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Making negatives positive; a new photograph project begins at the museum

The database records will look like this. We’ll add as much information as we can, but we need your help identifying people, places and dates. (Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum photo)

BIG CYPRESS — I’m happy to say that in July the Ah-Tah-Thi Museum was awarded a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services Native American/Native Hawaiian Museum Services award program. This is a long way of saying that the U.S. government is giving the Tribe some money to complete a worthwhile project at the museum over the next two years. We got a similar grant a few years ago, and after we finished it, we were able to put 15,000 new photographs in our online collections. Many of you have found pictures of family and friends through our website because of this project. And the more images we catalog, the more of them you will see on our website. You can search for people, and if you find pictures you would like to add to your personal collection, you can request copies directly from our site.

The project we’re starting now will eventually allow us to add 9,000 more images to the online database. But this time, instead of cataloging thousands of 4” x 6” photographs, we will be cataloging thousands of photographic negatives. Hmm, photograph negatives, who remembers those? It actually wasn’t that long ago that almost everyone had experiences with them. Anyone who put film in a camera would have to get those pictures developed, usually at shops that specialized in that or at photo centers in major retail stores. Those are rare these days! And it was there that the film turned into negatives. Photographs could then be printed in a number of sizes, directly from the negatives. It seems like a long lost memory to some, and an inconvenient old-fashioned procedure of the past to others. But it was only 15 to 20 years ago that people began transitioning to digital cameras and negatives became a thing of the past. This happened quickly, and these days people are growing up not needing to worry about keeping their negatives in order to get photos reprinted. That is one of the benefits of the digital age. However, where negatives exist, they are valuable pieces of history. Scanning a photographic negative can allow someone to reproduce a higher quality image than just scanning the associated photograph.

The museum has far more photographs than negatives, but we know we can provide more images to the community if we catalog thousands of negatives that originally came from the Seminole Tribune’s editorial work. Our new cataloging assistant, Chelsea Nielsen, will begin this project at the end of September. And even though the museum is not currently open, she will be working tirelessly behind closed doors to scan and describe these negatives, so that we can get them back to you. When the time comes, you’ll be able to request images or give us feedback through the website. If you know who the people in the photographs are, just let us know. We’ll add that information to our records and then other people in the Seminole community will be able to more easily find those pictures. During the pandemic, we are thinking of ways to get our collection out there, and we’re still here for your photographic needs. Stay safe everyone!

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services Award Number MN-245232-OMS-20. The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. Our vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum This box of jumbled negatives won’t look like this when we’re done with it. The negatives will be organized and stored safely with identifying numbers that match up to catalog records in our database. (Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum photo)
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