Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program

Marvin Peter Photo Album Project Background

There are approximately 375 black and white images in the Marvin Peter Photograph Collection. This collection was donated to the North Slope Borough Iñupiat History, Language and Culture Commission (IHLC) in 1990 by Marvin's sister, Ida Numnik. During a lull in the 1990 Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission's meeting in Barrow, she invited IHLC staff to visit her home and look through her old photographs. Leafing through a book about baleen basketry prompted her to mention Marvin Peter and that she had lots of his old photos. Along with the bent and worn pictures was a box of over 400 negatives. Some of these negatives were in individual envelopes that Marvin Peter had dated and labeled. Many were nitrate negatives that were deteriorating and were a safety concern because of their flammability. Ida Numnik graciously donated the negatives to IHLC for conservation and restoration. With advice from Susan Kaplan, Director of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum in Brunswick, Maine, historic photograph restorer David Mishkin produced duplicate safety negatives and prints.

Rex Ahvakana, an Iñupiaq elder born in Barrow in 1912, described and identified these photographs during a series of interviews from November 1993 to July 1994 with Karen Brewster, IHLC's Oral Historian. These interviews were all conducted in his room at the Barrow Senior Center.

Karen Brewster first met Rex Ahvakana in November 1993, while she was visiting the Senior Center. She was introduced to him when she brought copies of old photos of residents to decorate the walls. He wanted to meet the person who had these pictures of him. He was excited to see the photos, was eager to talk, and wanted to see more pictures. This began a routine of almost weekly photograph identification sessions between Karen Brewster and Rex Ahvakana. They completed identification of at least six other photograph collections besides the Marvin Peter Collection, covering about 90 hours of tape.

The design of the Marvin Peter Photo Album was a cooperative effort between the staff of the North Slope Borough's Iñupiat History, Language and Culture Division (IHLC) in Barrow and the Oral History Program at the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF).

IHLC chose the photographs included. Karen Brewster, Oral Historian for IHLC, worked as an intern at the Oral History Office in Fairbanks from September 1995 to May 1996. She cross-referenced the photos with the audio recordings, scanned the images into the computer, wrote the project narrative and English photo captions, digitized the audio, and began the programming. Frances Mongoyak, translator for IHLC, translated the photo captions into written Iñupiaq and recorded herself saying them for the audio Iñupiaq captions. The Oral History Program staff trained IHLC staff in the project design and technical stages, and helped complete the computer programming phase.

While living in Fairbanks, Karen Brewster continued to work closely with her IHLC co-workers on the design and development of this photo album jukebox. For example, she consulted them and Rex Ahvakana about the final choice of photos and audio to include. Of the original photos IHLC chose, those which lacked audio identification, had incorrect identifications, or were of poor image quality were discarded. Photos that had only partial identifying information were left in. IHLC added other photos about which Rex told an interesting story or for which he gave key historical information. IHLC staff also made content, screen design, and programming decisions.

This project was made possible by funding from the North Slope Borough, Iñupiat History, Language and Culture Commission. Many thanks to the following people for their contributions and support: Barrow elders Ida Numnik and Rex Ahvakana; Karen Brewster, Emily Wilson, Frances Mongoyak, Linda Fishel, Muriel Hopson, Arlene Glenn, and Elsie Crow of IHLC; and William Schneider and Mary Larson from the UAF Oral History Program.