In celebration of its 65th anniversary in 2018, the James Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota opened its vault to rare book photographer Natasha D’Schommer. The result is an amazing and unique collection of photographs of rare books, maps, and manuscripts that celebrate this library, which documents the history and impact of trade and cultural exchange prior to ca. 1800 CE.
Curator Marguerite Ragnow worked with D’Schommer to develop the final theme of the volume: perspective. Her text frames the photographs, which challenge the viewer to consider different points of view. The volume is a “flip” book: readers must flip it over to read the other half. Side A reflects on the traditional image of the Bell Library as a repository of rare books and maps dealing with trade and European territorial expansion in the 15th-17th centuries, while side B addresses topics that many may be surprised to find in the Bell collection: women, cultural encounter, and views of the natural world.
While the photographs are undoubtedly beautiful, this is more than a picture book. It underscores the notion that everyone has a different perspective on the world, a different point-of-view drawn from their personal experience.
Dr. Marguerite Ragnow has been curator of the James Ford Bell Library since 2004. An historian of the pre-modern era, she also is on the graduate faculties of history, Early Modern Studies, and Medieval Studies at the University of Minnesota. She is one of the founders of the Consortium for the Study of the Premodern World, an Andrew w. Mellon Foundation-funded initiative.
Natasha D’Schommer is a photographer specializing in evocative portraits of objects drawn from collections of rare and wonderful things. From medieval instruments to American folk art, Bach manuscripts to ancient navigational maps, her work has been published in several books, including Biblio: Scheide Library, Princeton University (2008), and To Music: The Shubert Club Museum (2011). D’Schommer is a recipient of the McKnight Artists Fellowship. She earned an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English literature from New England College, West Sussex, England.