Beginning count: 5964

Today: 133

Total: 6097 photographs and negatives

A large percentage of the Curtis collection is comprised of negatives, with no physical print available. This complicates the processing of the collection for several reasons. First, processing photos of the fragmented collection becomes more arduous when using negatives. The negatives are difficult to compare against other prints or negatives for obvious reasons, like colors and details that I fail to associate because I am unable to translate them to the same colors and details without help. Second, the people in the photographs are more difficult to identify in negatives, further complicating the identification of events. Sometimes, the image needs to become a positive in order to identify events, colors and people in the photographs.

A few of the photos have already been digitized, allowing me to sort through the processed photos and negatives to make corrections; photos that should be grouped together, separated, etc. But the un-digitized photographs, the negatives, continued to plague my work, especially since they make up such a large part of the collection. This was until a few days ago, when I discovered an app called “Negative Me.”

“Negative Me” allows me to create digital positives of the negatives using my phone, allowing me to quickly identify the details, people, and possibly the event the negatives belong to. Here are a few examples.


This negative was only partially identified, filed with Billy Mills’ photographs. Experience allows me to identify Mills near the center, and even Tom Bradley next to him, and Finnie Jackson on the far left, but everyone else is a mystery. Using, “Negative Me”, this is what I get:


Suddenly, we not only see Finnie Jackson, Tom Bradley and Billy Mills in all their City Hall glory, we also see, to the right of Billy Mills, Academy Award winning actor Sidney Poitier! Now I know the event it belongs to, because Poitier visited City Hall for a resolution. And there are other photographs that should be grouped with this negative because they also capture the event.

The app was also useful yesterday with this negative:


Once again, I can identify Billy Mills, but I have no idea who the woman is next to him. Using the app, I was able to create this positive:


After consulting the brilliant Photo Collection team member, Christine Prime*, I discovered that the woman is actress Diahann Carroll, one of the first African American women to star in a television series. She was the lead role in the show Julia, one of the first shows that didn’t portray an African American woman as a domestic worker. She was also cast in some of the first movies, by major studios, that featured an African American cast. Her career in Broadway earned her the first Tony award ever bestowed upon an African American stage actress. Her film career earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her work in Claudine. 

Here’s a link to the app on Apple’s App store if you’re interested. It’s free and I have not been paid to review it:

*Christine Prime is the senior photo archives contractor in the department. I say senior because she’s been working for the department for 3 years. Her name isn’t really Christine Prime, but I’ll be calling her that in the blog because she was here first, and because she’s super knowledgeable. Christine Prime is not to be confused with Christina, who runs the entire department, and who is our boss. We could start a band if we wanted to, Kristine, Christine and Christina. We even have a Chris who volunteers.