Back in January, while going through a box of negatives from the 1950s, I saw that there were 10 photographs of Georgia O’Keeffe in the Museum posing with several of her works that are in our collection: Blue #1 and #2. Our Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern exhibition had moved on to its next venue 6 months earlier, and, although I had worked in the Museum’s Archives for 2 years, January was when I became the only Archivist at the Museum. When I first saw these photos so many questions ran through my mind—but mainly, had the curators seen these photographs? Were these of Georgia herself handing over her work to the Museum? Although the circumstances surrounding how these images came to be are lost to history, we can learn a lot from their very existence.
Often when doing research in Archives, people say that they “discovered” something that Archivists had meticulously and carefully arranged, described, and made accessible. When researchers say that they have made a discovery in an archival collection, that erases the often hidden labor of Archivists. Instead of saying “discovered” I prefer to use other turns of phrase, such as re-cover or “brought to light.” Many Archivists have written about the erasure of Archival labor, such as Stacie Williams, Hillel Arnold, and Rebecca Patillo. I didn’t discover these images of O’Keeffe, but they were brought to our contemporary consciousness because I pulled the negatives from the Archives, our team in our Digital Lab digitized them, and our people working in Social Media posted this.
These photographs of O’Keeffe are described in one of the Archives’ 15 massive Microsoft Access databases that contain our collection information. But they were in a relatively small spreadsheet that only inventoried photographs of events in the 1950s. We’re working on migrating our collections information out of Microsoft Access to ArchivesSpace; it is a time intensive project that will take over a year. Recognizing each other’s work and the work of our predecessors is necessary because, if we don’t, we risk having our own labor devalued. I think that these images of O’Keeffe posing with her work pair nicely with the concept of recognition. She literally and figuratively stands by her work. And, while there will always be loads of work to accomplish in the Archives, I stand by and deeply appreciate the labor of my predecessors.
Posted by J. E. Molly Seeger