By twhalliii | THE BACK ROW MANIFESTO by Tom Hall December 5, 2006 at 3:21AM
Browsing around the internet today, I came across this article on Jim Emerson's blog detailing MoMA's continuing inaction regarding the promised re-opening of their Film Stills Archive. Four years ago, as the MoMA went about re-designing their main space, they shipped the film stills and much of their ephemera to the isolated The Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center, a storage facility in Hamlin, Pennsylvania and, most importantly, closed the archive to the public. MoMA outlines the temporary nature of the move on their own site, saying:
"Film Stills Archive
As part of the long-term plan to expand and renovate the Museum, the Film Stills Archive has been closed temporarily and moved to The Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center in Hamlin, Pennsylvania, a state-of-the-art facility designed for the permanent and short-term storage of the Museum's film and media collections."
The site goes on to list other film still collections that researchers may want to contact in lieu of access to MoMA's archive.
A few years ago, I myself took a trip to Hamlin, PA to visit The Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center. I took New Jersey transit to the end of the line and grabbed a ride to a small, unmarked dirt road. After negotiating the back roads, I found the facility. I did get to explore the archive and it was a truly amazing space (photos below). At the same time, it is in no way an accessible space and MoMA's decision to house a very important archive out of public reach seems to contribute to the impression that this otherwise terrific institution may not be the proper steward for this collection. The key issue for me is not only scholarship, but that in many cases, the film stills are the only visual record of films that we have since lost. I have no doubt that the stills are being well preserved in Hamlin; The facility is well run and state of the art. But the great irony here is that while the stills are in what I imagine to be good hands, the visual enjoyment of the stills, the entire reason they are being preserved, remains off limits. It's a shame. Here's hoping that like-minded individuals will let the MoMA know how they feel about the decision to keep a once-bustling and important resource away from those who fulfill the archive's mission of sharing and preserving our collective film history.
The Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center
I did not photograph the interior of the space, although I did get to do some guided walking. These shots show the exterior of the Center and the surrounding environs (in the intervening years I've ironically lost some of my other pictures.) It's a lovely place, if completely out of reach to all but the most determined of us.
Update: More from Anthony Kaufman here.