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Huntington Library Imaging Center Tour: Lights! Camera! Magic!

Dr. L. Bendikson with camera for microphotography. Undated. photCL 107 vol13 pg26 (140). (The Huntington Library)

Dr. L. Bendikson with camera for microphotography. Undated. photCL 107 vol13 pg26 (140). (The Huntington Library)

 

10:00 am-noon  friday, october 7

The Spectral Arts of Dr. Lodewyk Bendikson at the Huntington: 
A Presentation by Laura Stalker, Avery Deputy Director of the Huntington
Library and John Sullivan, Head of Imaging

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

                                                                                                              —Arthur C. Clark

Dr. Lodewyk Bendikson was a pioneer and leader in the development of forensic photography and the head of the photography department of the Huntington Library from 1928 until his retirement in 1943. By way of introduction to the work of Bendikson, Laura Stalker began her presentation with a brief history of the development of the Huntington Library. George Watson Cole, a leader in the library profession, was appointed by Henry Huntington in 1915 as the first librarian and cataloger of the rapidly growing Huntington book collection housed at that time in New York City. The collection was relocated to San Marino, California, upon completion in 1920 of the newly constructed Huntington Library building located on the grounds of the Huntington estate. It was noted that Huntington Library will be celebrating its one hundredth anniversary in 2019. 

 Dr. Laura Stalker, Avery Deputy Director of the Huntington Library and John Sullivan, Head of Imaging

Dr. Laura Stalker, Avery Deputy Director of the Huntington Library and John Sullivan, Head of Imaging

Dr. Bendikson was one of the earliest employees to join the Huntington Library staff in New York in 1916 and, subsequently, he made the move to the new location in San Marino. His early days at the Huntington Library coincided with the rapid development of photographic technology that was beginning to be widely used for document copying. By 1928, he was appointed head of the Department of Photographic Reproduction that eventually evolved to serve the needs of the entire institution including the art gallery and gardens as well as the library.

Over the next two decades, Dr. Bendikson continued to make significant contributions to the field of document copying, including use of Photostat copies and microfilm. He also developed pioneering techniques that advanced the use of forensic photography. John Sullivan, Head of Imaging, and only the fifth person to occupy this position, demonstrated (with his magician’s top hat in place) several of Dr. Bendikson’s most important contributions. Utilizing the art and science of photography and employing infrared and ultraviolet light sources he was able to display, as if by magic, how “what is hidden may be revealed”. One of the most dramatic of several demonstrations prepared for the tour group involved a page from the handwritten autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, 1771–1790. Most of the text on one of the pages from the Franklin manuscript was obliterated by a large ink spill. Mr. Sullivan was able to demonstrate that the entire original text underneath the ink spill was revealed by employing photography and spectral analysis techniques advanced by Dr. Bendikson and still in use today.

Artifacts from the early days of the Lab including a palimpscope in the foreground

Artifacts from the early days of the Lab including a palimpscope in the foreground. (Vicke Selk)

At the close of the presentation and demonstrations, Mr. Sullivan led the group through an exhibit of historical artifacts in use during Dr. Bendikson’s tenure at the lab including tools invented by Dr. Bendikson (e.g. the palimpscope, a light-weight portable ultra violet light source). John also led a tour through the current lab noting that the physical space is partitioned by use of blackout curtains, rather than walls, in order to maximize flexibility of space use. The group observed the large-scale photography set up, a copy of the Ripley alchemical scroll on display, the digital laboratory and office area. John was of the opinion that Bendikson would be pleased and excited by the technology in use in the Imaging Lab today.

A copy of the Ripley alchemical scroll on display

A copy of the Ripley alchemical scroll on display. (Vicke Selk)

The large scale photography lab space. (Vicke Selk)

The large scale photography lab space. (Vicke Selk)