Our indexer, Alex has finished describing the John Sigler Photograph Collection which we have put online in Alaska’s Digital Archives. Here’s what he has to say:
This collection consists of over 1400 photographs taken by John Sigler, a graduate of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’s class of 1950 or 1951. Though I only indexed a portion of the whole collection, it quickly became one of my favorites. Sigler is a brilliant stylist, and many of the photos are breathtakingly beautiful. Taken primarily during the early 1950s, they focus on Fairbanks and the University, with subjects like dances, parades, graduations, plays, and football games played in the snow. There are images of tanks and artillery lining the streets of downtown Fairbanks, and an image of Chief Justice Earl Warren shaking hands outside a University building. One memorable image depicts students playing with a polar bear cub, while another shows a cow parachuting lazily to the earth. Who put the cow in the parachute, you ask, and why did this person undertake such a ridiculous endeavor? I have no idea. Many of the photos came with little or no identifying information, leaving me to theorize and wonder (which, of course, is one of the joys of indexing). Here, for example, is a woman sitting at a table full of skulls. And she’s grinning!
Then there are the portraits, the candid images of campus life in the 1950s. As much as I love the stranger, more outlandish photos, I think I like these ones best. They depict a tea party shared in a 1950s living room, or a man in an overcoat, looking up at a stuffed bear, or two men adding breasts to a snowman and naming her “EVE.” There’s a certain liveliness and vivacity to these images, however irreverent they may be. They tell stories. I’m particularly fond of a photo in which a man and a woman share a kiss on a stage decorated in paper hearts. They appear to be the king and queen of something (a Valentine’s Day dance, perhaps?), but take a look at the way she balances her crown with one hand. Look at the way he’s touching her neck. It looks like real life.
Or what about this photo, the one with the woman posing at her desk? At her back, a shelf is loaded with books, causing me to wonder if maybe she’s a librarian. I’m totally enamored with a tiny detail in this photo: the glasses sitting on her desk. Notice the way they’ve been positioned, as if to suggest she’s just removed them, probably for this very photo. There’s something very lived-in, very human in that gesture, don’t you think? It evokes a naturalness and immediacy that transports me. A single, frozen moment becomes a whole series of moments. There is movement now. Time is passing. And then I’m standing in the room across from her. The photographer adjusts his lens, and I can smell the musty books. It’s 1951.
In the library