Open Archive at VSW
Open Archive invites members of the public to explore the collections at Visual Studies Workshop, and learn more about the variety of resources available to the Rochester community here at VSW. This online event introduces visitors to our extensive collections of lantern slides, artist books, video tapes, films and photographs.
All of our collections are available to the public by appointment. To make an appointment, contact Jessica Johnston, Head of Collections and Assistant Director: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Visual Studies Workshop, 31 Prince Street, circa 1980
Meet the Collections
The VSW Video Archive houses more than 4,000 videos from the early 1970s to the late 1990s. Video formats in this collection include VHS, BETA, U-matic ¾ inch, 1/2 inch,, 1″ and 2″ open reel formats. The majority of the content is public access programming from the greater Central and Western New York regions and early experimental artists’ video productions. The video collection includes programming by Synapse, Portable Channel, Experimental TV Center, Ithaca Video Festival and Woodstock Community Video. It contains work by noted artists Bill Viola, Nam June Paik, William Wegman, Joan Jonas, Sanja Ivekovic and Dalibor Martinis, and Steina & Woody Vasulka. VSW maintains playback equipment for nearly all collection formats, and digitizes in-house in the VSW Conversion Lab.
In May 2020, VSW received a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources to preserve 200 open reel video tapes from the Portable Channel collection. This project is supported by a Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
The VSW Film Archive contains over 4,000 16mm films, many of which were donated by the Rochester Public Library Reynolds Audio/Visual Department, the Phyllis Wheatley Library, the Audiovisual/Technical Services Division at SUNY Brockport, and the University of Rochester.
The 16mm film titles span several decades and a wide range of categories including educational, animation, feature length, documentary and experimental. VSW hosts several public screenings of films from the collection throughout the year. To download a PDF of the entire 16mm collection inventory, click here.
VSW’s Independent Press Archive was established from VSW’s Press publishing activity and the Book Bus distribution program, both established in the 1970s. The collection holds over 6,000 artists’ books and many fine examples of independently published poetry from the 1960s through today. Nearly all of VSW Press’s approximately 500 titles are represented in the collection, as well as other critically important publishers and artist space production houses such as Nexus Press, the Jargon Society, Weproductions, Dog Ear Press, BOA Editions, Women’s Studio Workshop, and Burning Deck, to name a few.
They don’t serve wings on Fridays by Marion Ware (see image) was published in 1982 by VSW Press in a small edition of 10.
- They Don't Serve Wings On Fridays (1982), Marion Ware, Visual Studies Workshop
The VSW Lantern Slide Archive houses a collection of over 60,000 nineteenth and early twentieth century glass lantern slides and related equipment. The slides cover a wide range of subjects and were primarily used for educational purposes. The VSW holdings include slides from the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences Department of Visual Education, The Pratt Institute, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences, the Museum of Modern Art, the New York State Education Department Visual Instruction Division and the Keystone View Company.
The adjacent slide originates from the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences and depicts the December 6th coming of Mikulás, the Hungarian version of Saint Nicholas, in Czechoslovakia.
- Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences
The VSW Audio Collection contains 642 audio recordings of artist talks, conversations, interviews, lectures, and symposia that took place at this pioneering educational facility. Oral documents were made through recordings on ¼ inch open reel and cassette audiotapes. These discussions and presentations are invaluable primary resources from the history of photography, photographic education, artists’ books, and independent publishing in this country and abroad.
Listen to digitized recordings at VSW’s Soundcloud.
VSW Master Magnetic Media Inventory – Audio – PDF of VSW Audio Collection inventory
The Photographic Print Collection contains 15,000 original photographic or photo-mechanical prints made by 2,200 known photographers and more than 600,000 examples of vernacular or anonymous images in most formats and processes. Explore more of the collection here.
The print collection shows examples of every type of photographic practice, from the family snapshot to the fine art print, and include work of every era, from the daguerreotypes of the 1840s, to digital prints from the present day. VSW holds the artist archives of Barbara Blondeau, Alice Wells, Michael Bishop, Syl Labrot, and Lajaren Hiller. The Trace collection holds works by VSW alumni.
The adjacent image, Self Portrait by Sonia Landy Sheridan, is a print made from xerography, a dry photocopying technique for image making. Sheridan is a pioneer of xerographic art, and founded the Generative Systems program at the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work has been exhibited and collected throughout the world. She has been a Guggenheim Fellow and is a three time National Endowment For the Arts grantee.
- Self Portrait, Sonya Sheridan, 1974; 1979:0050:0002
Meet the Curators
Jessica Johnston is Curator of Collections and Assistant Director of VSW. Jessica manages and facilitates access to the research library and collections at VSW. The collections at VSW focus on the art and cultural history of photography and film, and the social uses of images. In addition to her curatorial and administrative duties, she teaches courses in collections management and the history of photography in the MFA program. Prior to joining VSW, Jessica was the Assistant Curator of Photographs at George Eastman Museum. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management from Ryerson University (2006).
- Jessica Johnston
Tara Merenda Nelson is the first Curator of Moving Image Collections at VSW, a title she has happily held since 2015. As Curator, she oversees the assessment, cataloging and digitization of nearly 10,000 titles on 16mm and magnetic video, and manages the preservation of significant films and videos in the VSW collection, including original works by filmmaker Robert Frank and video activists Portable Channel. In 2019, Tara coordinated the installation of a preservation-standard Media Conversion Lab at VSW, facilitating the digitization of early video and sound works in the VSW collection. Tara presents on the preservation and exhibition of experimental film and video at national and international conferences, including Northeast Historic Film Symposium, the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA), Orphans Film Symposium, and the Oberhausen Short Film Festival.
As Programmer for the VSW Salon Series (formerly the VSW Film Series), Tara has programmed monthly screenings of film, video, sound and media installation by more than 100 artists since 2015. In 2018, Tara introduced the Community Curator program at VSW, an innovative exhibition initiative that invites community groups in the Rochester region to curate film screenings using the VSW Collection.
- Tara Nelson