Photo of the Week: Othmer Library

[Othmer Library, Long Island Historical Society], circa 1938, V1974.031.65, Long Island Historical Society photographs, V1974.031; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[Othmer Library, Long Island Historical Society], circa 1938, V1974.031.65, Long Island Historical Society photographs, V1974.031; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Have you had the opportunity to visit Brooklyn Historical Society’s Othmer Library? If not, you’re in for a treat when you do. The New York City interior landmark was built in 1881 and features a unique truss system, beautiful stained glass, ornately-detailed shelving, and columns made of black ash wood. It is one of the most comprehensive collection of materials on Brooklyn history and culture, and includes over 33,000 books, 1,600 archival collections, 1,200 oral history interviews, 50,000 photographs, 2,000 maps, 8,000 artifacts, and 300 paintings. The library is open to the public and we would love for you to visit during public research hours, Wednesday through Saturday, 1:00-5:00 p.m.

The photo of the week depicts the Othmer Library around 1938. This photograph comes from the Long Island Historical Society photographs collection which comprises black and white photographic prints, color photographic prints, and contact sheets documenting the BHS building, as well as the activities of the Long Island Historical Society (now BHS). The bulk of the photographs from this collection are from 1925 to 1980.  If you can’t make the trip to visit the library in person, this collection is the next best thing! We no longer have couches or paintings hanging from the railings, but we have wifi and a comfortable space for research. Check out more photographs from this collection here.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. library@brooklynhistory.org

 

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Photo of the Week: 19th Century Brooklyn photographs

[Man with camera and boy], ca. 1880., v1974.7.45, Adrian Vanderveer Martense Collection, v1974.7.45; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[Man with camera and boy], ca. 1880., v1974.7.45, Adrian Vanderveer Martense Collection, v1974.7.45; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Brooklyn Historical Society has many rich photography collections documenting Brooklyn from the mid-1800s to the present. One particular strength of the photography collections is the photographs depicting 19th century Brooklyn. The Adrian Vanderveer Martense collection, Emmanuel house lantern slide collection, Ralph Irving Lloyd lantern slides, and William Koch glass plate negatives collection are good starting points if you’re interested in Brooklyn history or photography during this period. Nothing beats looking at an original 19th-century photograph in person, so stop by the Othmer Library during public research hours to see for yourself!

The photo of the week depicts a man named Mr. Sherrill holding a box camera next to his young son in an unknown neighborhood of Brooklyn, sometime around 1880. This photograph comes from the Adrian Vanderveer Martense collection comprising of lantern slides and photographs taken by Martense, documenting Brooklyn during the late 19th century. Some highlights of the collection include informal portraits of people in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn and photographs of the Blizzard of 1888. To see more photographs from this collection, check out this gallery.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. library@brooklynhistory.org

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AIDS/Brooklyn Oral Histories at Othmer Library now open to researchers

Conducted for an exhibition undertaken by the Brooklyn Historical Society in 1993, the AIDS/Brooklyn Oral History Project yielded an exceptional set of twenty-one recorded oral history interviews. The project attempted to document the impact of the AIDS epidemic on Brooklyn communities. Recordings, initially made on audiocassette tape and videotape, were with narrators who had firsthand experience with the crisis in their communities, families and personal life. For many years since the exhibition closed, the tapes had not been fully processed or digitized. Thanks to the generous funding provided by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to process, describe and make available ten oral history collections, the AIDS/Brooklyn project can now be heard digitally in full at Brooklyn Historical Society’s Othmer Library.

Cover of postcard invitation to exhibition opening, 1993.

Cover of postcard invitation to
exhibition opening, 1993.

Brooklyn Historical Society began preparing the exhibition AIDS/Brooklyn in 1991. David M. Kahn, executive director of BHS at that time, had lost his lover Ron Wogaman to an AIDS-related illness earlier that year. With a goal of documenting the crisis in Brooklyn through the material culture, personal narratives and life histories of those living with HIV/AIDS, BHS opened the exhibition in April of 1993. The exhibition not only informed of the experience of people living with the virus, but told of the precipitating factors and collateral effects; the strain on their neighbors, friends and family members, practices and attitudes with regard to drug use and sex, prejudice and discrimination in communities, and activist responses. Until that time, only art exhibitions had been inspired by the calamity of HIV/AIDS. In the museum establishment, BHS was seen as having pushed the boundaries of what an AIDS exhibition could do.

For the oral history effort, interviews were compiled by a team including Robert Rosenberg (Project Director and Interviewer), Robert Sember (Researcher), and Kathryn Pope (Research Assistant). Narrators came from diverse backgrounds within Brooklyn and the New York metropolitan area and had unique experiences which connected them with HIV/AIDS. Substantive topics of hemophilia, sexual behavior, substance abuse, medical practice, social work, homelessness, activism, childhood, relationships and parenting run through at least one, and often several, of the thirty-four hours of oral history in the collection.

What often unites these narrators, aside from the intertwined subject and place of the exhibition title, is their outspokenness. Likely because of what they faced with a loved one or their own sickness, many of these narrators have a pronounced sense that there is a clock running on their own mortality. As one coping strategy, they reached out for help and, in turn, began helping out others. And it wasn’t just a sense of life-and-death urgency they faced, but a social welfare system that could be cold, opaque, and threatening to the very people that the system was ostensibly there to protect. In a segment with Kenny Post and Cheryl Wagner, the married and HIV positive couple relies on their sense of humor to tell a story of a case worker at Borough Hall in Downtown Brooklyn who had particular sentiments about how her pens were used and by whom. Post goes on to praise his doctor and elaborates on his feelings about the support systems he has managed to navigate and how people with AIDS can be written off from private insurance plans and workplaces.

WAGNER: I was just remembering the time you went and Miss Johnson wouldn’t let you touch, and she didn’t want to use the pen after she found out you had HIV.

POST: The case worker.

WAGNER: When you came home like a lunatic?

POST: No, I didn’t forget that. But, that’s ignorance. I’ve always had a hard time dealing with other people’s ignorance about this. What she’s talking about was the case worker I had with the welfare. I didn’t have a pen. She wanted me to sign the paper, at the end of the interview, and I didn’t have a pen. So, I asked her if I could use her pen. She gave me her pen, I used her pen to sign it with, but she wouldn’t take the pen back from me. She told me to keep it. She said, “Just put it down there.” I said, “Here, take it, it’s yours.” She said, “No, you keep it,” like that, and she took a tissue out of her bag and wiped off her hands, without even having touched the pen, just to let me know that this was why I was keeping the pen; that she wasn’t really being nice at all! To this day I know she has a God in her life, believe me. To this day, I know that. Her name was Johnson, Miss Johnson, from the Jay Street Borough Hall office.

WAGNER: [laughter] And what did she look like!?

POST: Nah, I’m not going to get that crazy. But, that’s how she was. Now, my doctor, on the other hand, has been very compassionate. He doesn’t take Medicaid anymore. He has a private practice. I started with him, in the beginning, and he’s kept me.

WAGNER: Both of us.

POST: Both of us, for that matter, and the difference in the money, from what he gets from private insurance and what the Medicaid pays him, is quite a substantial difference. But, I’ve learned that in this area he’s very compassionate, he’s a good guy. I’ve also found that the accessibility I have to various treatments is extremely limited with the Medicaid. I went through a thing where I was pissing blood for quite a period of time, almost a year, and I found that, after it stopped, after we went through all these various tests and all, that I found out there was one test where they could have found out right away what it was. But, I couldn’t afford to take the test, and Medicaid wasn’t paying for it. They wouldn’t pay for that one, so we had to do it the long way. But, this is what happens. But, the whole system is dictated with that. I’m not going to turn this into an Act Up meeting, but that’s pretty much what we’re about doing now, just dealing with that. In the beginning, I didn’t want to go along with the Medicaid program, because I saw it coming and I knew what it was about through different friends of mine who had already been hooked up with it. I started looking into the feasibility of not dealing with it. I found that private insurance companies didn’t want to handle it because of existing conditions, pre-existing conditions to getting it, you had a hard time with that. I found that employees, although they won’t fire you because you have the virus, they might fire you if you show up ten minutes late, and they might fire you if you go to lunch five minutes too early. They might fire you for not shining your shoes right that morning. They’ll find another excuse to do it, so, I realized right away what that game was about. The most important thing was just the general cost of the medicines themselves, so even if I found a private doctor and all this other stuff, the cost of the medication itself was astounding; that Medicaid became a necessity. Wasn’t even something where I really had any choice about it. So, it pretty much dictates how things go now. Which is okay, I guess, I don’t know. But, when I say it’s okay now, I’ve grown accustomed to it. I’m quite familiar with it, so, the comfortability that goes along with it now comes from familiarity, not from any comfortability that the system itself offers at all, because the system sucks, big time, the whole thing.

As part of the exhibition preparation, six of the interviews were transcribed on paper. Today at BHS, five of those legible transcripts are now in accessible, digitized form. As for the remaining sixteen interviews; these were indexed into thematic segments. Visiting researchers will now be able to access an interview and find topics based on timestamps correlating to a media player’s counter.

Later in the fall of 2016, this collection and others will come online publically in the oral history portal from BHS. Many of the audio recordings will be synchronized with their transcripts or audio will be thematically indexed with the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS) viewer. A great leap forward for legacy oral histories in the digital realm; OHMS integrates oral history sound and searchable text like never before. To find out more, visit the OHMS website from University of Kentucky Libraries’ Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History and investigate other OHMS-enhanced collections.

For an overview of the AIDS/Brooklyn Oral History Project collection and descriptions of narrators and oral history content, please see our guide which is available online via our finding aid portal. Our library is open Wednesday through Saturday, from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. To make an appointment to hear the collection, please contact us at: library@brooklynhistory.org.

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Photo of the Week: Red Hook

[Boy walking in Red Hook], 1973 ca., V2008.013.64, Lucille Fornasieri Gold photographs, 2008.013; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[Boy walking in Red Hook], ca. 1973, V2008.013.64, Lucille Fornasieri Gold photographs, 2008.013; Brooklyn Historical Society.

The photo of the week depicts an unidentified boy walking in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, around 1973. Personally, I love the striking red, white, and blue color palate of this photograph. The red fire hydrant, sign, and hat guides my eye throughout the frame. I think this photograph is a good example of how photographer Lucille Fornasieri Gold uses color and light in her work. She has said of her work: “There is always a movement, a gesture, an interesting or bizarre juxtaposition, a color or combination of colors that create a renewed impulse to see.”

This photograph comes from the Lucille Fornasieri Gold photographs collection. In 2008, Lucille donated 93 color and black and white photographs, taken between 1968 and 2008, to BHS. The majority of her photographs depicts streets scenes and portraits of people throughout Brooklyn, Manhattan, and New Jersey. To see more photographs from this collection, check out this gallery.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. library@brooklynhistory.org

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Photo of the Week: Glass plate negative

[Two boats off beach], 1900 ca., V1985.4.18, William Koch glass plate negatives, V1985.4; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[Two boats off beach], 1900 ca., V1985.4.18, William Koch glass plate negatives, V1985.4; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Can you make out the two boats depicted in this photograph? I love the dreamy quality of this image created by the smudges and texture on the glass plate negative. Glass plate negatives are one of the earliest forms of photographic negatives, dating back to 1851. There are two types of glass plate negatives: collodion wet plate negative and the gelatin dry plate. Both techniques require a light-sensitive emulsion that is spread and fixed onto a glass plate.

The photo of the week is a glass plate negative depicting two boats in the water in an unidentified location in Brooklyn, sometime around 1900. This photograph comes from the William Koch glass plate negatives collection that comprises 66 negatives dating from 1890 to 1910. Williams “Billy” Koch was an amateur photographer who documented homes, street scenes, and portraits of people throughout Brooklyn. To see more photographs from this collection, check out this gallery.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. library@brooklynhistory.org

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