Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A new stage

Now that BHS has all the portrait files. I have been working on the next stage of the project. For me this is a chance to create something new from the hundreds of images I created during the Face of Brooklyn.

With so much material, it became very difficult to keep track of all the images. I selected over 100 of the most promising portraits and had them made into small prints.

Using the small prints I created a really fun and endless game of matching and arranging. After selecting a few groups that interested me I began to test out different methods of arranging the groups. I had to make decisions about scale, paper type, distance between each portrait and if I was going to create a separation between each image. In order to determine these things I really need to be able to see them. Even though I am a visual artist, I can't just imagine it in my mind's eye and have to make many images that won't ever be shown to anyone else.

Having solved some of these questions I can move on to making the large prints. I have selected 24" as the dimension of the height of all the prints. This works well, as I can buy 24" x 100 feet rolls of paper to print on. I have a very large printer that can print 48" by 90." It is very fast, but uses 12 colors of ink. When the giant ink cartridges need to be replaced it is a tremendous expense. It is believed that the inks are archival for over 100 years. I traditional chemical color print is archival for less than 25 years. This is evident if you recall family photos from the seventies and eighties that are turning orange.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Article In Brooklyn Daily Eagle

An article about the Face of Brooklyn, my talk at the Brooklyn Historical Society on Wednesday night and the Interpreting Brooklyn Project. Click here for the full article.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Talk at Brooklyn Historical Society

Thanks to everyone who came last night to the Brooklyn Historical Society. Kate and Julie spoke about the Interpreting Brooklyn grant and BHS's photo collection that was the inspiration for my project. Julie brought out some of the files of "orphaned portraits' that I looked through as I started to research for the project.

I showed photos and told stories about the production of setting up portrait studios at eight Brooklyn parks. I also talked about my previous work , Free Sitting that investigated the curious conventions of our everyday family portraits. Then I showed portraits that became part of themes that emerged during the project, such as siblings, friends, couples, mulit-generational families, and athletes.

The audience had some great questions and comments that spanned from issues of archival preservation of the digital files, to fashion trends. One of the suggestions was that the behind the scenes photos of the portrait booth and me at work be included along with the portraits in the archive. Thanks to Kelly Rio Saxton and Nancy Borowick for snapping these photographs of us working. 

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Yesterday I mentioned the potential incarnations that my photographs may have as part of the Brooklyn Historical Society's collection. During our meeting this week, BHS archivist Julie May alerted me to the fact that any images that are part of the BHS collection without copyright can be used by patrons for any purpose. This includes commercial use. As an example, she said a man from the television show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, came in to do research. I grew anxious thinking of one of the portraits I made, of an unsuspecting participant being used as a fashion example on a network television show. 

In the end,  I will define how the portraits can, or can not be used outside of BHS. I have to find a balance that allows the portraits to function in the same way as the other photographs in the collection, but that protects the rights of my subjects, and my right as the author. I can stipulate that I am given attribution as photographer, or that use is limited to education purposes, or restricted from publications, or restricted from commercial use, or copyright is restricted all together.

When I left  the meeting with Julie my head was spinning from all the scenarios that she outlined, but I felt grateful that she had brought all of these permutations to my attention. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Deed of Gift

Today I met with Kate Fermoile, vice president of exhibitions, and Julie May, the Photo Archivist at BHS. It was a great feeling to slide three DVD's that contain 281 digital portraits that will now be processed into the Brooklyn Historical Society's permanent collection. For the photo archivist, librarians, digital collectors, and photo nerds ( I know who you are!) you might be interested to know that the files are 16 bit TIFF files at 3200 pixels. Along with the digital files, Kate helped me photo copy all the accompanying surveys the subjects filled out. Julie also got a digital copy of all of those, but also wanted hard copy.

Now it will be one of her intern's jobs to to go through and clean up the meta data. Meta data is all the "aboutness" for a photograph and includes photographer, date, location, but will also include information that the subjects supplied about themselves including name, address, occupation, time spent living in Brooklyn and the "wild card" box where they could write anything.

Julie supplied me with a sort of temporary receipt called "Temporary Custody Receipt"while BHS is in the processes of revising their "Deed of Gift" form and I have more time to contemplate how I want to treat the copyright of all of my images.

As a photographer and a contemporary person, my consideration to photographs began by first being the subject of photographs (this happens to nearly all of us at birth). Much later I began to consider photographs as a viewer. Later my relationship with them has been taking and making my own photographs, and considering how a viewer will interact with them. When I think about a viewer, it is almost strictly people seeing my photographs in gallery exhibitions.

Doing Face of Brooklyn has expanded my realization that any photograph I take could have a a lifespan that far exceeds my mortal life. As I have mentioned before, I began to think about photographs in multiples, as collections, and after my conversation with Julie about copyright, I realized that these Face of Brooklyn portraits will have a much longer life than mine, they could also have many incarnations and that "viewers" would mean much more than a person who attends an art exhibition.

Tomorrow, I will post about all the possible incarnations that could await them as part of a collection at BHS.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Categories and collections

After I made my last post of the composite of some of the finished portraits, I was happy to find an email from Paho Mann, a talented photographer and friend of mine living in Denton, TX.

 It was no surprise that Paho liked my composite image, when you consider one of his images from a project he is finished on the recycling plant in Phoenix Arizona. You can see more of Paho Mann's work at

Paho has been making work about collections and taxonomy for many years. For me, searching through the photo archives at the Brooklyn Historical Society was one of the first times I began to consider collections as having identities greater than their individual items. Initially, I had imagined that I would search through the photographs at BHS to find a few that would intrigue me and those would become the basis of my project.  After awhile, I became more interested in the _collection_ of all these photographs. What did they say as an entirety that was different than what they communicated individually? 

 Julie May, the photo librarian, began to pull boxes containing folders of portraits from the archive for me. For instance; there are folder for portraits of identified people. These people are organized alphabetically by last name. Because these are known people, the majority of them are business men or headshots of actresses or actors. Then there are some families who have extensive albums and these are identified by the family name and contain portrait photos in photo albums. 

This experience reminded me of my favorite piece in the Whitney's 2008 Biennial. It is a film by Javier Téllez called "Letter on the Blind For the Use of Those Who See." What the film is 6 blind people speaking about their experience touching an elephant. The animal is so big that they can't comprehend it in its entirety. This is how I feel about knowing a collection. 

And now that I am no longer looking through the photographs collected at BHS, it is how I feel about sorting through the 300 portraits I made as I begin to edit them into a finished work.  

Saturday, January 17, 2009


90 portraits from the roughly 242 finished portraits

Thursday, January 15, 2009

In the mail

Yesterday, Helena returned to my studio after a very long and restful holiday in her home town of Miami. I caught her up with all the developments in that occurred on the project during her absence. There are about 200 4" x 6" version of the portraits I have arranged on the walls and tables in the studio. I have also created some large test prints. I explained to Helena, who was educated as a sculptor, about color balance and how I am unhappy with the color of these tests. I have days of calibrating my larger printer to try and get a more accurate and pleasing color.

Helena added portraits and notes to be mailed to Face of Brooklyn participants. She wondered if the addressed envelope looked official enough to entice people to open it right away and not discard it with the junk mail.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

In the Studio

As the year has come to a close, the Face of Brooklyn project is also nearing completion.

The portraits have all been selected, adjusted, and uploaded to Flickr. Helena has emailed everyone who supplied us their email address their portrait . The final image files have been produced to meet digital archival standards and will soon be delivered to their final home at the Brooklyn Historical Society. Those of you who requested a physical copy of your portrait should expect an envelope in the mail this month.

What appears to be the ending of this project gives way to a new stage of work for me in the studio. During the last six months I have been acting as a demographer, of sorts; cataloging the people in the city parks of Brooklyn and carefully noting appropriate information about each participant. In doing so I have met the objective that spurred this project; to make a contribution to the Brooklyn Historical Society's portrait archive. In doing so, it was my intention to give pictorial representation to a larger spectrum of the borough's residents than what I original found when first combing the archive.

Now that this goal is met, I am anxious to re-assuming my role as artist by reacting to the 240 portraits that I made during this project. In a sense, the portraits I collected now serve as raw material for me to explore and react to.

Friday, January 2, 2009

2009 Update

As the year has come to a close, the Face of Brooklyn project is also nearing completion.

The portraits have all been selected, adjusted, and uploaded to Flickr. Helena has emailed everyone who supplied an email address their portrait . The final image files have been produced to meet digital archival standards and will soon be delivered to their final home at the Brooklyn Historical Society. Those of you who requested a physical copy of your portrait should expect an envelope in the mail this month.


Watching baseball game at Redhook ballfields


Ukrainian and Russian friends at Coney Island.


West Indie Day Carnival in Crown Heights


Crown Heights
These Rabbinical school students were on their way to the library.


Coney Island Bathers


Friday, December 12, 2008

Ghana On Tap, and exhibition by Nancy Borowick

Aside from helping me on Face of Brooklyn enter metadata, email participants their portraits, retouch images, and add fun and enthusiasm to the studio, Nancy Borowick has been mounting and exhibition of her photographs of Ghana to raise money to build a well in the village where she lived last fall.

The reception is tomorrow, Dec 13th from 3 to 7 PM
The exhibition is at Katonah Art and Frame Shop
188 Katonah Avenue
Katonah, new YOrk

You can see more of Nancy's photographs, which burst with a touching sensitivity and joy, at her website 
Click here to donate to her charity, Ghana on Tap

Saturday, December 6, 2008


I am happy to report that each person who participated in Face of Brooklyn information supplied on the survey form has been carefully typed in, matched to their photo, and now sent to Julie May the Photography Librarian at the Brooklyn Historical Society. Nancy and Helena, who have been both working as assistants,interns, and Excel mavens were instrumental in the un-ending work of carefully decoding curious handwriting,email addresses, searching for missing zipcodes, and catching my mistakes.

Julie May will translate the fields we created in excel for things like "Occupation", "How long you have lived in Brooklyn", "Age" so that each portrait file will be encoded with this information, photographers, archivist, and librarian's call this metadata.

Julie will also have to make some modifications to certain terms that people used on their forms, particularly in the free-form comment box. The Library of Congress has created a keyword thesaurus for metadata, to ensure consistency for researchers, and "Vocabulary control, identification of preferred terms, standardized spelling." You can read a bit about it here.

She will also add some more fields to include author(myself), year, location, and notes about the specifics of the Face of Brooklyn.

During the meeting I had with Julie May and Kate Fermoile last week, we discussed how the portraits collect during Face of Brooklyn would be treated and integrated into the larger collection at BHS. Thinking about the 280 (ish) portraits I took for this project filtering into the BHS collection was very exciting. The portraits will both exist as a distinct collection, "Nora Hertings' Face of Brooklyn" and seamlessly join the rest of BHS's collection. This way someone who comes to BHS to research "Coney Island", will also come across all of the portraits I made August 31st, 2008 at Coney Island. If someone is doing research about students and submits "students" into the database, the portraits of those who listed their occupation on my form as "student" will also be returned appear among the search hits.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Brooklynites: A Review in Miniature

Brooklyn is famous for lots of things, among my favorites is ADORABLE BABIES (or, "big kids" for those little ones who protest: "I'M NOT A BABY!"). As Nora's trusty apprentice, I had the glamorous job of sifting through, labeling and e-mailing thousands of photos. As I chipped away at my mountainous task I could not help but notice that every single baby I reviewed was probably the cutest baby I had ever seen. Don't believe me? Check out these Brooklyn bunnies. I will be posting new photos every couple of days, so be on the look-out! Mostly they will feature babies, but some are just kids who were way too cute to pass up. Just what is it that makes them so adorable? You tell me!

"a photo? yes, but quickly, please. i've much to do."

photoshopping around this baby's hair was quite the learning experience.
P.S.-how jealous are you of those chanel baby bunny slippers?

those hip sunglasses actually belong to the baby and were exchanged for the free ride.

"this is my new look."

November 26th, 2008



when's the last time you got to act this silly?
don't answer that.

"mom, you aren't focusing. check out that cute three year old in the pink floyd t-shirt."

Soccer at McCarren Park

This morning the official temperature in Central Park was "freezing", but looking at the final portraits from the shoot at McCarren Park on September 6ths reminds me of the sweltering humidity of an impending storm from hurricane Ike.

Brooklynites who were unphased by the weather included a number of young soccer players who had games on the field near Driggs and Lorimer.
Along with many players, was pleased to photograph Dewey and Katherine Thompson, who started the youth soccer league who were playing at the park.