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Panoramas Revealed: 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition Photographic Negatives

This year staff in the Bancroft Pictorial Unit have been hard at work housing and preparing to digitize glass plate negatives from the Edward A. Rogers Panama Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) Photograph Collection. Supported by funding awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), about 2,000 glass negatives and 115 panoramic film negatives will be put in order, housed in archival sleeves and boxes, listed, and scanned. Although the work will not be complete and online until June 2018, great progress has been made, and we are starting to see some of the images produced by our digital imaging technicians.

The Rogers Collection was a gift presented in late 2014, just months before the centennial of the opening of San Francisco’s great world’s fair. In addition to the negatives (filling about 40 large boxes), there are also huge ledger books containing about 6,700 photographic prints. These originally served as a visual inventory of the negatives, which were mostly produced by the Cardinell-Vincent Company of San Francisco, official photographers for the PPIE. (Others are by the H.S. Crocker Company that previously held the PPIE photo contract.)

The Cardinell-Vincent photograph archive was broken up many decades ago, with much of it sold off in small auction lots in 1979; but Ed Rogers had collected this material well before that sale. In 2014 his was believed to be the largest PPIE photo collection in private hands – and certainly is the largest quantity of glass negatives known to have survived.

The most challenging images to conserve and digitize are the 115 panoramic negatives. These sweeping views and group portraits, made with a pivoting “Cirkut camera,” are on flammable cellulose nitrate film. Handling, transportation, and storage must meet stringent safety requirements. The rolled negatives were soiled from years of warehouse storage, so they are being cleaned by photograph conservators. They are so large (eight or ten inches high and up to 60 inches long!) that they need to be digitally photographed in segments, and these segments are digitally merged to create a file reproducing the original view.
The first scans from these panoramic negatives have been delivered, and they do not disappoint. The broad views over the bay-front PPIE site, just inside the Golden Gate, are stunning.

Panoramic photograph: overview of completed PPIE grounds and the bay, May 1915.

Panoramic overview of completed PPIE grounds and the bay, early May, 1915. Scanned from nitrate negative, approximately 8 x 42 inches. (Edward A. Rogers Panama Pacific International Exposition photograph collection, BANC PIC 2015.013:00414P—NNEG, The Bancroft Library, U.C. Berkeley.)

 

There is enough detail present to zoom in and closely study segments of the view.

Detail of photograph, showing PPIE Tower of Jewels, from center portion of panorama.

Detail: Tower of Jewels and South Garden, with Alcatraz Island at right, from right of center of Panoramic overview of completed PPIE grounds and the bay, early May, 1915. . (Edward A. Rogers Panama Pacific International Exposition photograph collection, BANC PIC 2015.013:00414P—NNEG, The Bancroft Library, U.C. Berkeley.)

 

Detail of panoramic photograph, showing the Marin County coastline across the bay from the PPIE site.

Detail: Marin County coastline, where the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge would later be built, from left side of Panoramic overview of completed PPIE grounds and the bay, early May, 1915. (Edward A. Rogers Panama Pacific International Exposition photograph collection, BANC PIC 2015.013:00414P—NNEG, The Bancroft Library, U.C. Berkeley.)

 

Even the more prosaic group portraits offer great detail and often capture candid moments at the fringes of the crowd. Some of the crowd views are the most entertaining, and place the viewer in festive moment captured 102 year ago.

 

Panoramic photograph: Turning on the Fountain of Energy, Opening Day Panama Pacific International Exposition, February 20, 1915

Turning on the Fountain of Energy, Opening Day Panama Pacific International Exposition, February 20, 1915. Scanned from nitrate negative, approximately 10 x 42 inches. (Edward A. Rogers Panama Pacific International Exposition photograph collection, BANC PIC 2015.013:00006P—NNEG, The Bancroft Library, U.C. Berkeley.)

 

Detail of left portion of panoramic photo: crowd scene while "Turning on the Fountain of Energy, Opening Day"

Detail: Festival Hall and crowds, with large camera at right, from left portion of “Turning on the Fountain of Energy, Opening Day,” February 20, 1915. (Edward A. Rogers Panama Pacific International Exposition photograph collection, BANC PIC 2015.013:00006P—NNEG, The Bancroft Library, U.C. Berkeley.)

 

As more digitization is completed we will share favorites, along with project updates, on this Bancroft Pictorial Unit blog. Stay tuned!

James Eason, Archivist for Pictorial Collections, Bancroft Library

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