Viewing "The Scientific Expedition to the South Pacific in the Yacht Zaca"

by Gregory Raml on

Library News

We are happy to announce that the AMNH Library has preserved and digitized the archival motion picture film The Scientific Expedition to the South Pacific in the Yacht Zaca thanks to generous support from the National Film Preservation Foundation.
An early photograph of the Zaca from The Cruise of the Zaca, by Templeton Crocker, Harper & Brothers, 1933, Frontispiece.
An early photograph of the Zaca from The Cruise of the Zaca, by Templeton Crocker, Harper & Brothers, 1933, Frontispiece.
Templeton Crocker's letterhead on board the "Zaca".
Templeton Crocker's letterhead on board the Zaca. Templeton to Andrews, March 26, 1935. Central Archives, 1216; American Museum of Natural History Library.

Please enjoy the film streaming in its entirety here.

Toshio Asaeda filmed The Scientific Expedition to the South Pacific in the Yacht Zaca between 1934 and 1935 during the Templeton Crocker Pacific Expedition, a voyage of nearly 14,000 miles through the Marquesas, Juan Fernandez Islands, Guano Islands and the Galapagos. Templeton Crocker, born of transcontinental railroad wealth, commanded the Zaca on several Pacific voyages he financed throughout the 1930s. This film is one of three films in our Templeton Crocker Collection and the only one of the three to showcase an AMNH sponsored expedition. AMNH ornithologist James Chapin led the Templeton Crocker Pacific Expedition to collect specimens for the Whitney Memorial Hall of Oceanic Birds. This trip is also famous for AMNH anthropologist Harry Shapiro’s 10-day visit to Pitcairn Island to study the descendants of the mutineers of the Bounty.  

While these grand scientific endeavors are only fleetingly documented in the film, either by choice or lack of opportunity, the real delight is to witness what Asaeda was able to capture on the edges of the expedition. I will leave it to the viewer to formulate one’s own impression. At the very least I hope its view of the South Pacific offers a warming respite on an otherwise wintry day.  

You will notice that the footage looks rough around the edges. Do not be alarmed. This is normal and the result of an intentional overscan for preservation. When a reel of film is projected, the rough edges are obscured by the film gate built into the projector. We opted to preserve as much of the film as possible with the digital scan, knowing that the rough edges can be cropped out as needed when used in future productions. 

Before we received the grant, the AMNH Library possessed a single B/W 16mm silent reversal print. Sadly, the reel needed deep cleaning and was beginning to emit a mild vinegar odor. All preservation grants from the National Film Preservation Foundation wisely require new preservation elements (negatives, prints, etc.) on film -- that are not meant to be projected -- along with two access copies, one of which must be a film print. We now have one 16mm B/W preservation negative, one 16mm B/W access print, and one 2K digital file. All assets are stored on cores in archival film containers in the AMNH Library’s climate controlled negative storage area and the digital file is streaming through the Library’s new digital asset management system, under development as part of the Shelby White and Leon Levy Archive Initiative. The newly restored film print is available for loan to academic institutions and we hope the streaming version will be used in numerous educational settings.

Closeup of myripristis symmetricus by Toshio Asaeda, painted during the 1933 Templeton Crocker Expedition to the Solomon Islands.
Closeup of myripristis symmetricus by Toshio Asaeda, painted during the 1933 Templeton Crocker Expedition to the Solomon Islands. RF-94-B; American Museum of Natural History Library.

It is worth noting that Asaeda was the expedition photographer for most if not all of the Crocker photos preserved in the archives. He was also a formidable fine artist in his own right. Before he passed away in 1968, Asaeda was a beloved curator of exhibits at California Academy of Sciences for nearly 20 years. No stranger to the Museum, he spent the 1920s at James L. Clark Studio in New York mounting taxidermy and prepping exhibitions. Crocker hired Asaeda on all of his South Pacific expeditions throughout the 1930s where he collected specimens, took countless photos, and completed many brilliant plein air paintings and sketches. We are lucky to have a set of his coral reef fish watercolors from one of these trips in 1933, sampled above and below here, along with his visual documentation of the Museum's Templeton Crocker Pacific Expedition.

Watercolor of coral reef fishes by Toshio Asaeda, painted during the 1933 Templeton Crocker Expedition to the Solomon Islands.
Watercolor of coral reef fishes by Toshio Asaeda, painted during the 1933 Templeton Crocker Expedition to the Solomon Islands. RF-94-B; American Museum of Natural History Library.
Watercolor of coral reef fishes by Toshio Asaeda, painted during the 1933 Templeton Crocker Expedition to the Solomon Islands.
Watercolor of coral reef fishes by Toshio Asaeda, painted during the 1933 Templeton Crocker Expedition to the Solomon Islands. RF-94-B; American Museum of Natural History Library.

One last detail of this trip, before I distract you from watching the film completely, is that Asaeda produced the initial Rapa Nui (Easter Island) Moai casts in situ that were used to create the cast that is now in the Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples. You can see Asaeda making these in the film (at 19:45). Below is one of the beautiful shots he took of the island.

Man walking on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) among the Moai
Walking on Rapa Nui among the Moai. Templeton Crocker Pacific Expedition, 1934-1935, PPC.C761; American Museum of Natural History Library.

This is the twentieth post in a series about how the Library's staff is working remotely and enriching its digital collections to enhance access to researchers and the public during the COVID-19 pandemic. This entry was written by Gregory Raml, Special Collections Librarian.