"I Found Granny…?" What does that mean? Well, I found a photograph of my Granny in the Scurlock Studio Records--an important personal treasure! Negatives in this large collection in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History were processed by summer interns and volunteers such as myself over the last several years. I spent summer 2010 in the Archives Center studying and inspecting these images in the Scurlock collection. Many document Howard University campus organizations and social events. There are also extensive single portraits and group photographs of faculty and staff, all presented in the distinctive style of the "Scurlock Look," which I wrote about in a previous blog post here.
My family celebrates our reunion frequently in a pre-determined location that had significance to our ancestors. This year we were invited to gather at my cousin Tracy Maitland’s house in Bridgehampton, N.Y. Tracy is the most financially accomplished member of our family and he wanted to share his home with us all. We were all excited by the venue selected and were taking extra measures to make this reunion special. We worked very hard to create a pictorial tree of the ancestors. We were invited to bring photographs of the ancestors who had gone on so that the younger family members could see them. I had some images of my father when he served during World War II and a seldom-seen photograph of his mother—Grandma Bea—that he carried in his wallet for many years. That image had become severely damaged over the years and was in serious need of some "PhotoShop magic."
Robert LaRue Green, ca. 1945. Mrs. Beatrice Miller Green, ca. 1940.
Photographer unidentified. Photographer unidentified.
Unfortunately, I lost most of my family photos and negative archives when I lost my studio in Yonkers, New York shortly after the World Trade Center tragedy. I had only a few old photographs of my Dad and while these were lovely, I did not have any pictures of Grandma Rose left from my collection. But then it occurred to me to check the Archives Center collection for images of the family; I was about to discover a true prize in the Scurlock Studio Records. I first checked for portrait sittings under the Green name, but there were over 600 listings. This was far too many names to check in a week’s time, so I switched my search to Parris. That was Granny’s last name, and there were only six listings. Sure enough, I found her name in the database of portrait sittings recorded in the studio log books.
Her sitting number was 62109 and she was in the studio on January 29th, 1962, which happened to be two days after my older brother’s ninth birthday and two days before my younger sister’s second birthday.
|Mrs. Rose Ann McGhie Parris. Scurlock Studio, January 29, 1962|
I was so inspired by finding Granny’s photograph that I decided to attempt a group photograph of the family reunion, shot in the Scurlock tradition, which meant using large-format film, distinctive posing, and exquisite retouching.
|Clarke Family Reunion, 2010. Photography by © Richard A. Green, Sr.|
Although I am generally pleased with the results of this self- assignment, I would like to re-scan the film at a much higher resolution so I can refine my retouching skills to more closely resemble the mastery of Addison Scurlock. I believe that a larger file will allow me to zoom in much closer, right down to the pixel level. This should make the pixels larger, resulting in a larger head size than the previous scan, thus allowing me a greater selection of brush sizes to exact the desired retouching.
Retouching film is a lost art that only a few of today's photographers have mastered and the challenge of learning the style I call "The Scurlock Look" will be no easy task. My ambition is to replicate this style that I have come to admire and respect.
As a result of my internship experience, and my comparisons of traditional pencil retouching of negatives with digital retouching, I am better prepared to inspire my students at Howard University, where I am teaching two classes on Computers in the Arts. I feel that I can offer a greater understanding of the photographic techniques employed by the Scurlock Studio photographers, Addison, George, and Robert. I also hope to assist with the restoration of Scurlock photographs on display in the Founders Library Museum in the Moreland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University. It has become an obsession of mine to restore these photographs to their original condition (or replace them) and provide an opportunity for future Howard students to share an internship experience at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Archives Center and/or Exhibits Production Department. David Haberstich and Omar Wynn, NMAH Director of Exhibits Production, share my commitment to providing a rewarding experience for students through the Smithsonian Internship and Fellowship Program.
By Richard A. Green, Sr.
Volunteer, Archives Center, National Museum of American History