I have not updated my blog in well over a year, so I thought I would do that. I do not care if anyone ever reads it or not, but I will use it to practice writing. I started this blog as a classroom assignment while in the Applied History Master’s program at George Mason University. I’m not going to get rid of these older posts, though they are the remnants of the class assignments. There are some dead links to a website that I made and allowed to wither of the vine. Perhaps I’ll get back into website design again someday. In the meantime, I’ll write about some of the fun things that I find at work or home that amuses me.
The first order of business is that I’ve been doing research on Marine Corps vehicles. After many years of looking for photos of a particularly rare truck built for the Marine Corps by the FWD Company, my co-worker and I hit paydirt at the National Archives. We found around two dozen, and were able to use the photos for research in the restoration that our museum owns that is likely the last one built for the Marine Corps that still exists. There will be more to come on this restoration progress as the Marine Depot Maintenance Command in Albany, GA is roughly 65% complete with the restoration process.
Here are my links to my website:
It has been a pleasure, good luck to those taking comps.
This week, I had more practical application of the skills I’ve learned in this class. Here is the final copy of the Light Armored Vehicle that I created the template for. A guy in Ladysmith picked up the vehicle on Friday and painted it all weekend. We should get it back tomorrow.
For my project, I am having more trouble putting it all together than I thought I would. I keep second guessing myself, mainly because so many people in this class have such great web designs. I am purposely keeping mine simple because I like cleaner design.
Another problem that I have had is I think I spent too much time collecting photographs that I will never be able to use for the scope of this project, but I hope to continue in the future.
I suppose I do not really have much else to add this week to my blog. Sorry for the shorter post.
My project deals with the Marine Corps Base at Quantico, VA. I have run into some problems regarding relating the history, as it is an active military base. I wanted to talk about some of the unique features of the base and the area, just like all of Virginia, is imbued with interesting resources. The base archaeologist has uncovered everything from Clovis Points, items from the King’s Highway to unexploded ordnance from the American Revolution to modern day.
The unexploded ordnance is the main issue. Though the base has a really cool story to tell, I cannot tell most of it. The problem stems from the lack on knowledge of where things occurred, like the digging of trenches while Marines trained for WWI, to the fact that most of the base was an active firing range at one point or the other. And I don’t mean just lead projectiles. High energy explosive stuff.
I wanted to have maps and explain where some neat things happened. The entire Potomac Coast was a Confederate coastal defense battery on the Virginia side, and a Federal counter battery on the Maryland side. Known Civil War camps litter the area. However, relic hunters love to find unexplored areas like that. Obviously that is a security issue for the base and dangerous because of the amount of explosives that they might unearth and possibly detonate.
There is still a lot I can tell, so I’ll make sure to focus on that.
I just recently had the left hand cannon restored. Its twin has been on display on the base for 50 years. Crews building Turner Field in WWII dug it up, along with tons of explosive shells.
As far as design, I guess I am going to stay on the boring side. I think my colors look good and subdued, but aren’t too boring. I found a lot of templates that would be fun to use, but manipulating them would take more time than I can spend on them this close to the end of the semester. Here is the link to my website and my Design Page. It needs work as I try to fix the columns and some of the pictures that don’t show up.
I commented on Joshua’s Blog.
Because of this class, I have been able to use some of my new skills for my job as a curator. Right now, we are about to have a combat vehicle, which is going on display in the National Museum of the Marine Corps painted. I chose to have the vehicle represent the 3d Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, or 3d LAR, which fought in Operation Iraqi Freedom. I chose to make the vehicle appear as it did in March 2003.
At that time, the unit pained large wolf heads and chevrons on their vehicles to allow other units on the battlefield to see at a quick glance who they were. They used cardboard templates to paint the vehicles, but the cardboard templates have long been lost. So, to make up for the lost templates, I chose a photo from the time, traced the items that we want to recreate, and converted it to a vector drawing. Our exhibits shop printed the items on a vinyl printer so that the paint shop could paint the recreated markings on the vehicle. Our exhibits folks could have done it, but this was good practice for me to hone my new skills as well as to lessen their burden
This week, we also read about the Lost Museum digital display. I was immediately reminded of my childhood, playing the computer games. I played around soaking up the nostalgia of my adolescence. Even the Joshua Brown article mentioned that the games were the basis for the display style.
So the Lost museum ends up being a nostolgic trip to the older digital formats which was representing a museum of the days of yore. Additionally, it was kind of fun. Museums don’t often represent a history of museums. This was a fun way to look at museums as a history professional.
I sure think that this kind of project would be really fun to see updated on a more modern style. Many museums offer virtual tours, but not like the Lost Museum. Further, the recreation of a museum that was lost is a novel idea.
The virtual tour needs to be continually updated too, if it is an active museum. For instance, our Museum’s virtual tour is now obsolete, as the helicopter represented has been replaced.
I am having a lot of fun with this class, and these photo projects. I have learned a lot from the research that I have done to color these photos. My office is literally meters away from the beaches where the Marine Corps developed the doctrine that it used throughout WWII.Finding my office building from 1930s photographs has been a real treat. And taking the photographs down to the areas where Marines operated 100 years ago brings the history to life in a really powerful way to me. I hope that I will be able to convert that into a website.
For one of my engravings, I chose a recruiting poster that came out in late 1918. I found the poster in a classroom full of Marines who had returned to Quantico after WWI. There are several indicators that they are mostly combat veterans who probably put up the poster out of pride.
I also did another colorization of Marines storming the beach outside of my office. It was pretty fun.
I found a pretty neat way to get the detail on trees too. Used the same technique that Dr. Petrik showed us for the engraving. Essentially, for small details, I used blending options to isolate small details and saved the selections. After I put the whole picture back together, I could load selections that were parts of the small details such as trees and rocks and color them. Also, I created separate curve layers on selections to make distant objects more sharp compared to the background.
Here is my vignetted photograph. It is of then Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler, who is one of two Marines to be awarded two medals of honor. He was in charge of the Base at Quantico in the 1920s before becoming the Philadelphia Police Chief while on active duty. This was certainly unconstitutional. To keep up their fitness, Marines from Quantico would hike to Civil War battlefields and stage reenactments as far away as Gettysburg.
Here, Butler is leading his Marines to the Wilderness. It was an odd sight, as the Marines would wear their contemporary gear and fire modern rifles and artillery pieces.
According to legend, Butler did not believe the story about General Thomas Jackson’s arm being buried at Chancellorsville Battlefield, and made a bet that Marines would not find the arm buried there. Marines dug it up, supposedly found the arm and reburied it (the legend is not true.)
Revisiting last week, here is some more detail about my seaplane from last week. There were originally two seaplane hangars that went straight down to the water, ande a plane could be put on a dolly and rolled to the water. One still stands, the other was damaged and razed several decades ago.
In the end, I think I have a lot of raw material to work with for the project. I hope that the work I am doing translates into a project that people enjoy.
This week I tried my hand at a few different photographs to see how it went and what I needed to improve on. Coloring the foreground is getting easier, but realistic backgrounds are very tough for me.
Case study one:
I tried to colorize and “hydroplane” that was taken about 300 feet from my office 100 years ago. The The plane was a treated fabric that would have been a shiny grey. Getting the aircraft into that color was pretty hard, an I do not feel like I nailed it.
The second problem is that the photograph’s background was the Potomac river and the Maryland Shore. The detail of the water was almost gone in the photograph, and just painting it blue did not work. Also, the trees on the shore looked goofy and cartoonish. So I took a photograph of mine at that spot and used the color, texture and trees to restore that part of the photograph. I did make the water a little more blue than my photo just to reinforce the water look.
Case study two.
I found another photograph that had a lot of components, Including Marines, civilians, cars and a cannon being drug through the street. Again, the background seemed to be the hardest part. I think I got the color of the clothing correct and the vehicles, but the dirt street and trees in the background still seem off. I played with gradients and opacity, but I’m still not happy. It looks like one of those colorized postcards from the 1940s.
I am trying to practice, and this is still a lot of fun. I probably should spend less time on this and more time on my project site.
For the second photo, I don’t think I did too much to hurt historical accuracy. The hydroplane has made me ponder if what I did was okay. I think I would need to be honest about what I did before I tried to publish it as historical evidence for anything. I tried to make sure that the conditions were the same, and I don’t think the river environment in Maryland has changed so much that I was introducing a terribly new shoreline. I felt that the trees and water was too important to not introduce.
I would love to know what everyone else thinks about the hydroplane. From last week’s discussion I get the feeling that it might be a good topic for debate, if anybody even reads this this week.
I have had a good deal of fun this week working on photographs for the image assignment. On the plus side, I am going to do a work related image assignment and the research into the coloring that I need to use allowed me to learn a lot of the minutiae that I would have never forced myself to learn otherwise. For instance, in 1917-1918, the Marine Corps wore a lot of US Army equipment, because it was easier to supply the larger quantities to France and simplified the supply lines. When the Marines left from Quantico, among other places, they generally wore a Marine Corps uniform that was a deep forest green made of wool. When it wore out, they received an army sage green colored uniform. It is hard to tell which is which in a black and white photograph, but generally there are distinguishing features, such as the cut of the pockets or the cuff of the sleeve. Finding these features tells me which color to use in the colorization process.
On the negative side, there was huge amount of information to learn in Photoshop this week which has me feeling some confused. The tutorial with Teddy Roosevelt was great, but the Roosevelt’s face seemed bright and ready for color. I have some darker colored faces I’d like to show which I cannot make colorize very well. Also, I am having trouble with the dark colored uniforms being to grey in the original to take on much color. color either seems nonexistent or gaudy and garish.
And, while the tutorials are great, there is so much information so fast, I am left behind. I recognize that more practice will probably help me understand what is going on. It didn’t help that I asked an illustrator that I work with to help me with the colors, and another illustrator overheard the advice, disagreed and I was in a 30 minute conversation about when to use levels or colors or Bezier curves to create color levels. Their final consensus was there were different ways to skin a cat which was good, but unhelpful for my task at hand.
One of the most poignant points of Morris’s exploration of the FSA photographers is that Photoshop is not needed to alter photographs, changing captions is useful as well. Though the story is apocryphal, William Randolph Hearst once shouted “You furnish the pictures. I’ll furnish the war!” Whether he said it or not is not as important as the notion that people understood that this type of manipulation was possible.
In the Israeli-Lebanon War in 2006, Reuters published a photograph of Beirut after an Israeli airstrike on the city that had been altered digitally. The photographer, Adnan Hajj, mind-mindbogglingly decided to add more smoke in a photograph that already spoke volumes about the devastation of the city. I can’t even imagine what the photographer was as thinking, because the original was a very good photograph and he did such a poor job in his alteration. Reuters retracted several hundred of his photos. (I am not posting side by side photos because they are copyrighted)
Another example (I’ll post it if I can find it again) was a military history magazine publishing the infamous photograph of the cannonballs on the road at the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. It is very likely that Roger Fenton took the first photograph and then rolled cannonballs into the road for a more effective picture.
During the Spanish Civil War, Robert Capa took a photograph of a Republican soldier allegedly being shot, which became the most iconic image of the war. Scrutiny of the photograph shows that the event could not have happened where Capa claimed. Investigators continued to pull at the string until it unraveled, and now it is regarded as staged. (I have provided a link to the photograph because it is copyrighted)
Fenton was one of the first combat photographers, inventing the genre and paving the way for photographers like Matthew Brady. Since he was one of the first, he may not have seen what he was doing as any different than when artists took license to paint a battle. As the linked Time article shows, Capa was a young photographer on his first assignment-just like Arthur Rothstein.
In a way, I understand why photojournalists alter photographs. In 2003, I was in the Marines and was in the Invasion of Iraq. I took a lot of photographs when I could on disposable cameras. Due to sand and sandstorms, the the cameras usually only worked for about 10 or 15 shots before they became clogged with sand. Everything is grainy and pixelated. Explosions which were pretty close and dynamic look small and detached in the photographs. Few of us had good digital cameras, and those that did had a host of problems keeping them working. I therefore see why some people are tempted to change photographs to convey the deeper sense of being there, but I will go on record saying that I do not condone alteration. I have been using some of my photos for the Photoshop tutorials to see if I can get any more information out of them though.
I know my post has been largely military related, and I do apologize for that, and I am even more sorry for my own anecdotal vignettes. But I wanted to bring up the larger point that photojournalists take photos for a living and have to produce good, dynamic images to maintain their livelihood. While I was disappointed that my photographs ended up being horrible, other people have the added pressures of having to produce. I do not see a problem with my photo restoration. However, Fenton, Rothstein, Capa and Hajj, all crossed the a line that, in my opinion, destroyed the veracity of their works.
I really liked James Curtis’s take on the Evan Walker photos. Sometimes, I think he was a little quick to write off things as moved because they didn’t fit in that space. Take the case of the rocking chair. Growing up and visiting my great grandmother in the Appalachian Mountains in Blairsville, GA, I would notice that sometimes her furniture was in weird places. She lived in a cramped house and would put furniture (including rockers) on the wall so that she could move around and pull out the furniture that she wanted to use. Scrutiny and examination is good, but I don’t think you can make such sweeping claims as Curtis tended to do.
As historians, we all know that every single solitary thing that we write down or utter to a journalist will be scrutinized. At my job, I feel that everybody is trying to “stump the chump” finding some arcane way that we are wrong. Sometimes people are being pedantic, sometimes they are absolutely correct, but the criticism is always there. In the days of inter-connectivity, scrutiny is (as well it should be) everywhere.