Friday, June 13, 2014

Travels in Time and Space

It’s been a while since I wrote a post on images and where to find them. I did a whole series in 2012, giving information on collections that in many cases have only improved since then. In others it’s already out-of-date: has blended into ThinkStock and no longer offers a less-expensive alternative to Shutterstock, for example. But I just found another enormous repository of art and photography, so I decided to share the news.

The first post in that 2012 series, “The Nation’s Photo Album,” listed some of the major collections available digitally via the U.S. Library of Congress, including 1,100 photographs of classic Russian architecture taken by William Craft Brumfield, professor of Slavic Studies at Tulane University and a noted expert on the architectural history of Russia and the surrounding lands. Brumfield also worked on the Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii collection of original color photographs from 1915, restored and housed at the Library of Congress.

But the main part of Professor Brumfield’s collection, I discovered recently, is at the National Gallery of Art (NGA), in Washington, DC. The NGA holds thirteen million images in the form of photographs, slides, negatives, microforms, and digital files—including almost fifty-five thousand donated by Professor Brumfield, compiled during his forty years of trekking around the former USSR recording buildings old, new, restored, and decaying. These priceless photographs are just a part of its collection, which focuses primarily on the art and architecture of Western Europe.

So what can you find if you visit the NGA site? A good place to start is with the NGA Library Image Collections Features. There, if you scroll down, you can see a heading, “Travels Across Russia,” and (at the moment), four images for 1889, Ekaterinburg, Murom, and Torzhok. Click on one—I chose Torzhok, where my antagonist in The Swan Princess plans to establish himself just as soon as he identifies a way out of his Arctic monastery prison.

A window opens with a short history of the town and a set of slides. Clicking on a slide opens the entire set for that feature, with (in this case) informative captions for each slide offering dates, descriptions, and copyright information, if any. A navigation bar to the left shows a link to the Image Collections Catalogue; enter a search term, and you can export or print the results. You can also store images in a light box for easy retrieval. The site is responsive and easy to use, beautifully designed. 

And this is just the Library collections. Click on National Gallery of Art in the top left of the navigation band at the top, and another window opens onto the collection, with its own features and search box and collections of clickable tiles. (Hint: To get back to the Library Image Collections, click on Research in the top navigation bar, then Library.)

The site offers access to exhibitions, paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, photographs, pictures of everyday objects, multimedia presentations, and more—all searchable, all free to download, and much of it usable for both commercial and noncommercial purposes. The NGA maintains an open access policy, which states, “Users may download—free of charge and without seeking authorization from the Gallery—any image of a work in the Gallery’s collection that the Gallery believes is in the public domain and is free of other known restrictions.” It requests only that you add the line “Courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington,” to help others locate the collections. But you do need to check the individual images: artists and photographers do not surrender their copyright merely by donating their images to the gallery.

So next time you’re looking for that perfect image, take a trip in time and space through the National Gallery of Art. You won’t be disappointed, wherever your interests lie.

And if, like me, you particularly enjoy pictures of Russia, another good site to check is Rossiiskaia gazeta’s online “Russia Beyond the Headlines” series, which includes Professor Brumfield’s ongoing journeys across that vast and surprisingly uncharted territory. A recent trip to the Russian North (where my Swan Princess antagonist has been reluctantly holed up) is a good place to start. It includes a map of the area pictured and links to other posts in the series. 

For best results, click on the icon with the four arrows to the bottom right of the pictures and enjoy the full-screen slide show that appears.

If you'd like to know more about the thousand-year history of Russian architecture in general, you can also try Brumfield’s books, beginning with Gold in Azure.

All images courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. The two pictures of the exterior and interior of the 1717 Church of the Ascension in Torzhok (alas, built too late for my characters to have seen it!) reproduced with permission from William Craft Brumfield.

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