Dust, a Darrin, and Dry Desert Track: Where the Project Began

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This is where the TEN digitization and data project all began. That is, with the unfortunate scene of Ray Sinatra Jr.’s upturned and smoking Cadillac engined Darrin, on a dry desert track during the 1955 Eighth Annual Palm Springs Road Race. It must have been something to see the car lurching over the hay bales, kicking up a cloud of dust, and finally crashing back to earth as Sinatra, a cousin of Frank Sinatra, ducked out of the way “just in time,” as the author of the June 1955 Hot Rod Magazine article “Roddin’ at Random” noted. Admittedly, this is not the most fortuitous image with which to begin a project. Nonetheless, this was the first photograph that I cataloged. It was the first photograph to have a complete catalog record. It was also the first photograph for which I had to create keywords.

            It is one thing to describe, or to experience, an event. It is another to understand it within the larger context of its history. In this case, such history could be automotive racing history, the history of car crashes, or the history of bad drivers. To help researchers do this, metadata technicians at the Petersen will give each photograph in the TEN Digitization Project keywords. Keywords are words that describe photographs. For this particular photograph, keywords include “racing,” “car crash,” and “Ray Sinatra Jr.” These words link the photograph of Sinatra’s mishap to other photographs with the same keywords, for instance, this 1955 photograph of a pileup at a night time jalopy race.

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This allows researchers to group disparate photographs together in order to study them. Both of these photographs, for instance, could fit into a study on automotive safety or racing. Essentially, keywords help the researcher make sense of photographs of crumpled cars. Keywords give these digital photographs context. In the case of Sinatra’s Darrin, context was particularly important. “Aside from dignity and a bruised shoulder,” wrote the author of “Roddin’ at Random,” “little damage was done” to Sinatra. As for the car? Its “fiberglas body emerged intact (windshield notwithstanding).”

By: Kristin Feay