Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The 35/15 Photo Project: Conclusion

   After over five weeks, we have finally reached the end.

   108 F.S. Lincoln photos were reshot and published here. That's not including outtakes and finished pictures that I decided not to post. The biggest Sections were Part 14 and 15, with 16 and 19 photo comparisons, respectively. The rest of the sections had 4-9 photos each, an easier amount to go through.

   Based on the photos I’ve come up with, I’m going to talk about some of the things I’ve thought of while working on this.

What was Lincoln looking for in photos?

   F.S. Lincoln specialized in architectural photography, which is one of my favorite kinds of photography. For me, it is conveying the building in the best way possible, giving an overview of a building/room while making it appealing to the eye. Lincoln was very good at this.

   I believe he extensively used a tripod. Once I figured this out, I squatted a lot more to get closer to his camera’s height. He had a professional camera, not some little point-and-shoot. For cameras back then, it was necessary to be on a tripod so the pictures wouldn’t end up blurry. You couldn't immediately check how an image turned out, you had to develop the film later. Better safe than sorry.

   He was very meticulous. He looked at the lines and shadows of how things ran. He was very precise with lining things up. The minute hands in clocks were always pointing at a number. The shadows of one window touched the corner/tip of another.

   He gave the buildings power. They feel impressive. Chimneys seemed to soar. By staging furniture just right, he could make interior rooms feel so much bigger than they were in real life. If he was working with a smaller building, like the Travis House, he would photograph one end of the building. It would make the building look like it continued on past the photograph, adding to its length.

   He also had to work around modern buildings still in town, not getting any anachronisms in his composition. His pictures make Williamsburg look like it is completely restored to its colonial appearance.

   Would Lincoln have taken the same shots in 2015 as he did in 1935? For the most part, no. Most of his shots today have something blocking the focus of the 1935 shots. He was a talented enough photographer that he would have found new angles to work with. That’s what photographers do.

   No pattern of how Lincoln traveled through town became apparent to me. His photos are from 3+ trips to town, so I saw them all mixed up.

   I want to know how he seemed to walk through Colonial Williamsburg in the middle of the day without any cars or people. Today, unless you go in the early morning or late afternoon, it is almost  impossible to get photos devoid of human life.

   Lincoln really had a great photographic eye, and that’s what helped make these pictures famous. He made Colonial Williamsburg stand out. What a grand introduction!

How has CW changed?

   When I first skimmed through the pictures, it was very apparent Williamsburg had changed. I decided to start this project to see what else I could find.

   Gardens and interior décor have changed the most, mostly because it is less expensive and easier to do so than architecture. In the 1930’s, Williamsburg was about being pristine, clean, and beautiful. That’s what Rockefeller wanted, and you don’t say no to who’s footing the bill.

   Every report I’ve read from the 1930’s speaks at how much care the Restoration team took in not going over-the-top, holding back to give a correct view of the 18th century. By the 70’s, curators thought what they created was over-the-top. I really want to see what would happen if the initial Restoration folks let loose. If they were holding back, what was their imagining of the 18th century?

   Plants outside of gardens are interesting. Things seem less maintained, but there seems to be more control. It is less maintained in how town is allowed to look rugged and dirty, the plants more natural. There is more control in where plants can grow or how big they can be. In 1935, plants are growing everywhere. I think it reflected the struggle of the 18th century man with nature. Now, things are cut back. There are imaginary fences as to where plants can or cannot grow. In 2015, man has conquered Mother Nature.

   Visitors have helped shape Williamsburg. Less props are set out, less antiques are in arms reach of guests. To be fair, a lot less people visited Williamsburg in 1935 than in 2015. A lot less wear-and-tear happened on the buildings and the antiques used.

   What happened to all the chandeliers? Where did they all go? I got tired of the Chandelier charade.

   Formal gardens have come and gone. There are still remaining 1930’s gardens, some which are not accurate for Williamsburg. On the other hand, Williamsburg had a large part to do with the Colonial Revival movement in America and has the most Colonial Revival gardens in America. In that light, these gardens are historic, just not 18th century historic. If you have a third hand, there’s also what the public wants as well. Some of these gardens are endowed by donors. People enjoy and want these gardens here. How do we balance what the public wants while still giving an accurate representation of Williamsburg?

   These questions can be applied to not just gardens, but every interpretation decision in town. These are complex issues that require understanding of every detail to make the best possible choice as to how to proceed.

   Any change eventually boils down to money. But if our goal is to continue to be considered as a living history museum instead of a ‘Historical Disneyland’ which critics love to say, these problems need to be addressed at some point.

   (I’ve enjoyed reading Ed Chappell's thoughts on the 1981 reinterpretation of the Palace and Elizabeth Cushing’s 2014 book "Arthur A. Shurcliff: Design, Preservation, and the Creation of the Colonial Williamsburg Landscape")

How the project went?

   This was my first Then-and-Now photo series, so there was a bit of naivety in some of the goals. It always bothered me how shadows never lined up in now pictures. I learned it is hard enough figuring out what angle you need to be at, how high, are you too left, is that gutter-hole lining up to where it needs to be? I could have finished shooting in a week, maybe even a day, if I hadn’t decided to match shadows. And retaking photos would have been much easier as well. Retaking photos was rarely done, so I think shadows hurt the project more in that respect.

Drawing in my notebook to help identify shadow times

   What made the research portion difficult was there isn’t much information easily available on 20th century Williamsburg. CW Research Reports helped to tell a building’s complete history… up until the point when they were written. Some haven’t been updated for decades, and that does not help figuring out what happened inbetween great important changes. The reports missed things like the second partial demolition of the John Coke Office building and sometimes basic facts about what rooms were used for.

   Another difficulty was the Rockefeller's Omeka collection. In the Williamsburg books I had, I kept finding random Lincoln photos that were not part of the online collection. Either the library did not upload them all, or they never got the complete collection. Another complication were the captions that went along with pictures. Quite a few incorrectly labeled where a picture was. While good for a starting-off point, I learned not to rely on what the Omeka said.

   I really should have said I was going to be writing about 20th century history more than 18th century history. I figured that 18th century information is out there and is more accessible. I personally love learning about the Restoration. It was a revolutionary time in preservation history. Here come these men with the will and the means to bring a town back to the 18th century. Who does that??

   I'm a slow worker, and it takes a while to get my thoughts down. When I was working full-time, it could take approximately 2 days to write up a blog. There were quite a few days where I was scrambling the night before to finish. If I had days off, I could usually crank out a blog in one day. The largest one, Part 15, took 3 days with no work days.

   This project became my life. It’s going to be strange without having to work on it. I was focused on angles and research instead of enjoying the sights. I wish I had focused on the ride, letting Lincoln take me around Williamsburg. Maybe one day I will walk a little slower with him.

A typical research day for my bed

What did I learn?

   I never saw this as only a then-and-now photo series. I saw it as an opportunity to understand the how’s and why’s around town. I know a lot more about Colonial Williamsburg now, just maybe not about 18th century Williamsburg. I did learn house names though, which helped when someone asks about a building I don't work at. Sometimes I do catch myself calling houses by their former names, i.e. “Semple” always comes to my mind before “William Finnie” does.

   I learned how to spell Botetourt. That was a major achievement.

   I received a better understanding that Williamsburg is still a real town. While Williamsburg might stay in the same years, the town is still evolving. It's still changing and breathing.

   I forced myself to look at topics I never showed any interest in before. I never knew words like “boxwood” or “andirons.” I never cared about garden designs, it just looked pretty. I made it matter to me, and I hope that a little bit of that came out of the project.

Future Project Goals

   If I were to continue this project, I would look into F.S. Lincoln more, learn about his life and when he actually visited Williamsburg. I would find his same camera model, then shoot some comparison shots with it. I would dig through archives to discover more of the little cracks of information I left off. I used a lot of secondary sources, especially the CW research reports and guidebooks. While extremely helpful, I would love to dive into more primary sources. I would expand this project’s format to maybe other mediums (exhibit, gallery, book, etc), or maybe introduce digital then-and-now photo comparison sliders.

Ideas for Williamsburg

   While I have no power towards changing anything, I’ll run a little "If I Ran the Zoo" theoretical and suggest some things that I would do with Williamsburg.

   In town, there is nothing about W.A.R. Goodwin, the father of the Restoration. Rockefeller takes center stage with his lovely Bassett Hall. Goodwin should have something in town chronicling his life.

   If this summer at the Archibald Blair dig site proves, archaeology is still popular. A lot of people wondered what we were doing, some asking “What are you planting there?” I think there should be more explanation of archaeology in town. Right now, it is delegated to a wall in the Art Museums on the reconstruction of the Coffeehouse.

   I think there should be a combined Archaeological and Restoration Museum. We can speak about W.A.R. Goodwin and our unique history. We can have exhibits on how we excavated, what we have found, and what it all means. The ENTIRE Williamsburg story is the story of the American life, the American Dream, and patriotism.

   Here are my top three locations that would be a good space a museum in town:
  1. The Ludwell-Paradise House. It would be a symbolic home for telling the story of the Restoration, as it was the first building bought for the Restoration. It has already served as an exhibit/gallery space, so it has precedence. It would be in the middle of town in a dead space between Chowning’s and the Prentis Store. With a name with Paradise, how could you go wrong?

    Ludwell-Paradise House

  2. The Robert Carter House. It’s a big, beautiful, original building right next to the Governor’s Palace. And it is empty. A museum would be a great opportunity in such a prominent location, and would not involve kicking out current tenants like the other two options would.

    Robert Carter House

  3. The Elkanah Deane House. I only submit this because its garden was one of the most famous Colonial Revival gardens in Williamsburg, which is now pretty much nothing. Using the Deane House as a museum, the Garden could be brought back to its former glory. Signage could be placed explaining while this is not an accurate 18th century representation, it depicts Williamsburg’s own history and its influence of the Colonial Revival period in America.

Elkanah Deane House

Elkanah Deane's Garden, 2015
Here is a picture of it from better days.

Conclusion of the Conclusion

   You never know what you will find at Williamsburg. You go on a historic house tour in your hometown, you get a good run-down of the history and lots of fun facts. They’re scraping for anything to stand out. One of Williamsburg’s problems is there is a townful of stories. What do you tell? Which do you pick to showcase the Williamsburg/Colonial/Revolutionary experience? What will stick with people? There is always more to find out here.

   I wanted to share a Williamsburg story that isn’t told much, yet interested me the most. I hope you have enjoyed the journey as much as I had. Thank you for joining me on it.

Governor's Palace Front Gate towards the Palace Green

View the whole 35/15 Project:
Part 1 - College of William and Mary 
Part 2 - Merchants Square
Part 3 - Buildings that Move
Part 4 - Market Square
Part 5 - Ludwell-Paradise
Part 6 - Queen Street to Botetourt Street
Part 7 - Raleigh Tavern
Part 8 - Paints
Part 9 - Botetourt Street to the Capitol Area
Part 10 - Capitol
Part 11 - No Longer Here
Part 12 - Francis and Nicholson Streets
Part 13 - Garden Edition
Part 14 - The Governor's Palace Gardens
Part 15 - Inside the Governor's Palace
Conclusion (You are currently viewing this one)

Bonus 35/15 Posts:
35/15: A Dessert Order
35/15: Life in Williamsburg in 1935
35/15: Governor's Palace Wallpaper

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