The Harry Ransom Center

Jim Goldberg's Rich and Poor: The Impoverished Viewer

black and white photo of man, woman, and child. Handwritten text beneath photo says when I look at this picture I feel alone. It makes me want to reach out to Patty and make our relationship work. Cowboy Stanley. 

Image Credit: Magnum Photos



Jim Goldberg's Rich and Poor features photographs of the impoverished tenants of a San Fransisco hotel and of an affluent group of select individuals, also shown in their homes. As the most obvious dimension of the title suggests, the photos serve as a comparative essay on class and the disparity of wealth in America. Goldberg compiled this collection through the late 70s and early 80s and it was originally published by Random House in 1985. The Harry Ransom Center's current exhibit, Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age (September 10, 2013 – January 5, 2014), includes several images from Rich and Poor.


The Many Leaning Subjects of Arnold Newman

Image Credit: The Harry Ransom Center

Porch and Chairs, West Palm Beach Florida, 1941

In between portraits of famous luminaries at the Harry Ransom Center's Arnold Newman Masterclass exhibit, there are a group of images from the photographer's early career that feel anonymous and private. They include pictures of landscapes, nameless figures, and modest structures--all subjects that seem to have been chosen for their compositional character rather than the associations they bring to mind. The above photograph from that period of a decontextualized porch and chairs resists our curiosity to see the whole house and place it in a particular setting, focusing us instead on form and line. The un-forthcomingness or formal starkness of this picture seems dramatically foreign to the photography of Newman's later career, the period of his well-known "environmental" portraits, which situated iconic individuals in settings that explained or extended their identities. (Rachel's post further glosses and complicates this term). Despite this, I'd like to point out some unifying threads between this quaint little study from West Palm Beach and a few, more recognizably Newmanian photographs, all of which are currently on display at the Ransom Center.

Conspicuous Radios

Geddes' 'Patriot' radio

Image Credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art 

Before creating the “Patriot” radio, Norman Bel Geddes had long been involved with traditional, cabinet radio design. And while many of his cabinet radios follow the robust, furniture-esque aesthetic common to radios of the day this radio, created for the New York World Fair, 1939, breaks that mold. The “Patriot,” rather than simply blending into the décor of a room, forcefully makes itself known. This radio, rather conspicuously, embodies a particular patriotic flair. Most prominently, it features the seven red and six white stripes of the United States flag. Its knobs feature stars, and in most models red, white, and blue are the predominate colors.

Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal: Musings on Contradictions with the Harry Ransom Center’s Etched Window Façade

Baudelaire Les Fleurs du mal cover: snake entwined around a bouquet

Image Credit: The Harry Ransom Center

Two images related to one of the most respected French poets of the nineteenth century, Charles Baudelaire, grace the Harry Ransom Center’s etched glass façade. Yes, the images of a disturbingly beautiful flower bud and a similarly ominous bouquet on the cover for Baudelaire’s 1857’s collection of poetry, Les Fleurs du mal, are on the Ransom Center’s south and north windows because the Center has holdings of Baudelaire’s work in their French Literature collection. But, maybe the Ransom Center’s choice to use Baudelaire twice when there are many other French authors they could have chosen to represent leads us to another reason why Baudelaire is so prominently represented in the Center’s public face. Baudelaire has always been a dialectical figure of contradiction—twentieth-century literary critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin found in Baudelaire the linchpin around which he could situate the conundrum of urbanity in the nineteenth century. In Benjamin’s unfinished magnum opus The Arcades Project (compiled between 1927-1940), Benjamin muses that the “uninterrupted resonance which Les Fleurs du mal has found up through the present day is linked to a certain aspect of the urban scene, one that came to light only with the city’s entry into poetry. It is the aspect least of all expected. What makes itself felt through the evocation of Paris in Baudelaire’s verse is the infirmity and decrepitude of a great city.” The contradictions of the metropolis—the high and the low, the beautiful and the grotesque—are everywhere in Les Fleurs du mal. Like Benjamin, the Ransom Center uses Baudelaire in their window façade as one figure through which we can view the many contradictions of visual representation and archival work.

An Art Deco King James in the Orientalist Vein: François-Louis Schmied’s Engravings of the Creation and Ruth Stories

Schmied Creation Two-Page Spread: French on one Side, Animals on the Other

Image Credit: The Harry Ransom Center

Just before viz. took a break for spring, we visited the Harry Ransom Center’s newest exhibition, The King James Bible: Its History and Influence. Instead of finding only illuminated manuscripts, we were surprised to find contemporary art, literary manuscripts, film posters, and even a sculpture of a golden calf. The exhibition is not just a collection of well-preserved historic Bibles—it’s a unique collection of visual artifacts tangentially related to the King James Bible. As the viz. team walked around the exhibition, one grouping of images caught my eye. Art Deco engraver François-Louis Schmied’s artwork to accompany a French translation of both Genesis and The Book of Ruth from the King James Bible is absolutely stunning. The artwork is most interesting for its fusion of the geometric lines of Art Deco with the Orientalism of its creator and the lyricism of the Biblical stories it illustrates.

In Miniature: Bel Geddes’s “Doll House for Joan”

Brightly Colored Painting of Doll House with Girl's Arm

Image Credit: SliceofGreen

In anticipation of the Harry Ransom Center’s upcoming exhibition of Norman Bel Geddes’s futuristic designs, I’ve become completely fascinated with the work of a man whom the Ransom Center describes as “an innovative stage and industrial designer, futurist, and urban planner who, more than any designer of his era, created and promoted a dynamic vision of the future—streamlined, technocratic, and optimistic.” This week, instead of focusing on the futurescapes of Bel Geddes after 1927 (the year Bel Geddes launched his industrial-design career), I will discuss a lesser-known Bel Geddes—the man as a father who built fantastic doll houses for his daughters. This man was a big dreamer (per French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, whom we’ll meet later in this post), one who dealt in miniatures.

Future City from the Past: Norman Bel Geddes’s “City of Tomorrow”

City of Tomorrow: Aerial shot of peopleless, car-filled city

Image Credit: a456

I’ve been thinking a lot about future cities these days, though I’ve mostly been focusing on real-world metropolises as futuristic settings in TV shows and movies. Today, I’m going to shift gears to describe an idea for a future city from the past, Norman Bel Geddes’s “City of Tomorrow” advertising campaign for Shell Oil from the late 1930s. The campaign predicts (critics might say “encouraged” or “enabled”) a car-centric, highway-laden, city whose residents “loaf along at 50 [m.p.h]—right through town.” Bel Geddes’ “tomorrow” continues to resound today.

Researching in Card Catalogues

Notes to The Rape of the Lock

Image Credit: The Harry Ransom Center

The following post concerns my recent visits to the Hazel H. Ransom Reading Room at the Harry Ransom Center. The images, such as the one above, were derived from unpublished scholarly notes that I never would have found if I didn't use a card catalogue. Since I have been in the process of writing my dissertation in the Department of English Literature, the resources at the Harry Ransom Center have guided me toward avenues of research I did not initially expect to pursue. I would like to relate a personal narrative and a few thoughts about why I’ve enjoyed accessing the Center’s extensive and rich archive by means of the card catalogues. The views expressed below do not reflect those of the Center, but are entirely my own. I do not write from the point of view of a library scientist, although I might gesture toward their expertise in my personal reflections on old-fashioned metadata. Instead, I hope to reassert what many students at the University of Texas already know, concerning the advantage of our proximity to the Harry Ransom Center. Specifically, I would like to suggest the need to actually visit the Reading Room to realize the full extent of the possibilities for research there.

Recent comments