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Linda Connor's Prints from the Archive of the Lick Observatory

August 31, 1896 -- Linda Connor
Linda Connor is one of the seven photographers included in our current exhibit, Solar. The exhibition includes a very unique selection of visions of the sun, conceptually, visually and technically. Linda Connor’s contribution are a magical selection of beautifully printed gold-toned solar eclipse images printed from glass plate negatives from the archive of the Lick Observatory in California, most of which were recorded by the observatory between 1890-1920. Connor’s prints are exposed by the sun on printing-out paper from the original glass plate negatives, which were made by a variety of important photographers including E.E. Barnard. In her own images, Connor is known for her imagery of the ancient and sacred. She has traveled extensively in India, the American Southwest, Nepal, Thailand and beyond, recording images with her 8x10 view camera. The other day I asked Connor to share a little more of the story behind her images printed from the archives of the Lick Observatory. Though I already know a great deal about Connor and her work, I really enjoyed hearing the full story, and by the time our conversation was over I had scribbled several pages of notes.

It was in 1969 that Linda Connor first learned about the glass plate negatives in the archives of the Lick Observatory, but she did not start printing them until 1995. After receiving her MFA from The Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology, Connor moved to San Francisco and applied for a job at The San Francisco Art Institute. As part of her interview with Jerry Burchard, Burchard asked to see some of Connor’s work. Her portfolio box contained a few images that were printed from a glass plate negatives and it was these images that sparked a conversation which lead him to tell Connor about the amazing archive of glass plate negatives and that he had had the opportunity to print a few of the plates. Burchard described an entire map of the night sky made up of a giant grid of negatives, as well as others including a selection of 20x24” plates of the Milky Way, but a rumor circulated that no one was able to touch the plates that made up a grid of the night sky. Connor was immediately interested in making prints, especially from the plates of the Milky Way, however, even if she was able to get access, the paper that she wanted to use, printing-out-paper, was only available in single weight at that time, which was not heavy enough for such a project. Connor did eventually end up with a job at SFAI, teaching beginning photography, where she teaches today. It was years later that her paper of choice, printing-out-paper, became available in double weight, and she was still intrigued with the project.

November 26, 1945 and March 8, 1936 -- Linda Connor

Two prints of December 21, 1889 showing the differences
resulting from the gold toning process 
Even after the paper was available, it was still a few years before Connor was able to gain access, but she eventually did. Connor became quick friends with her supervisor, Tony Misch and his wife Victoria and she was given the key to the archives, and was invited to spend weekends at their home so that she could print all weekend. Between 1995-2000, Connor spent four or five weekends per year printing at the observatory. Most of the negatives that she had access to were 8x10”, while others were larger. All of the negatives were fascinating, but not all necessarily made nice prints, but fortunately she had time to sift through the archives. Connor would pick out a few plates at a time and take them outside to expose, using the sun on the back poach of the visitor center. If you visited to the Lick Observatory between 1995-2000 it is very possible that you witnessed Connor exposing the plates. After the printing-out-paper was exposed, it was then returned to a light tight bag so that it could be developed and gold toned when she returned to her studio. Though Connor made more than one print from each plate, the gold toning process makes each print quite unique.

August 16, 1895 -- Linda Connor
Connor's images printed from broken plates have always intrigued me. She told me that at one point when an envelope of negatives (mostly plates by EE Barnard) had been packed up for transport, it had been dropped. Connor discovered these plates in an envelope labeled “broken plates.” Luckily the plates were separated by paper, so Connor was able to piece the plates back together to be printed. One of my favorites from the new arrivals is missing a few pieces. -- Anne Kelly

A new selection of Connor’s print from the Lick Observatory can be viewed here.

A number of books have been published on Connor's work, several of which are still in print: Odyssey, Heaven / Earth, and Luminance.

Solar will be on exhibit through the end of November. A selection of work from the show can be viewed online here.