Ransom Center, I worked on very tightly rolled panoramas that needed to be flattened for the World War I exhibition. The work was delicate and complicated, especially because the paper was brittle and had some tears that needed mending.

 

What is the most useful tool in your profession?

For everyday use, the microscope and the spatula are the most helpful tools for identification and treatment of photographs. Equipment used to perform scientific analysis is also very useful and helps us to better understand the chemical composition of the objects and works of art we work with. It is very important for us to first identify the photographic technique of every print or negative that comes to the lab before performing any treatment, as this determines how fragile a photograph might be. For example, some photographs are more sensitive to light, while others are more sensitive to handling. Identifying photographic techniques also allows us to choose appropriate conservation treatments.

 

Does your Spanish proficiency aid you in your work?

Sometimes, especially because of Texas’s strong connection with Latin American culture. Many archives are from native Spanish speakers, and others have Spanish inscriptions. My language skills help me understand some details about the objects, and are sometimes helpful when interacting with patrons interested in the Ransom Center’s collections.

 

What drew you to photo conservation?

My father, who was a photographer and filmmaker, first influenced me. I used to see him filming and taking pictures, and then I played with his cameras. When I started in conservation, I liked working with paper, so my first job was as a paper conservator in an archive where photographs started to be more and more common. I was asked to survey a new collection that had an important number of photographic materials, and at that moment I realized I did not really know how to talk about the materiality of photographs or their decay with time. I realized that I didn’t know much, but I wanted to. That curiosity and my father’s influence were what helped me decide to work in this field.

 

You worked in the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City. What did you like most about working there?

It was great to learn about her as an artist, but also as a person by seeing her pictures. Her father was a renowned photographer, so there is a large collection of family photographs, together with images of her in bed after one of several operations, with an apparatus installed in the bed that held a canvas and allowed her to paint while recovering. Others show the work in progress of some of her most important paintings. There are also photographs with or from other artists and friends of Frida such as Nickolas Muray and Diego Rivera. These pictures show an intimate part of her life that nobody had seen before and have an incredible value for researchers and scholars.

 

When Frida died, Diego locked up her personal effects and other belongings, including unfinished paintings, in bathrooms at the Blue House that had been converted into storerooms. Diego entrusted the archive to his friend Dolores Olmedo, with the instruction to keep it locked until 15 years after his death, but Dolores decided to keep it locked until after her own death. So 50 years passed before the storage rooms were opened and the museum was able to process Frida’s personal archive and establish conservation needs and exhibitions. I feel very fortunate to have contributed to the preservation of her archive.

 

There’s a Frida Kahlo portrait at the Ransom Center.

It’s remarkable that we have it here. The painting is one of her most important pieces. Actually, I had the chance to courier it back to the Ransom Center. It was featured in an exhibition that highlighted surreal artists, and I had the chance to return it to the museum when the exhibition ended. I think it’s another favorite from the collections for me.

 

What do you like to do outside of work?

I like to read and dance a lot, go to the gym and exercise, go out with friends, and go to the movies.

 

What type of dancing do you do?

Everything! If it is informal, I like to salsa and merengue or dance to other Latin music, but I used to do contemporary dance and ballet.

 

What was the last movie you saw?

I saw Wish I Was Here with Zach Braff.

 

What is your favorite place in Austin to spend your day off?

I like so many places in Austin: around the lake, downtown. Areas surroundings Austin, like Enchanted Rock, are beautiful, and Barton Springs, of course, in the summer.

 

Do you have a favorite contemporary photographer or a favorite gallery in Austin?

I like very much the work of the photographer Alec Soth. The Ransom Center organized a pop-up show recently; I especially like his “Paris/Minesota” project. On the subject of galleries, I like The Contemporary Austin.

 

 

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Please click on the thumbnails below to view larger images.

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.

Registration opens for photography symposium “Magnum Photos into the Digital Age”

By Jennifer Tisdale

Image credit: Jonas Bendiksen, “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.
Image credit: Jonas Bendiksen, “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 Harry Ransom Center presents the symposium “Magnum Photos into the Digital Age.” Scheduled for October 25–27, the symposium will be held in conjunction with the Ransom Center’s upcoming fall exhibition Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age.

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 registration information, including registration, is available online.

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

Panel moderators will be Kristen Lubben, associate curator 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. They will be joined by keynote speaker Fred Ritchin, a professor of photography and imaging at New York University’s (NYU) Tisch School of the Arts and co-director of the NYU/Magnum Foundation Photography and Human Rights educational program.

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

Book chronicles “Postcards From America” road trip with Magnum photographers

By Elana Estrin

In May 2011, five Magnum photographers and one writer hopped on an R.V. at the Harry Ransom Center and launched a two-week road trip from Texas to California.

1,750 miles and thousands of photographs later, the result of the “Postcards from America” road trip is a limited-edition book that was released this week. The book is actually a collection of 18 items enclosed in a box signed by the itinerant photographers—Paolo Pellegrin, Jim Goldberg, Susan Meiselas, Alec Soth, Mikhael Subotzky—and writer Ginger Strand: a book, five bumper stickers, a newspaper, two fold-outs, three cards, a poster, and five zines. According to the “Postcards From America” Tumblr, these items “combine to represent the idiosyncratically American character that defines this project.”

More information and pictures from the book are available on the “Postcards From America” website.

A selection of prints from the road trip will be added to the Magnum Photos collection, housed at the Center. The Ransom Center is pleased to participate in this documentary event, an outgrowth of the Center’s relationship with the Magnum Photos collective. In 2010 the Ransom Center joined in partnership with Magnum Photos and MSD Capital, LP to house 200,000 original press prints from Magnum’s New York bureau. The Ransom Center has since created a preliminary inventory and opened the collection for research to students, faculty, and the general public. The Ransom Center continues to work with Magnum, including the Magnum Foundation, to add further research value to the collection.

“The Ransom Center was the perfect place for us to start this trip,” photographer Susan Meiselas, President of the Magnum Cultural Foundation, told Cultural Compass. “Our picture distribution system, represented by the New York press print library that’s now housed at the Center, was part of the glue that historically held us together as a collective. In a post-analog age, we’re exploring new ways of being together collectively, and this trip was one of those experiments. We really saw how the Ransom Center could be a bridge between the old and the new. I hope we’ll keep doing more new projects together because I really believe in the importance of linking the archival materials to a living body of new production carried out with the same relentlessly curious spirit.”

Watch photographer Alec Soth lead a video introduction to the box set.

In the coming weeks, stay tuned for a follow-up blog post featuring a selection of prints from the road trip that will be added to the Magnum Photos collection at the Ransom Center.

View photos from “Postcards From America” event

By David Coleman

On Friday, May 13, the Ransom Center helped to launch Magnum Photos’s road trip Postcards from America project.  The events began with an open bus where photography fans could meet and talk with Magnum photographers Jim Goldberg, Susan Meiselas, Paolo Pellegrin, Alec Soth, Mikhael Subotzky, and writer Ginger Strand at their R.V., which the Postcards group parked right on the plaza.  (As you can see in the slideshow, getting it there was a bit dicey!)

After that was the main event: a public talk by the photographers and writer discussing the origins and plans for the project.  Although their journey had only just begun the day before in San Antonio, each photographer presented some amazing images from just one day’s work.  You can see many of these images on the Postcards From America blog.

The Ransom Center was excited to participate in this new project, an outgrowth of our parnership with Magnum Photos and MSD Capital, LP to house 200,000 press prints from Magnum Photos’s New York bureau.

I encourage you to follow the photographers on their blog and through the Blurb Mobile app.  Do it soon because they are more than halfway through their trip, which ends in Oakland with an exhibition from their journey at the Starline Social Club on May 26.

 

Please click the thumbnail to view full-size images.

 

Photo Friday

By Jennifer Tisdale

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

'Uncle Jackson,' the Magnum photographers' 'Postcards From America' R.V., on the Ransom Center plaza. Photo by Pete Smith.
'Uncle Jackson,' the Magnum photographers' 'Postcards From America' R.V., on the Ransom Center plaza. Photo by Pete Smith.
Magnum photographers Susan Meiselas, Jim Goldberg, and Alec Soth talk things over with 'Postcards From America' project manager Carlos Loret de Mola. Photo by Pete Smith.
Magnum photographers Susan Meiselas, Jim Goldberg, and Alec Soth talk things over with 'Postcards From America' project manager Carlos Loret de Mola. Photo by Pete Smith.
Magnum photographers meet the public at the 'Postcards From America' open bus on the Ransom Center plaza. Photo by Pete Smith.
Magnum photographers meet the public at the 'Postcards From America' open bus on the Ransom Center plaza. Photo by Pete Smith.
Magnum photographer Mikhael Subotzky looking out the window of 'Uncle Jackson,' the 'Postcards From America' R.V. Photo by Pete Smith.
Magnum photographer Mikhael Subotzky looking out the window of 'Uncle Jackson,' the 'Postcards From America' R.V. Photo by Pete Smith.

Ransom Center helps to launch Magnum Photos's “Postcards From America” tomorrow

By David Coleman

Image courtesy of Magnum Photos.
Image courtesy of Magnum Photos.

“5 photographers, a writer, 2 weeks, a bus.” Thus begins a unique documentary project comprised of Magnum photographers Jim Goldberg, Susan Meiselas, Paolo Pellegrin, Alec Soth, Mikhael Subotzky, and writer Ginger Strand, who will be traveling from San Antonio to Oakland from May 12 to May 26 on the first of a series of trips across the country.

They’ve been blogging about it since the end of March, so there’s already plenty to see and read. You can follow them on various social media sites, and you can even post your own images at the “Postcards From America” Flickr site. At the end they will be mounting a special exhibition of images from the trip at the Starline in Oakland, and they promise to include some of the follower-contributed Flickr images as well.

The idea was born at a retreat where Magnum photographers talked about, of all things, photography. It’s exactly the type of independent project that was behind Magnum’s founding by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour, and George Roger in 1947. Established to preserve the copyright of their work, the Magnum cooperative agency thus secured perpetual revenue from the photographers’ imagery. This watershed moment in photojournalism thereby allowed the photographers to break free from the news cycle and pursue more in-depth and independent projects like “Postcards From America.”

The Ransom Center is excited to participate in this unique documentary event, which comes as an outgrowth of our relationship with Magnum Photos.  In 2010 the Ransom Center joined in partnership with Magnum Photos and MSD Capital, LP to house some 200,000 original press prints from Magnum’s New York bureau. The Ransom Center has since created a preliminary inventory and opened the collection to students, faculty, and the general public. We continue to work with Magnum, including the Magnum Foundation, to add further research value to the collection.

The events on Friday, May 13, begin with a chance to informally meet and talk with the photographers between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. at their R.V., which will be parked on the north end of the Ransom Center plaza. This will be followed by a public discussion among the “Postcards” participants about photography and ways to picture America, held at 7 p.m. C.S.T. at Jessen Auditorium, Homer Rainey Hall, across the plaza from the Ransom Center. The program will be webcast live.

I hope you can join us.