Digitizing the Fred Fehl Dance Collection
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The Harry Ransom Center’s performing arts department holds two vast collections of photographs by Fred Fehl—a prolific mid-twentieth century photographer of theater and dance based mainly in New York City. The Fred Fehl Theater Collection and the Fred Fehl Dance Collection each contain tens of thousands of 5 x 7 prints of various productions by multiple companies. For the past six months, a team of employees, interns, and volunteers has been working to digitize and catalog 5,000 of the 30,000 photographs in the Fred Fehl Dance Collection. Once digitized, the images and their metadata are uploaded onto the Ransom Center’s new digital collections website, which uses the platform CONTENTdm. Providing access to Fehl’s photos of dance productions, which run the gamut from the classical offerings of the American Ballet Theatre to Martha Graham’s groundbreaking modern dance, is a significant contribution to the fields of dance history, art history, cultural studies, and costume design. No other online library or archive currently provides images of Fehl’s photos in such breadth or depth, and the Ransom Center is in a unique position to do so because it holds the copyright to all of its Fehl photographs. To execute the complex task of preparing the photographs for digitization, the performing arts curator Helen Baer, her associate Chelsea Weathers, and graduate interns Jordan Mitchell and Emily Roehl developed a workflow that entails two main streams. One focuses on the creation of consistent metadata, and the other focuses on the digitization of the photographs. After the institution of the workflow, undergraduate work study students and volunteers also began to contribute to the project. To date, nearly 1500 photographs from three different dance companies have been uploaded via CONTENTdm to the Ransom Center’s digital collections website. Access to this enormous collection of visual materials will be an invaluable resource for dance scholars, enthusiasts, historians, and the general public.