Into the Commons 

Here's how VCU is getting into Flickr’s public image project.

click to enlarge “100 East Leigh Street” by photographer John G. Zehmer and other forgotten artistic works have found new life on Flickr’s public image project.

“100 East Leigh Street” by photographer John G. Zehmer and other forgotten artistic works have found new life on Flickr’s public image project.

Q. What’s the best part of Virginia Commonwealth University’s newest public collection?

A: You can visit it in your underwear.

In March, the university launched its initial entries to Flickr’s the Commons, a project that promotes images from public archives all over the world. Everything posted there — including photos, illustrations, maps and charts — is in the public domain.

“It’s just a big pool of images that people can use, reuse, in pretty much any way possible,” says Lauren Work, a digital collections librarian and project lead. “Flickr has millions of users. It’s a great way to showcase our collection and get it out to a broader audience.”

Work says the university’s initial collections on the site have generated thousands of views, and the university plans to post more soon. Here’s a look at the first of the university collections on Flickr’s the Commons:

“Baist Atlas of Richmond”
A collection of maps detailing how Richmond appeared circa 1889.

“It gives you a glimpse of the past, and if you’re interested in Richmond and want to peek at how things were more than 120 years ago, the Baist Atlas — which is sort of a bird’s eye view of the city at that time — lets you do that,” archives coordinator Ray Bonis says.

“If you live [in a] part of the city that’s included in the Baist Atlas, you could see if the road that you live on was an alley first. A lot of roads in the city started out as alleys. Was your house there? What was the streetscape on your block like?”

“PS Magazine: the Preventative Maintenance Monthly”
An Army publication about equipment maintenance that was illustrated by comic book legend Will Eisner.

“I call [Will Eisner] the godfather of the modern graphic novel. He’s such an important figure in comics, because he did ‘The Spirit’ strip, ‘PS Magazine,’ created the modern form of the graphic novel, and wrote extensively about graphic narrative and storytelling,” says Cindy Jackson, a librarian for comic arts.

“After World War II, the Army approached him to do these visual manuals, and that’s where ‘PS Magazine’ comes from. Will Eisner always thought comics could be used for educational purposes, not just for fun. [With the draft] they were having to deal with people from all educational backgrounds, ethnicities, so forth, and the one way to transcend all of that was comics.

“They created ‘PS Magazine,’ which was a monthly magazine that came out for the U.S. Army. … It has info in it like how to change the tracks on your tank, how to clean your M-16, how to give your Jeep an oil change — very practical Army information.”

“What we have available on the Flickr Commons is the complete Will Eisner run at ‘PS Magazine,’ so that’s from 1951 to 1972.”

“Rarely Seen Richmond”
A collection of more than 600 post card images, most from 1900 through 1930.

“That was really our first entry into online exhibits,” Bonis says. “We originally had about 50 post cards of the VCU area, Monroe Park, the Fan, and put them online. Then we were contacted by a Richmond police officer who had about 3,000 post cards and offered them to donate, so we selected about 600 to use from his collection — older post cards, ones from about 1930.

“Again, it’s one of those glimpses to the past. What’s neat is those post cards were originally black and white and they would colorize them, and they did a pretty good job.”

click to enlarge George McManus' "Newlyweds and Their Baby"
  • George McManus' "Newlyweds and Their Baby"

“The Newlyweds and Their Baby”
A family comic strip from 1904 by George McManus.

“It was one of the first family-oriented comic strips out there,” Jackson says. “It’s very different from domestic strips that you see now, because there’s no real continuation, and it was more about the joke or the twist that goes on in the strip. Comics as we know them are only 10 years old, so the genre and the field is still starting to feel itself out and what directions it was going to take.”

“‘Newlyweds and Their Baby’ is very interesting because the mother is very beautiful. She’s very Gibson Girl-esque, always dressed to the nines, and all the male characters, including the baby are ‘grotesque.’”

Photographs of Jackson Ward Historic District, circa 1989.

“For those who live in the Jackson Ward area, it gives another view,” Bonis says. “Those photos were taken about 1989. A lot of those houses are now gone, they’ve been demolished, or a good many of them have been radically altered, so this gives a glimpse of the past. Not 120 years ago, but three decades.” S

To view VCU’s collections on the Commons, visit flickr.com/photos/vcucommons.

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