George Eastman House exchange

BY KATHRIN DI ROCCO

The elephant head at George Eastman House. Kathrin di Rocco

I’m currently at George Eastman House (GEH) in New York on a reciprocal exchange program with the Selznick School of Preservation, which operates out of GEH. I’m looking at how different collecting institutions handle collections comprising mixed media / different formats – which is particularly relevant given the proliferation of digital media.

There are moments on a work exchange, I am discovering, that can’t be captured photographically. Sure, on the walk to GEH in the morning you can pull your phone from your pocket, cold hands fumbling as you squint into the rain, and take pictures of the distinctive upstate New York houses: all porches and bay windows and turrets and gables and colour and wood.

 

You can even take photos of the House itself: grand and imposing, with an exquisite conservatory featuring a fibreglass replica prominently displayed of the head of the bull elephant shot by George Eastman himself.

You can Instagram the Mexican meal you eat one night, a massive portion even by American standards that will also do for lunch tomorrow.

Upstate New York houses. Kathrin di Rocco.

But there are moments – the best moments – that find you sitting in a small room with a handful of people listening to David Francis, OBE, former Chief of the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division at the Library of Congress, reflect generously and at length on his career and the challenges faced in setting up the world’s first preservation centre, and a moving image museum.

These are instances that find you nodding your head and hiding a grim smile of recognition and thinking, ‘This! Yes! This!’; instances where the rest of the world recedes to that tiny room and that speaker and the four pages of notes in your Moleskine. Instances that make you acutely conscious of the privilege of working as a curator at the NFSA and having the rare opportunity to spend a large chunk of time with the staff, students, and visitors of the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, one of the world’s finest collections of moving image and stills.

It’s these seminal moments that are unable to be captured. You will have to take my word for it.