Scope and Content
The online collection Afghanistan: Images from the Harrison Forman Collection documents the life and culture of Afghanistan in the 1950s and 1960s, several years before the civil unrest of the 1970s and 80s, the Soviet invasion, and the Taliban rule. The photographs, taken by Harrison Forman, portray the daily life of Afghanis, capture the beauty of the land, and document historic sites, including the great Buddhas of Bamiyan destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. The online collection consists of images selected from a set of 733 slides and 671 safety film negatives of Afghanistan in the Harrison Forman Photographic Collection housed in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries’ American Geographical Society (AGS) Library.
The first collection of slides was created in January of 2002 and presented as an online exhibit. The images were organized into six browsable subject categories: architecture, history, land, people, and transportation. The collection was revised in December 2004. The updated collection retains the subject organization, but also provides search functions and additional points of access. The Search & Browse page displays a listing of subject terms used to describe the images in the collection. A map of Afghanistan accompanies the collection. Images from Kabul, Hindu Kush, and Mazar-e Sharif can be viewed by clicking on the map. Images from the safety film collection were added in 2013.
Harrison Forman (1904 – 1978) was a native of Wisconsin. He studied at the Layton School of Art in Milwaukee and graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in Oriental Philosophy. An adventurous journalist, photographer, and explorer, he was often called “a modern Marco Polo” during his lifetime. In 1932 he organized a motor caravan expedition to Central Asia and was the first Westerner to drive a motorcar to the shores of Lake Kokonor in Tibet. He returned to Tibet several times in the 1930s and wrote a book about his experiences, Through Forbidden Tibet, published in 1936. He worked as a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, London Times, and the National Broadcasting Company. He lectured widely on international affairs and was a fellow of the American Geographical Society.
In his career as a photographer, Forman created a unique visual record of the life and cultures of Asia, Indochina, the Middle East, South Pacific, Africa and South America at a time before they were largely known or influenced by the West. He focused his camera on distant places and people – streets of little known towns, historic sites, buildings, art, landscapes, scenes of sheer natural beauty, and portraits of women, men, and children. As the images from Afghanistan demonstrate, his primary interest was in people and in capturing their daily activities.
The Harrison Forman Collection
The Harrison Forman photographic collection covers the period from the mid-1920s to the mid-1970s. This collection includes approximately 30,000 black and white negatives, 2,000 Ektachrome and 49,000 Kodachrome transparencies. The collection was donated to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s American Geographical Society Library by Mr. Forman’s widow in May 1987.
Harrison Forman’s photographs have appeared in a variety of sources – newspaper and magazine articles, encyclopedias, film strips, textbooks, brochures, advertisements, exhibitions etc. He also made motion picture documentaries, news films and lecture films. All of the photographs and negatives were maintained during Forman’s lifetime as a viable, working collection. Forman retained the copyright to his pictures. He set up Harrison Forman World Photos, which actively engaged in representing his photographs exclusively from the late 1950’s until his death in 1978. Upon his death in 1978 his wife, Sandra Forman, undertook the preservation and cataloging of the collection.
The color slides were scanned at 4,000 dpi resolution using a Nikon 4000 ED film scanner. The resulting TIFF files (archival images) are stored at the UWM Libraries. Access images (JPEG files) were created from the TIFF files for Web delivery. The images were initially presented in an online exhibit, created by Patti Day (AGSL), Carrie Leatherman (AGSL), Krystyna K. Matusiak (Digitization Unit), and AGSL interns Linda Naunapper and Elizabeth A. Stys.
The online collection was updated in December 2004 to provide additional access points and to improve navigation. Images were indexed using Library of Congress Thesaurus for Graphic Materials. The records were built with CONTENTdm digital media management software using Dublin Core metadata. Two graduate students from the School of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Esha Datta and Kevin Jahnke, worked with Digital Collections Librarian, Krystyna K. Matusiak on updating the collection.