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Dénouement to Negative Pedo

Next steps as Movimiento photogs recover negatives

By Michael Sedano, La Bloga
Published on LatinoLA: November 21, 2012


Dénouement to Negative <i>Pedo</i>


Originally published at La Bloga

After forty years, it all boils down to a massive misunderstanding.

"Ask me next month," one photographer replies when I ask if he's satisfied, now that the negatives and other materials reside in Joe Razo's office, seventeen cartons of three-ring binders.

The suddenness of events has caught everyone by surprise, the full impact is still sinking in. There's a ton of work ahead and an immediate critical decision.

Last week, La Bloga reported on the sequestration of photo archives of movimiento newspaper La Raza Newspaper and Magazine. The issue had burned quietly over the forty years since the magazine folded, leaving the archive in possession of the final editor, Raúl Ruiz.

Over time, photographers sought access to their negatives but Ruiz denied access. Once, the photographers were twenty-somethings, the editors in their thirties. Today, those photographers are retired and taking store of a life's work. In all this time none have seen their youthful images except in memories.

Ruiz' best expression of regret and apology for the years of discord over the negatives is seen in his swift delivery of all the materials. He was wrong, Ruiz acknowledges that. Ruiz includes his own negative files, including those he took during the police riot of August 29, 1970.

I asked one photographer who had inspected his negatives if there were images he remembered, that he looked forward to seeing again. "Oh yeah." The two words burned with the warmth of never-forgotten moments of perfection, like remembering an old novia. "Oh yeah," he says again.

When Luis C. Garza wrote the Open Letter on the subject and LatinoLA published it Saturday November 10, Ruiz realized his error and quickly recanted.

On Tuesday morning November 13, Ruiz delivered seventeen cartons to former editor Joe Razo's chante. Garza and Razo estimate they will have 30,000 images once they recover the complete archive. The negatives are sleeved in individual strips and kept in binders. Many of the pages include proof sheets. This means there's an excellent chance the negs have not deteriorated.

See: Movimiento Veteranos Resolve Negative Pedo

Through the years and various relocations, Ruiz kept the archive--which includes editorial material--largely intact. Ruiz promises he'll find some missing elements, for example, most of editor-photographer Razo's files are not in the notebooks.

Properly processed and stored negatives have a long shelf life, especially when professionally organized like the 17 boxes of notebooks. Sadly, indexing was not a disciplined occupation of the newspaper. There's a ton of work to be done now, identifying the photographer, the date and location of 30,000 frames.

Razo and Garza identify key issues the photographers will decide collectively. The most critical decision, and the one the photographers will address first, is keeping the collection together. What if individual photographers want theirs back? It's likely they all share a commitment to finding an institution to receive the archive and make the images publically accessible. Photographer and USC professor Felix Gutíerrez can make the conecta with http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/search/controller/index.htm USC's Digital Library.

UCLA, UCSB, Cal State Northridge, the University of Southern California would make suitable repositories. I recommended the collective favorably consider USC's Digital Library. I donated my own negatives of the 1973 Festival de Flor y Canto to USC, and know the gente well.

With USC's extensive collection of Southern California historical images, La Raza Newspaper and Magazine archive makes a good fit. For example, the library is digitizing the files of the LA Herald-Examiner.

The library's Boekmann Center Collection features an expanding catalog of historic Chicanada materials.

In addition to the digitized videos from 1973's Festival de Flor y Canto that launched the floricanto movement, the Boekmann Center Collection is the repository for Ruben Salazar's personal papers, including the last known foto of Salazar alive, an FBI surveillance shot of the journalist trailing the marchers along Whittier Blvd.

The photographers met last week to launch discussions on the collection's fate. Scholars who have a pressing need to see the archive can contact Joe Razo. Razo describes his caretaker role of the negatives "completely transparent," indicating Razo's commitment to returning these images to history, as well as the photographers.

Massive work and key decision lies ahead.

Technology allows photographers to have their negatives and share them, too. I had a hundred or so frames that I digitized myself. I keep possession of my negatives while USC displays the images themselves on its Digital Library. In theory, any library in the world wanting "original" copies of photographic images need only acquire the scanned file and store it on local servers. If someone wants to own a museum quality print of an image, or use a frame in a textbook or documentary, there's a link to create that opportunity. The photographer doesn't lose control of one's own work.

Digitizing is costly. Hardware is cheap; it's the labor to feed the machine that costs. Non-stop scanning, 35,000 images at a minute per six-frame strip will require almost 500 hours. At $10.00 an hour for one work-study student, that's $5,000 the library must come up with, just to start thinking about acquiring the donation of the archive.

Every frame requires coding. Not just a dewey decimal number or other catalog locator, but libraries keep, inside the files, hundreds of characters of data about every item. That data needs to be verified then keyboarded. Some of this work requires an information professional's skill. Add another ten grand to the budget and now we're up to $15,000.

Library administrators don't budget for such fall-in-your-lap windfalls like 35,000 important historical photographic negatives. Where does a Dean find a source of fifteen thousand dollars to spend on safeguarding the value of La Raza newspaper and magazine's archive?

This photographic collection is the only one in existence of some of the most important events of recent U.S. history. The images can flesh out, or be the subject of, dozens of dissertations. For a University, such treasures help attract leading scholars, and donors.

USC has a President's Office and a leader with a long list of friends and a vision for the University. La Bloga calls on President Max Nikias to prioritize USC's acquisition of this precious resource. Can a president turn a magical money tap and produce fifteen grand just like that?

Problems like that are why universities have presidents. Solutions go with the job.

But first things first. The photographers will decide what to do with the collection. Keep it whole, or break it apart. That's unlikely, but a possibility.

In the meantime, the process of making a database of those seventeen cases of negative strips occupies the available energies of the collective, but mostly Joe Razo. Razo's offered access to any academic with a professional interest in the archive. Who knows if academia will beat a path to Joe Razo's door?

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