Interview with Gordon Nelson

Gordon Nelson

Gordon is a freelance filmmaker and film archivist in Rochester, NY. He is currently working with IPI on a series of Sustainability videos for both collection care and facility management staff in cultural institutions. Look for a preview in future issues of Climate Notes.

Gordon Nelson

Quick Overview:
I have had periods of doing freelance work throughout my career, but this has been my main work since summer 2014 when I moved to Rochester. This work helped me with expenses while training as a film archivist at the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at the George Eastman House. Prior to this, I have worked in nonprofit media arts organizations in my previous homes of Boston, MA and Pittsburgh, PA. My experience extends into several areas of the field, including film production, curating, administration and teaching. Some highlights include curating a program of experimental films made in Pittsburgh, PA at MoMA and exhibiting my own films at many interesting venues around the world. Being a teacher is something else that I’m very proud of and I have had many former students pursue their own careers in film.

Where were you born?
I was born in Scotland in a town called Haddington, which is near Edinburgh. My family immigrated to the USA when I was 2 years old and I became a US citizen when I was a youth. I grew up near Pittsburgh, PA.

What was your professional training?
I hold a BFA degree in Cinema with a minor in Art History from Edinboro University of PA and I have a Certificate in Film Preservation from the George Eastman House.

What was your very first job?
I delivered newspapers when I was 10 years old and that job taught me some valuable life lessons like the importance of good customer service, managing an inventory and most importantly, how to avoid dog attacks. My first “real” job in film came during my sophomore year in college when I was hired as a film-projectionist for the campus movie theater.

What would your dream job be?
My dream job would allow me to contribute my life skills towards making the world a more peaceful and interesting place through engagement with the arts. It’s important that any organization that I work with makes a positive impact on human rights, the environment and culture.

How did your partnership with IPI begin?
My IPI journey actually began around the year 2000 when I was working with a museum collection of experimental films and I noticed that some of the prints were giving off a vinegar odor. A little research brought me to IPI and I was able to order some A-D Strips and test the films. This testing process led to the discovery that the source of the vinegar problem was actually acetate film leader that had been attached to the prints years earlier. We replaced this problem acetate leader with polyester material and this action undoubtedly extended the life of this collection.

When I decided to study film preservation formally, the close relationship that the Selznick School has with IPI and the opportunity to receive training from IPI staff was a big factor in helping me decide to take this course of study. It has been a tremendous opportunity to have been awarded a fellowship to participate in IPI’s research on the acidity of magnetic-striped motion picture film and develop video content for the web-site.

Why does the preservation of museum and library collections matter to you?
Preservation of collections matters to me because I have had some of my greatest moments of personal inspiration when viewing actual objects within a museum context and I think it’s important that everyone continues to have that same opportunity. Preservation is an essential component of any collecting institution.

Libraries are important community centers for research and information. Free and open access to information should always matter to everyone.

What is your favorite work of art or your favorite artist?
I enjoy challenging art that provokes ideas and stirs things up. My interests are fairly broad and I can point to great works of art and art movements throughout time that I am fascinated by. I love ancient Egyptian art just as much as 20th Century avant-garde works. Major 20th century movements like Dada and Surrealism will always appeal to me. Since my professional focus is in cinema, I am attracted to all of the possibilities of manipulating time, image and sound that cinema offers. I love the explosion of experimental film activity that was part of the cultural shift happening in the 1960s. I have too many favorite artists to choose a single favorite.

What other hobbies or significant interests do you have?
I love music and I have been collecting vinyl records since I was 14 years old. I am able to explore many of my archivist’s inclinations with this hobby. I also enjoy playing music on a few different instruments. My wife Tara and I play music together for fun and we often use our compositions in our film soundtracks. Our apartment has a small “jamming” area.

What book or books would you like to have with you if you were marooned on a desert island?
Something difficult with layered meanings that requires interpretation and lengthy reflection. Ulysses by James Joyce would probably work.

What is your most treasured possession?
My Bolex 16mm movie camera which I bought when I was a young filmmaker. It was such a process of saving my pennies and searching for the right model that finding my camera became like a quest for the Holy Grail. The Bolex camera is really an amazing tool that inspires my creative urges. There is no digital equivalent for me.

What is your greatest indulgence?
Getting pizza from a place called Mineo’s located in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA. Nothing can compare. I try to go there every time I visit. Mineo’s is also located next to Jerry’s Records, one of the world’s greatest record stores. This proximity allows me to double-dip my indulgences of pizza and looking for records.

What is the most surprising thing to you about IPI?
The biggest surprise that I’ve learned through my contact with IPI is that there are manageable solutions to the challenges facing institutions with fragile collections and tight budgets. While I would never want to underestimate the myriad of problems surrounding photographic image decomposition, IPI staff have taught me that some basic preventative steps can make a substantial difference in the longevity of collection materials.