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Calypso and Calypsonians in North America, 1934-1961

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Calypso Weegee Board

Posted by Michael Eldridge on November 17, 2013

Ugh.  I’ve just spent the better part of a Saturday trying—in vain—to figure out how to include a Pinterest “board” and/or a Flickr slideshow in this blog post.

WordPress promises that I “can easily embed [my] Pinterest profile, boards, or individual pins simply by pasting the links into any post or page.”  Only it turns out their easy instructions simply don’t work, and I’m not the only frustrated blogger who says so.  (Thanks, WordPress.)  Sadly, Pinterest’s slightly more complex instructions, which involve JavaScript, don’t yield any better results, despite one user’s cheery assurances to the contrary.

Ditto for Flickr: I’ve tried both WordPress support and this convincing-sounding gigya shortcode workaround, and the best I can come up with is a stubbornly empty black rectangle.  Fail!  Clearly these solutions have worked for at least some other bloggers (or in some instances, apparently, they haven’t worked…until they have), so maybe I’m doing something wrong or I just need to try one or two or twelve more times or Google Chrome is wonky or it’s a simple case of “your mileage may vary.”  I don’t know.  But I give up.

L-R: Count of Monte Cristo (George Anderson), MacBeth the Great (Patrick MacDonald), The Duke of Iron (Cecil Anderson), Houdini (Frederick Wilmoth Hendricks), Lord Invader (Rupert Grant). Prob. Renaissance Ballroom, New York City, July 1947. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress.

All I wanted to do was find a good way to gather and display some of the great calypso photography from 1940s New York that’s scattered across the web.  I’ve already used one or two items from the huge trove that Down Beat writer/photographer William P. Gottlieb bequeathed to the Library of Congress; here’s another at left.  As far as I can tell, there are a baker’s dozen calypso-related items in that collection (not counting one reproduction of a finished Down Beat article), all of them dating from July 1947.  Nine were probably shot at a calypso monarchy competition staged at the Renaissance Ballroom; the other four at the Village Vanguard, where Josephine Premice was appearing with a small band.  You can view them all at LoC or on my Flickr slideshow.

While there are spoilsports who contest the “public domain” status of the Gottlieb material, I figure what LoC says, goes.  The disposition of some other photographers’ work is a bit cloudier.  For instance: both Lee Sievan and Weegee took candid shots of calypso performances (at clubs and private parties) as part of their documentation of the Naked City.  One print resides at the Met, a few more at ICP (and a few belonging to ICP, some of them duplicates, at Getty Images), others at commercial galleries, and twenty-some at the New York Public Library’s Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.  I’ve collected many of these on a private Pinterest board, although I’m not sure whether to go public with it, in part because I don’t care to be a serial “cease-and-desist” recipient.  On the one hand, a Pinterest “pin” is just a glorified link to another source.  On the other, it actually does entail reproducing an image from that source.  For its part Pinterest, in its Copyright and Usage policies, does all the requisite genuflecting to the DMCA, even though everyone knows perfectly well that its users’ pages contain practically nothing but copyrighted images.  Museums and galleries have themselves reproduced such images on their own websites with the dodge that “[i]mages are copyright of their respective owners, assignees or others” and/or that further reproduction requires permission of the Estate of the artist.  That weak statement of scruple doesn’t stop some of them from putting “Pin It” buttons on their web pages, though.

So where does that leave a poor, bewildered academic without a good lawyer?  Well, WordPress’s technical difficulties have mooted my quandary somewhat, at least for the time being.  But if you want to complicate things by joining the covert op, then here’s my “Calypso Weegee Board’s” secret location.

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Postscript: in late October, Pinterest struck a deal with Getty Images that addresses some of this—sort of.  Without really clarifying or even squarely acknowledging the copyright issue, Pinterest has given Getty an undisclosed sum for access to its photos’ metadata, in exchange for which Getty will evidently look the other way whenever I pin a Getty Image to one of my boards.  Pinterest gets to save face by saying this is all about making pins more “useful.”  (And Getty’s general counsel insists it’s not a “licensing arrangement.”)

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