12 Portraits: Studies of Women at Yale
Behind the Scenes
On this page, take a glimpse at what went into creating this photographic series, beginning with some thoughts from Tanya Marcuse about her personal ties to two sitters photographed for the larger series from which the twelve portraits showcased in this exhibit were selected. You can also explore some of the many elements that went into planning, executing and installing the exhibition.
While this project is about Yale, it stems from personal experience. I shared a darkroom with Marion Belanger when we were grad students in the photography program from 1988 to 1990. Our whole class piled into Marion’s living room on Tuesday nights to watch Twin Peaks, taking bets on who killed Laura Palmer (I won). She was the only student with a living room in a real house. In her backyard her daughter Valerie (then about 7) played in a pink tutu. Marion became one of my closest friends and we even got to pal around when we both won Guggenheim Fellowships the same year. We are both part of The Birthday Club, a feminist collective that originated at the Yale School of Art. In this film I’m photographing Marion and Valerie Belanger (who got her MA in International Development from Yale), and Valerie’s beautiful twins Grayson and Isabella.
The core group of individuals who plan and execute an exhibition is made up of the Curator(s), Librarian Advisor, Library Exhibits Program Manager, Library Exhibits Technician, Copy Editor and Designer, with the planning process typically beginning twelve months before the exhibition’s opening. This group works together throughout the project to develop the exhibition plan to completion.
Countless other library staff also support this important scholarly work. For 12 Portraits, the Program Manager and Technician collaborated in the early stages with YUL Paper and Photograph Conservator Marie-France Lemay to brainstorm and discuss potential mounting options. Her expertise enabled them to decide on a final mount that was both secure for the photographs while showcasing their beauty and fulfilling the aesthetic vision of the co-curators “to keep the installation as visually clean and simple as possible.” Tanya also reflects that, “the borderless, mounted prints—that lean slightly—allow the photographs to assert themselves as objects, (not just images) and balance the formality of the portraits with the unconventional Memorabilia Room cases.”
Five months prior to the exhibit opening, collaborators gathered for the Case Layout Review, depicted in these three photos, to discuss the best ways to showcase the photographs in the space. This review is an opportunity for all the collaborators to freely share their ideas, pose questions, and to give input and opinions, all working together toward the same goal of reaching definitive resolutions about the final exhibit layout.
During this meeting for 12 Portraits, several key elements were decided upon. The case dimensions played a large part in determining the size of the final prints. In turn, the print size, as well as visitors’ sightlines, determined the placement and location of the photographs within the cases. This meeting was also an opportunity to physically layout smaller versions of the potential final twelve photographs, and allowed Tanya to gather input and advice from her co-curator, the Library Exhibits Program Manager, and Library Exhibits Technician, as she worked through the process of narrowing her selections. "I loved working with the team on this project," said Marcuse, "because our dialogue about the setting and the portraits was so inventive and generative. And what may have been tough challenges really did become opportunities."
Preparation: Photo Mounting
The finished printed photographs underwent a special mounting process to ensure optimal visibility, with the glassed-in, ornate wood cases in the Memorabilia Room acting like surrogate frames. This mount was able to strike a balance between providing the proper protection against environmental factors, while at the same time accomplishing the curator’s vision. However, the absence of a mat and frame meant that a rigid support was required to prevent the mat board-backed print from bowing or warping due to potential temperature and humidity fluctuations in the exhibit space.
This diagram shows the layers of materials used to create the mount supporting each exhibit photograph.
A batch-preparation approach was taken before attaching the prints to the mat board. A layer of paper-backed double-stick mounting adhesive was adhered to twelve individual sheets of mat board, all air bubbles were smoothed out and the stack of boards were weighted overnight under heavy plexiglass sheets to allow the adhesive time to cure. Attaching the prints was the most delicate and time-consuming step of the process, as utmost care had to be taken to ensure the print was not damaged. This process is illustrated in the sequence of photos below.
Kerri Sancomb, Library Exhibits Program Manager and Sarah Davis, Library Exhibits Technician, as seen above, executed the mountings in their workspace at 344 Winchester Avenue in the Gates Conservation Lab.
The prints used in this show were exhibition copies and not collection items, therefore, this meant that they did not need to be removed from their mounts at the close of the show. This provided more leeway and enabled the development of a mount that did not have to be reversible.
Because the mounted prints were to be displayed by simply resting on the back wall, angled stands were crafted using a type of transparent bendable plastic called Vivak to discreetly secure them. A short section fit between the shelf and the back wall to anchor the stands, while the angled front lip prevented the mount from sliding forward. The low profile and transparency of the lip made it practically undetectable and did not interfere with the overall presentation.
Another component to the installation involved hanging case-height canvas banners of text, as well as placing shorter explanatory item labels. The two banners that bookended the twelve portraits were installed by threading a flat Vivak strip through folds at the top and bottom of the canvas which were then secured to the back wall with removable rivets. The smaller item labels simply rested on the case shelves.
In addition to the twelve prints, smaller study proofs lined the bottoms of each case to allow the viewer access to remnants of the process and to the larger body of work from which these twelve portraits were selected. Adding an organic element to the array of work, Tanya arrived at the Memorabilia Room and placed in the cases the study proofs at the moment of installation.
With appreciation and acknowledgment for their contributions, many thanks go to our esteemed colleagues and collaborators who took part in the creation of the exhibition at Sterling Memorial Library and this online exhibit.
Tanya Marcuse, Artist and Co-Curator of 12 Portraits
George Miles, Co-Curator of 12 Portraits, Curator Western Americana Beinecke Library, Yale University Library
Kerri Sancomb, Exhibitions Program Manager, Yale University Library
Sarah Davis, Library Exhibits Technician, Yale University Library
Marie-France Lemay, Paper and Photograph Conservator, Yale University Library
Rebecca Martz, Publications Specialist, Office of the University Printer
Lesley Baier, Senior Editor University Printer, Communications
Karen Jutzi, Senior Conservation Technician, Yale University Library
Jake Shonborn, Conservation Technician, Yale University Library
Jessie Makin, Matter-Framer, Conservation, Yale Center for British Art
Tricia Carey, Director of Communications and Marketing, Yale University Library
Joanna Carmona, Senior Administrative Assistant, Yale University Library
Rebecca Hatcher, Preservation Coordination Librarian, Yale University Library
This online exhibit was put together by Megan Czekaj, Library Exhibits Technician, Yale University Library, who extends a special thanks to Trip Kirkpatrick, Technical Lead, Special Collections, Yale University Library, for his enthusiastic technical support and expertise.