Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager
It is August, when students and faculty are beginning their return to Ann Arbor for the new academic year. Soon all these people will settle into the familiar routine of classes and meetings and deadlines. It will all be different, and yet still the same.
During their time away, these people were off scattered about the globe. They were studying, excavating, visiting with colleagues, and advancing their research. However, during their summer, they took the time to find moments for themselves. To vacation, to enjoy the various locations where they found themselves. To live where they had traveled.
Many of the archival photographs the Kelsey Museum possesses were taken by University of Michigan people, such as Easton Kelsey, E. E. Peterson, but primarily by George R. Swain. These photos show the work they were undertaking in locations such as Antioch, or Karanis, or Carthage. However, not all the photographs in the archives are of buildings, artifacts, or of U-M people at work.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a single roll of photographs taken in 1919 when George Swain was traveling for work. He turns his attention to the city he finds himself in, Istanbul. No longer simply photographing the work they are doing, he captures moments in the city, random events, interesting scenes. We see a train, the boats along the Golden Horn, people on the Galata Bridge, and an umbrella mender working on the street.
In those days, there were no digital cameras or cell phones to capture these views. Instead, Swain was using the equipment he brought with him. Most “professional” photographs were captured with a view camera using glass plates. These were heavy and cumbersome to carry. Swain also carried a smaller Kodak that used film. This was used for additional photographs, not the professional ones of artifacts and architecture, but everything or anything else. That choice is captured in the archival numbers given to these photographs (KS for Kodak Swain, KP for Kodak Peterson, KK for Kodak Kelsey, depending on who was using the camera at the time). For these, the “43” refers to the arbitrary film roll number assigned. At the time, rolls of film only had 12 frames. Swain knew he was limited in how many photographs he could take before he ran out of film.
The first frame of this roll, KS043.01, is, unfortunately, missing from the archives, so there is no image to show. However, we do have Swain’s notes, and thus know he captured the following: “Dining car with all the metal letters removed to get brass in the war presumably.”
Years from now, current students and researchers will go through their collection of photographs from their travels in the summer of 2019. Not everything was work-related, and memories will be rekindled of the adventures they went on this year.