Friday, August 23, 2013

Jewish Museum of Maryland

My name is Matt Oliva and I am a junior Art History and Photography major. I was one of two summer 2011 photo archive interns at the Jewish Museum of Maryland in Baltimore, a position I found through MICAnetwork and the Museum's website. After submitting a ream and cover letter, Rachel Kassman, the Photo Archivist at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, requested a phone interview and I was hired about a week later.

The Jewish Museum of Maryland is located in Jonestown, Baltimore, the historic center of Jewish life in the city. Its mission is to preserve and tell the story of Jewish life in America, with particular focus on Maryland. The museum property includes two historic synagogues, and its collection consists of thousands of objects, documents, and photographs that were made, owned, or used by Maryland Jews. The breadth of the collection allows the museum to paint a fascinating and complete picture of Jewish life in America over the past two centuries.

My projects as Photo Archive Intern were many and varied, ranging from collections inventory to scanning images. The most significant projects I was assigned were processing the Baltimore Jewish Times photo archive and working with images for an upcoming exhibition on Jewish life in suburbia, called "Jews on the Move." In 2011 the Jewish Times moved offices, and donated their entire photographic print archive from the late 1970s to early 2000s to the museum. This archive consisted of tens of thousands of images ranging from those taken by staff photographers to Op Art and images licensed from the Associated Press. The images taken by staff photographers had to be separated from the rest, sorted alphabetically by subject, and rehoused in archival folders and boxes. The final collection remaining at the museum consists of roughly ten thousand images in forty boxes now accessible to staff and researchers. Another project, and perhaps the one I am most proud of, was image scanning and research for "Jews on the Move." This involved digitizing the images temporarily loaned to the museum for use in the exhibition, as well as using Jewish Times back issues to find and digitize real estate ads. These ads then had to be thoroughly researched in order to achieve image permissions for exhibition research. All of the images digitized will be used on the back panels in the exhibition, and will be one of the main visual components of the exhibition.

Interning at the Jewish Museum of Maryland was extremely beneficial in that it allowed me to have hands-on experience with collections in a museum setting and really cemented my interest in this field as a future career. I feel as though I have gained significant experience that can be applied in future internships and jobs through amount of time I spent handing not only photographs, but archives and objects as well. I worked extensively with museum databases, numbering systems, and image digitization, and additionally processed collections from their initial accession through their final cataloging and storage. Throughout these tasks I was often able to apply my photography-specific art history knowledge to identify and date photographs based on everything from the processes used in their creation to elements of their subject matter. While I am still not sure exactly what kind of institution I intend to work with, this internship has most certainly affirmed my interest in working with special collections as a career, and I look forward to using the skills I acquired in future jobs.