Digitization and Exhibition of the PPL Archive

Lisa Canavan and the "Men's Work/Women's Work" exhibition


Digitization and Exhibition of the PPL Archive

Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Spring 2019

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 hand wash clothes in a shared hallway bathroom tub as the only source of hot water in an apartment building, 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.

This photograph of Mrs. Pagone and several more like it in the Pittsburgh Photographic Library at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh inspired me to create Men’s Work/Women’s Work, an exhibition highlighting how gender defined labor in the mid-twentieth century. As the Digitization and Special Projects intern, I wanted to create an exhibition that would acknowledge the hard-working women who often lived in the shadow of men, especially in an industrial city like Pittsburgh, where male labor and blue-collar workers were synonymous with the city itself.

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 documenting life in the city during the early 1950s. But since it exists in the form of negatives and proofs, the public only has access to the few that have been published. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh holds this collection and my supervisor, Brooke Sansosti, Digitization and Special Projects Lead, is in charge of making the collection accessible to the public. Working under her direction in the REcollection Studio, I scanned, edited, reviewed, and cataloged photos into the Historic Pittsburgh website [https://historicpittsburgh.org/]. I was also very fortunate to be given total creative freedom over an exhibition to be shown in the library’s Gallery@Main, giving 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.

  • Academic Interns
  • Undergraduate Work
  • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh