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An Introduction to Polynesian Anthropology

Photograph Catalog

Photograph Catalog

The photographs acquired from the expeditions to Europe and from other sources proved so numerous that a system had to be devised whereby they could be handled easily and intelligently. In addition to photographs of Museum artifacts, photographs taken in the field and from illustrations in the literature, and prints obtained through correspondence were added to the photograph catalog and the system adopted was described in the Director's Report for 1942 (pp. 29-31) as follows:

  • The photographs are mounted on plain, 5x8 inch cards which fit into drawers in steel cabinets. Large photographs are reduced and composite photographs are cut in order to mount only one object on each card. There is no objection to mounting different views of the same object on one card if there is room. On the top left corner, the name of the group or island is stamped or written; on the top right corner is the name of the Museum or page 63collection where the artifact is stored. If known, the museum or collection number is written just below. The middle of the top border is reserved for the catalog classification and serial number of the photograph. On the left lower corner is recorded the number of the negative from which the print was taken.

  • The photographs are classified according to their island of origin and each island or island group has one or more drawers labeled with the locality. The material from each locality is classified into main groups and subsidiary groups. The main groups are given initial figures such as 1, food; 2, houses; 3, plaiting, textiles, cordage; 4, clothing; 5, tools; 6, canoes; 7, fishing; 8, games and amusements; 9, musical instruments; 10, war materials, etc, Each main group is divided into classes distinguished by capital letters which follow the group figure. Thus, under 4 (clothing) are A, headdresses; B, capes; C, cloaks;, D, kilts and skirts; E, girdles, belts; F, sandals; G, bark cloth; H, fine mats; I, dyes. The main classes are again divided into types or varieties by the use of small letters. For example, 4A (headdresses) is divided into a, caps; b, circlets; c, composite headdresses; and d, wigs. In some classes such as 4Ab (circlets), it is necessary to make further subdivisions in order to keep similar artifacts together. Thus the circlets are subdivided according to material by adding another small letter as follows: a, feather; b, turtle shell; c, pearl shell; d, seeds; e, sennit; f, porpoise teeth; g, pandanus; h, hair; i, wood; j, tapa. After the final classification by letters, the individual photographs are given serial numbers in the order in which they were added to the catalog. For example, the turtle shell circlets common in the Marquesas have the classification 4, Ab, b, and the. serial numbers are given as additions are made. The system serves to keep photographs of a similar type together no matter when acquired. Thus all photographs dealing with a particular type of artifact can be extracted from the various drawers for a comparative study. The alphabetical classification is expandible and the classification and serial numbers are written in pencil so that they can be changed if reclassification becomes necessary as a result of further study.

  • Complementary to the photographs are cards, 4X6 inches, which fit into smaller drawers in the cabinet above the larger photograph drawers. Arranged in the same way as the photographs and bearing the same classification and serial numbers, they give further details as to size, technique, and references to the literature in which descriptions or illustrations have been made, and also give the name of the object. As more detailed information is acquired, it is added to the cards. The classification adopted is typed out on cards to serve as an index for the catalog and for classifying additional photographs.

  • It is now impossible for the Bishop Museum to acquire duplicates of many old artifacts possessed by other Museums, so the next best thing is to have pictures of them with descriptive notes. By building up its photograph catalog as the result of expeditions by staff members and by correspondence with other museums, the Bishop Museum is gradually bringing together in one institution a complete record of the various kinds of Polynesian artifacts throughout the world. From a study point of view, the Bishop Museum is actually richer than the museums which possess the isolated objects. As an illustration, there are to our present knowledge six wooden images of Mangarevan gods distributed as follows: two in Rome, and one each at the British Museum, Braine-le-Comte, St. Germain, and La Rochelle. It is safe to say that none of these museums know of the existence of specimens in other museums. The Bishop Museum's photograph catalog, however, has three photographs (front, back, and side views) of each of the six images as well as notes regarding their dimensions and general description. Thus though we may not have the substance, the imprisoned shadow has a material value.

  • The classification adopted may not suit others in its details but the main principle is to keep types and varieties together and thus to facilitate comparative study within the group or over the whole area. The photograph catalog also serves the purpose of a reference library which is quickly consulted without the loss of time involved in searching through the pages of a number of volumes. As an aid to identifying the locality of Polynesian artifacts, it has proved invaluable.