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Black and White Negatives of Uxmal

Posted by Jason Hosford

This past year, the Visual Resources Center received a collection of forty-one 70 mm black and white negatives of images taken at the Maya site of Uxmal.  The original source of the negatives and when they were taken was unknown, but it was determined that this collection was unique and warranted special treatment.  First, the negatives were sent to Two Cat Digital for digitization.  The negatives were scanned to create a 2000 ppi, 16 bit grayscale TIFF file.  The digital files were integrated into the VRC collection, and uploaded to Shared Shelf for cataloging.

By happy concidence, Michelle Sparnicht was in fall 2014 a member of Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby and Lisa Trever's seminar on the nineteenth-century photographs by Désiré Charnay of Maya ruins, including Uxmal. Michele was chosen to do a preliminary cataloging of the images.  Because the images were unaccompanied by any identifying information -- let alone anything we would recognize as metadata! -- we had to compare what we had with images that had already been identified.  A major resource was the Architecture, Restoration, and Imaging of the Maya Cities of Uxmal Kabah, Sayil, and Labná website at Reed College. 

After Michelle finished her preliminary cataloging, I added additional metadata, including specific geocoordinates for each image, and further researched the photographs for potential dating.  After a thorough examination of our materials, photographs hosted by the Reed College website, and a review of the history of the site, I was able to determine with relative certainty that our photos were taken prior to 1930.  Small details in the photographs including vegetation, state of structures, and even clothing worn by unidentifiable women helped me come to this conclusion.

Once the records were catalogued, they were published to our collection on ARTstor, accessible to any UC user.  Recently ARTstor made its open-access Shared Shelf Commons collection available via the ARTstor Digital Library.  Given this new and very welcome accessibility, the VRC is now considering the copyright of images and works in its collection, and targeting those which can be published to ARTstor more openly.  Our Uxmal scans are the first set of images made available in this way.  While the copyright is not entirely certain, the VRC has deemed them orphan works with a low risk of copyright infringement.  By making these photographs more publicly available, it is our hope that more information will be forthcoming.

Uxmal    Maya    Pre-Columbian    Artstor