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New Technology Meets Old


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The Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute (TRI) at OSU Libraries owns a remarkable collection of glass slides from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The Joel E. Rubin collection of “pose slides,” unique to a type of theater now largely forgotten, offers a fascinating subject for researchers in the history of theater, and a meeting of new technology with old for the Libraries’ Digital Imaging Unit.


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Glass slides, covered with hand-painted or photographic images, were projected with a device called a magic lantern projector.  Magic lanterns were used in many types of public shows, in lectures, and in people’s homes.

TRI Curator Beth Kattelman offers some background on the use of pose slides in theaters:

“The pose slides are artifacts from a vaudeville entertainment known as the ‘pose plastique,’ an early form of ‘living slide show’ that was very popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These were acts in which performers would strike a pose recreating a famous sculpture or painting. Sometimes the pose plastique performer(s) would be costumed in and surrounded by white fabric, with only his or her head showing. The performer would strike a pose while a pose slide was projected upon them.  The white costume and stage functioned as a blank screen, thus allowing the projected image from the slide to ‘fill in’ the costume and scenery.”

Photo reference 1  C12 Salome

 When the Digital Imaging Unit was asked to scan the slides, we had to decide how to scan them.  There are two distinct ways to look at the slides. The difference is in how light is used.

What we usually think of as “scanning” involves bouncing light off of a document or photograph inside a flatbed scanner.  This is called reflective scanning; it reproduces the surface of an object.  Another type of scanning, used for slides and negatives, allows light to pass through the object.  This is called transmissive scanning, and it reproduces all the transparent and translucent parts of the slide, while blacking out the opaque parts.

A28 Old Glory   A28 Old Glory

Reflective scanning produces a digital image that shows what you’d see if you held the slide in your hand. You can see the painted glass, the tape around the edges, the manufacturer’s name, and other details on the surface of the slide.  Transmissive scanning shows the image as it would have been projected.

A77 A Lobster #2   A77 A Lobster #2

One view displays the slide as a physical object; the other presents it as an element of theatrical performance.  Since both view are potentially valuable to researchers viewing the collection online, we scanned each slide both ways.

Woman with two horses   Woman with two horses

A few samples from the collection are included here. The complete collection can be viewed at:

A36 The Clown   A36 The Clown

C13 The Snake Charmer   C13 The Snake Charmer


  1. I imagine the role being filled by an old comic actor with a lined face and a deep bass voice, singing a mock-tragic song about the hard life of a lobster, while the audience convulses with laughter. But who knows?

    • Melanie Schlosser

      August 30, 2013 at 4:07 pm

      Perfect! There is a performance space in the renovated Sullivant Hall, right? Maybe these slides should make a theatrical comeback…

      • Yes! Their time has come. (Um, by agreeing with you, I didn’t just volunteer to do the lobster thing, did I?)

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