Tag: fine arts library

Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Photograph Collection – Pt. 2

Written by Bronwen Gulkis

This post is the second in a series about the Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Photograph Collection written by the project’s staff and student catalogers in the Digital Images and Slides Collections of the Fine Arts Library.

Slides on the light table

Before the widespread availability of high-quality digital images, patrons at the Fine Arts Library viewed images on 35mm film slides, strips of developed film housed in a lightweight metal, plastic, or paper frame. These could be viewed through a slide projector, or at a light table–the Fine Arts Library still has some of these tables in our Lamont location. The library also has over 607,000 slides left from these days, and most scholars and professionals would have kept their own image collections as well. However, this was not always the case. Stuart Cary Welch, the former curator of Indian and Later Islamic art at Harvard, owned a collection of approximately 65,000 slides, which he left to the Fine Arts Library. In a memorial essay for Martin Dickson, “Salute to a Coauthor,” Welch later recalled that when he began amassing his slides, a colleague of his “spurned their use as not quite honorable, akin to cheating at cards.”[1] However unorthodox his methods may have been at the time, they were eventually adopted across the field of Islamic and Indian art.

Like any analogue technology, the clarity and resolution of 35mm slides was dependent on the type of film used and the developing technique. Most of the Stuart Cary Welch collection was photographed on Kodachrome, a proprietary film and emulsion technique owned by Kodak and popular throughout the 20th century. Kodachrome was prized for its archival qualities, since the color dye was added to the film surface in layers during the developing process, allowing for greater clarity, nuance, and pigment stability. However, like all archival materials, slide images degrade over time. The Fine Arts Library staff and our team of photographers has been working to preserve these images by re-photographing the physical slide, and then editing this digital image to restore and their original color balance.

Slides also fostered a unique collaborative way of working. Welch recalled that Martin Dickson, a professor of Persian Studies at Princeton, “underwent trial by color slide” in 1960 upon first visiting the Welch residence to discuss the project that became The Houghton Shahnama.[2]  Veterans of the Fine Arts Library will recall a time when professors prepared for their lectures by sorting slides side by side on a light table and loading them into a carousel. Welch collected images from across America, Europe, the Middle East, and India, and then manually reconstructed manuscripts and artistic communities by grouping dispersed images in the same carousels. As we inventory Welch’s slides, we often come across these carousels, filled with images from his publications and lectures.

Today, it is so easy to access high-quality digital images that we forget the meticulous processes that earlier scholars went through to assemble their image collections. Now that 35mm slide technology is no longer in use, these slides become artifacts of a formative period in the discipline of art history. Our next post will cover some of the treasures of this exciting research collection.




[1] Welch, Stuart Cary. “Salute To A Coauthor: Martin Bernard Dickson”. In Intellectual Studies On Islam: Essays Written In Honor Of Martin B. Dickson, 9. Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press, 1990, 9.

[2] Welch 1990, 14.


Salted Paper Prints from Special Collections

Here you see the wide range in tonality and richness in colors. Indeed, monochrome can be very colorful. We are so glad that many of these salt prints have remained in good condition, such that the facial expressions and details of clothing and accessories for each sitter are still astonishingly clear.

In collaboration with the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, and Houghton Library, Harvard Library’s Weissman Preservation Center (WPC) is hosting a symposium on the Salted Paper Prints from the Harvard Fine Arts Library’s historic photographs collection on September 14th and 15th. During the two-day symposium, a hands-on workshop hosted by the Northeast Document Conservation Center will allow participants to explore the chemistry and artistic nuance of creating salted paper prints. A brief lecture will acquaint the participants with the basic chemistry and variations of the process and discuss preservation concerns.

The salted paper print was an early negative/positive printing process developed by William Henry Fox Talbot in England in the 1830s. Many beautiful examples of this process were created in the 19th century and can be found in a variety of photograph collections.

Read more about the symposium and how to register.

Read the previous post about the Salted Paper Prints Symposium.

Salted Paper Prints Symposium

Salted paper print at the Fine Arts Library

Salted Paper Prints: Process and Purpose
A Collaborative Workshop in Photograph Conservation

In collaboration with the Foundation for the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic WorksHarvard Art Museums, and Houghton Library, Harvard Weissman Preservation Center (WPC) is hosting a symposium on salted paper prints on September 14th and 15th. Registered participants will be able to attend a special viewing of salted paper prints from the Harvard Fine Arts Library‘s historic photographs collection on September 13th.

A salted paper print, or simply salt print, is a photographic printing process whereby paper is coated with salt solution and then a silver nitrate solution to capture images. It was a popular photographic printing technique between 1839 and approximately 1860.[1]

WPC has undertaken a university-wide project, the Salt Print Initiative, to preserve and enhance access to salt prints across campus, including inventorying the salt prints held by individual repositories, including the Fine Arts Library.

This symposium will present a multi-disciplinary, two-day program that focuses on the preservation, characterization, use, and interpretation of the salt print process, now over 175 years old. Read more about the symposium and how to register.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt_print

Staff from Harvard Weissman Preservation Center selected some salted paper prints from our collection for the initial presentation at the Fine Arts Library in December, 2016.

Stay tuned for more images from the historic photographs collection.