About DeCou's Work
In August of 1971 the University Library gratefully received the photographic holdings of Branson DeCou. The gift had been referred to then UCSC Chancellor Dean McHenry by photographer Ansel Adams, who had earlier documented the wooded campus and was a Carmel neighbor of Elsie DeCou. The gift included 10,000 hand-tinted 3-1/4" x 4-1/4" glass lantern slides used in years of travel lecture tours covering all countries of the world, from ca. 1920-1941; there were also accompanying negatives, albums of prints, lecture notes, slide storage boxes, and two slide projectors. The gift was facilitated by Robert Fessenden, the Head of Resources and Technical Services, who would later handle the appraisal and continue for many years to correspond with the irascible and eccentric Elsie DeCou, widow of the photographer. The 10,000 glass slides and projection hardware are stored in the University Library's Visual Resource Collection, the negatives and albums in Special Collections and the UC Northern Regional Library Facility. Owing to their fragility and lack of identification and indexing, the lantern slides have remained inaccessible to the public. In 1986, a preservation project was undertaken by Gypsy Ray, a photographic conservator, to sort, stabilize and note damage to DeCou's negatives. In the last two decades, grants from the American Irish Foundation and the Friends of the UCSC Library have enabled small portions of the collection to be indexed and preserved. Believing that the images represented in the DeCou Archive hold documentary and artistic value, we have continued to seek external funding to support processing and allow public access to the holdings.
In late 1999 the University Library received a grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation of New York to preserve, digitize and catalog 1,475 lantern slides of Italy. DeCou's photographs of street life along canals and piazze, Italian regional landscapes, and public sculpture and monuments caught in the delicate hand-tinted glass slides are beautiful and informative, but impractical for use in academic classroom settings. The support from the Delmas Foundation, which has an interest in research library collections, cooperative cataloging projects, scholarly resource sharing beyond institutional boundaries, and traditional and digital approaches to preservation, was therefore a fortuitous match to bring the collection to the public's attention. The Foundation's generous grant supported the acquisition of a scanner, software, storage devices, and special project staff salaries to clean and sleeve the lantern slides, and research and catalog the images' content. We thank the Delmas Foundation for assisting us in making these special resources accessible to the public.
The DeCou gift originally came to the Library in loose geographic order. Sorting the Italian slides by site and region was the first task to be undertaken. Information taken from brief labeling by the DeCous on the slides themselves and from entries in the scrapbooks was enhanced by further research to identify and catalog the images. Each slide was given an accession number, cleaned and sleeved. The slides have been digitized using a Heidelberg SAPHIR HiRes scanner with Linocolor software.
In addition to the views of Italy, we have now completed digital images of California and Germany, with Russian sites soon to follow. These images can be found on the library's Digital Collections site.