All posts by Will Sexton

The Hugh Mangum Photographs: People in brushy patches

Hugh Mangum Photograph The Internet yukked it up this past year over the stone-washed camp of the blog Awkward Family Photos. It became an instant meme, and even led to a forthcoming book blurbed by no less a joker than Judd Apatow. If the phenomenon got mileage from the bad ‘dos and goofy pleats of decades past, at its heart lay the simple pleasure of bringing our own frames of reference to intimate portraits of strangers.

Duke Digital Collections published the Hugh Mangum Photographs collection a few years ago, and while it inspires maybe a more dignified response and less of the beverage-snorting amusement, it affords many of the same simple pleasures. Mangum was an itinerant portrait photographer who set up shop along rail routes in North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. As Karen Glynn, our Visual Materials Archivist wrote, “Mangum photographs are distinctive for the level of comfort exhibited by his subjects in front of the camera.” Using inexpensive negatives, he took numerous shots of his subjects, capturing them in relaxed poses.

This week we added images of the 688 negatives – many of which contain multiple exposures – to our flickr account. We hope they will inspire appreciation, but also closer examination. We would like to identify the subjects of these photographs, and enhance our frame of reference for them. Please help us if you can, by adding your comments to the versions of the photos there.

As I uploaded the photographs to flickr, I took a few moments to re-connect with this collection, one of the first digitization projects I worked on at Duke. I took particular interest in the small number of outdoor shots. In nearly all of Mangum’s photos the setting is the studio, but forty of them are exterior shots. Our metadata notes the distinction, so it’s easy to pull them up in a search. This link will list them all on a page, but I recommend selecting the 3-d wall option to view them in cooliris.
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My Own Frank Brown

Detail from One tends to remember making major life-changing decisions on April Fool’s Day. So I can tell you that it was April 1, 1995 when I decided to get a master’s degree in Information or Library Science. Even now, I sometimes wonder, is this whole thing just a cosmic joke? Is some unseen trickster entity laughing at my feeble attempts to manufacture order where none can exist? Probably. But I may never know.

The most dangerous 16 months of my life began on that day. I had just missed the deadline for the next academic year, and would have to wait for the application period to roll around again. Meanwhile, I was living in Chapel Hill/Carrboro and working as a cook in various restaurants. Many opportunities for mischief would materialize. At one point, a housemate had just about convinced me to head for Alaska to work the salmon boats. It was that kind of a year. I was engaged in the most extravagant of all human behaviors, marking time.

Two things saved me from a career of wading through fish guts: the guitar and the library. It wasn’t the first time that I relied on the guitar to get me through a shaky patch, and it would not be the last. Not that I was ever very good at it — having a tin ear kind of limits a person’s musical potential — but looking at a year of waiting to fill out an application, I decided to do something I’d always wanted to do. I would learn to play fingerstyle.

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Building the Broadsides collection-Part 1

Life-Preserving Coffin: In doubtful cases of death

Over the the next few months, we’ll be writing a series of posts that offer a behind-the-scenes look at all of the work and decision-making that goes into building one digital collection, from selection, conservation, and physical processing to scanning, metadata, and publication.  We’ve chosen to blog about our work on the Broadsides collection in particular for several reasons:

  • It’s a relatively large-scale project that will test our ability to ramp up our digitization efforts (5,500 items from the U.S. and abroad, dated 1790-1940)
  • It will serve as a test-case for the development and use of our new metadata tool–codename “Trident.”
  • It will be a pilot project to get more library staff involved in generating metadata for digital collections.

So check in periodically to see how the project is moving along!