I saw myself in a photograph from 67 years ago. Not literally of course, but I felt a kinship with a homemaker I never knew because I identified with her life. Thankfully, I never had to scrub clothes in an apartment building’s shared bathtub or wash dishes in a clogged sink that had to be drained with buckets. But as a wife and mother who stayed home to raise a family before going back to school to earn a third degree, I understand how hard women work and how often our contributions go unrecognized.
The Pittsburgh Photographic Library was created by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development to document Pittsburgh’s urban renaissance after WWII. It is an amazing archive of over 11,000 photographs of life in the city in the early 1950s. Right now the collection exists mainly in the form of negatives and proofs, but Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Brooke Sansosti, Digitization and Special Projects Lead, are working to make the entire collection accessible to everyone. Working under Brooke’s direction in the REcollection Studio, I scanned, edited, reviewed, and cataloged photos for the Historic Pittsburgh website. I was also very fortunate to be given total creative freedom to plan an exhibition for the library’s Gallery@Main, designed to give the public a taste of the PPL.
Through this internship, I learned many useful things. I received hands-on experience in exhibition production. I gained skills in digitizing photographic negatives and became more comfortable with Photoshop software. As an artist, these skills are useful for creating as well as documenting art. I also came to appreciate the value of preserving archives. This archive taught me a lot about Pittsburgh in the 1950s and how far women have come toward equality since then, even as I recognize that there is still a journey ahead. It is productive to look into the past because it gives you perspective on the progress you may not be able to see from day to day, and allows you to move forward with a positive attitude.
Men’s Work/Women’s Work is currently on exhibit on the 3rd floor of the library and will move to the Gallery at Main in July 2019.
– Lisa Canavan is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh double majoring in Studio Arts and Art History with a minor in Museum Studies. After working in business and raising a family, Lisa returned to college part-time to pursue a lifelong interest in the arts and is currently interning at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.