About This Project

Objective of the Project

The primary objective of this project was to make visually accessible all of the photographic images shot and developed by Russell Lee for the 1949 Study of the Spanish Speaking People of Texas. 923 digital images were created from the original cellulose acetate negatives. This group of negatives represents a part of a collection of over 27,000 Russell Lee originals, normally restricted for use and maintained in a secured, climate-control offsite storage facility.

Digitization of the negatives and Web site development resulted from the joint efforts of the staff of the Center for American History (CAH) and the Digital Library Services Division (DLSD) of the University of Texas Libraries. Funding for the project was made available by a 2004 UTOPIA grant. The Center for American History holds copyrights for the originals, digital masters, and all derivatives.

File Naming and Metadata Conventions

Each digital image derived from an original negative was given an identifying file name, corresponding to the classified number arrangement created by Russell Lee. These numbers, with the addition of the prefix "rwl" and various suffixes, were adapted as logical identifiers for the images online. The images have been arranged in galleries according to the geographical location of each of four segments of the source collections. Filename and metadata conventions were established by CAH and DLSD jointly in order to satisfy the criteria of each institutional unit, and to share knowledge about best practices.

Once gathered, metadata was arranged in three different digital object organization schemes—Visual Resources Association, (VRA), Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), and Metadata Object Description Scheme (MODS). At this time, however, the libraries' server networks cannot manipulate data encoded in these forms. For now, the core metadata has been placed in the DLSD Metadata Registry using Dublin Core elements. This preliminary format will provide a way to retrieve the collection immediately.

The machine-readable metadata schemes make possible the inclusion of lengthy collection descriptions, as well as searchable information about administrative, descriptive, and technical details of this project. Administrative data includes custodial history of the collection, reprographic rights, resource location, selection criteria, and funding sources. Descriptive data includes subject classification, key words, and links to finding aids. Technical data includes hardware, software, file formats, compression ratios, and image enhancement. The flexibility of the metadata schemes allows for the future addition of notes to the existing electronic file records.

Equipment and Method

The master images were scanned with an Imacon Flextight 848 simulated drum scanner, with a batch adapter. The Russell Lee images were scanned in RGB at 16 bits per channel in order to capture maximum detail. To retain the three channels of the RGB, but provide a black and white image without a color cast, a monochrome adjustment was applied with Photoshop CS. This process was performed on all 923 images.

Two versions—Archival TIFF and Publication TIFF files—of each master image were created from the raw data captured by the Imacon scanner. The derivatives—reference images and thumbnails—were created from the Publication TIFFs. Using Photoshop 7, the reference images were converted to JPEGs, compressed between 2% to 25% of the originals, resulting in a 300 dpi resolution and 24 bit depth. The reference images and linked assets for the Web site have been saved on various servers, and backed up to magnetic tape.


Post processing of the Archival TIFFs consisted of de-skewing, rotating, cropping to the original margins, and color correction when necessary. The output became the Publication TIFF, which remained uncompressed and in full size. Derivatives were converted into the JPEGs used for the inspection galleries. The JPEGs in the inspection gallery are 1024x768 pixels. For the Web site, additional jpegs were created and managed as separate assets linked to individual pages of the Web site. Final quality control and adjustments were completed by the staff at the Center for American History.


The Center for American History is committed to the long-term preservation of both original negatives and digital derivatives of this collection. Although not intended as a preservation project, the digitization of the Russell Lee negatives established a benchmark for the present condition of the originals. Deterioration of the original celluloid acetate negatives not visible to the eye became obvious when the enlarged digital image was displayed on the computer monitors. The digital images revealed a range of deterioration not unexpected for negatives that are over 55 years old, and perhaps inevitable despite the best possible storage conditions.

Cover Photo: A mother of a family, San Angelo, Texas. Identifier: e_rl_14233_0055. The Russell Lee Photographic Collection, Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.