Category Archives: Photographica

Surviving for Posterity

Image

Making It Into The Archives (Appraisal for Accession)

This photograph of a fellow who was young in 1975 will likely never be offered to an archive.

For materials generated over the last two hundred years there is a threat which remains largely unarticulated.  All documentary heritage, but particularly images, must survive the bias of fashion, the great purging sieve of taste.  There is a rhythm to things which is difficult to define but usually marches with human generations.  The beliefs, cause and tastes of one generation are often rejected by the next.

The day arrives when certain materials appear comic, embarrassing, sometimes politically incorrect or even offensive.  Then they are discarded.

In the world of collectables and antiques some of these images will qualify as ephemera.  Ephemera is a term used for materials which were only meant for brief use and which were expected to be thrown away, such as greeting cards and calendars. These things will go out of fashion, be purged, and then come back into vogue and be collected.   Since they were produced in numbers there are usually survivors to collect.    The problem for the archivist is that many original documents which are not ephemera will also face the bias of taste; for example, government reports on topics which do not interest the present generation. 

Some archivists are aware that the menu of materials available to inform later generations has already been edited; others are not.  How many school histories vanished long ago because they contained pictures of women in bloomers juggling wooden skittles?  How many commercial fonds have been stripped of illustrations of glass baby bottles, heavy land-line telephones and melamine tableware?

Usually, we have little trouble convincing our sponsors that collecting the roaring twenties is worthwhile.   That epoch was purged some time ago, and is now deemed interesting.  However, we will find it much more difficult to impress our sponsors by documenting the peace movement complete with ponchos, craft jewellery, long hair and bell-bottom trousers.  As things are now it is unlikely that much grassroots, eye-witness, primary source visual evidence of this period will survive.  The public is still too busy laughing.

In 1956, T.R. Schellenberg said that, when it comes to documentary heritage, age is to be respected.  This is part of a complex discussion, but his argument is based on the assumption that as time passes less is likely to have survived to enter the archives.   Thanks to theorists such as Schellenberg, archivists should be sensitized  to the impact that both changing fashion and shifts in conventions pose to the endurance of visual records.   As professionals we must resist including current fashions and mores in the template we use to adjudicate whether a record is worthy or not.  While the general public is unable to get beyond the humour of crimplene, hockey hair and pink bathtubs we should quietly go about our business, carefully selecting quality images that fit the mission for the archives.

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Filed under Archives, History, Ontario, Material culture, Photograph history, Photographica, Photography

Wild Apples – Port Hope, Ontario

AppleThievesEDProbably taken somewhere on the soft hills east of Port Hope, which are actually ancient sandhills on a sunny early autumn day in about 1903. All the men were Methodists in their boyhood, and the occasion might have been a church outing of some variety. The voices which could have told us are long stilled, another example of why it is so important to make notes on the back of your pictures for posterity. The original is not a snapshot but an albumen print laid down to card which suggests (but by no means confirms) a professional hand. The composition features hi-jinks with apples and is more interesting than the usual line-up. The photographer might be Mr. Byers, a frequent attendee at groups of the time, or it might be one of the Skitch clan. The Skitch family included photographers and they were members of the same church. -Or the author of the picture might be a gifted amateur.

Inscribed on the back [left to right]: Jack Elliott, Fred Douglas, Ewart Jewel [sic], Moss Hewson, Howard Reeve and Wes Pennington. Howard Reeve and Wes Pennington were in the same class at school and are seated next to each other. They were probably friends.

Apple1Elliott

 “Jack Elliott”, likely John A.R. Elliott, son of Henry Elliott of Port Hope and his wife, Charlotte Woodley. He was born February 8, 1879, and would be the oldest of the group. He had collegiate education and might have been a Sunday School Teacher. His father, Henry Elliott, was a regular attendee at the Methodist Church and in 1907 a donor to the building fund. Jack Elliott married Flora Pillsworth. Henry Elliott was County Registrar and Jack seems to have followed him into a clerical career.

Apple2Douglas

“Fred Douglas” is Frederick Roland Douglas, born 12 January, 1885, son of John Wilson Douglas a contractor in Port Hope and his wife, Elizabeth Kennedy (Methodists). In 1901 at age 16, he was clerking in a grocery store but he later acquired a skilled trade as a file cutter. In 1907, Frederick Douglas married Minnie Elliott of Lindsay. Douglas had enjoyed military activities. He is recorded as a member of the 1st Company, 46th Regiment Militia in 1905. In 1915, he enlisted for service in the First War. Afterwards, he returned to Port Hope and appears on the voters rolls to at least 1945.

Apple3Jewel    “Ewart Jewel” is John Ewart Jewell, born Port Hope 26th August, 1889, son of John Cornish Jewell (a carpenter) and his wife Mary Jane Pethick (Methodists). In 1911, Ewart Jewell was living in Hamilton, Ontario and working as a clerk in a bookstore. He served for one year in the 13th Regiment, Hamilton Militia. Ewart Jewell enlisted in January, 1916. He seems to have survived the War, but what happened next is unknown.

Apple4Hewson

“Moss Hewson” was born in about 1890 in Port Hope, son of Robert Hewson, a carpenter (Methodist). He married Ruby Giblin of Cobourg on June 5th, 1912. Moss Hewson became an enameller and lived in Port Hope until at least 1949.

Apple5Reeve “Howard Reeve” is William Howard Leslie Reeve, son of William Reeve and his wife, Emma Thomas (Methodists). He was born on May 18, 1887 in Port Hope. By 1911, Howard Reeve was employed as a bricklayer. He married Gertrude Allison in Peterborough on June 12th, 1918. Howard Reeve later became a builder and was living in Port Hope as late as 1968.

Apple6Pennington

“Wes Pennington” is John Wesley Penningon, born in Port Hope on the 19th November, 1887, son of Benjamin Pennington, a bricklayer, and his wife, Ann Salter. Henry Pennington was recorded as a Sunday School Teacher at the Methodist Church, Port Hope, in 1907. Wes Pennington married Ethel Georgina Gutteridge and became a bricklayer and contractor. He died in Port Hope in 1953.

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A Love Token from Long Ago

carte-de-visite

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This carte-de-visite is a portrait of a young woman taken in Kingston, Ontario in about 1863.  Verso, in a spikey female hand

    If there be anything in life
               That does afford me pleasure
Twill be the very happy time
                When you [became] my treasure.

The expression “affords me pleasure” was a very common one in the 19th century.  The verse is signed only “A.P.”   Alas, we do not know who she is.

I am grateful to Mike Dufresne for sharing this photograph.

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Real Photo Postcards

(RP Postcard, RPPC)

Real Photo Postcard

Real Photo Postcard. Moscow School. Lennox and Addington County Museum.

There is considerable confusion about what is meant by a “real photo postcard”.

Unless they are made from artwork or cartoons, all postcards begin life as photographs. -But they should not all be labelled as “RP”.

The change in postal regulations which permitted cards with a picture on one side and the address on the other provided an opportunity for small town photographers. For years they had sold so-called “album fillers”. Now, when work was slow, they could produce photographic prints of the right size for mailing. Photographic supply houses were quick to offer print-out papers of the regulation postcard size (3 1/2 by 5 1/2 inches). These stock photographic papers had the usual light-sensitive emulsions on one side and a handy template for the address and postage stamp on the other. At first, no message was permitted on the address side. Soon, the regulations were altered to permit a message on the left half of the address side — the so-called “divided back”.

The negatives of the day (which still included glass negatives) were not 3 1/2 x 5 1/2 in dimension, but this was not always a problem as photographers simply cropped the image to fit the card.

Photographic historians and collectors have appropriated the term “Real Photo Postcard” (or RP Postcard or RPPC) to apply to this specific type of card.

The Kodak Company was ever alert to opportunities. In 1903, Kodak came out with a film proportioned to print out onto the postcard papers with a camera to fit, the Kodak 3A Folding Pocket Camera. The appearance of this camera tells us how quickly the interest in postcard prints had grown.

Kodak used the term “Real Photo Postcard” when promoting the new film and camera, but they were not the only company to use the phrase.

Commercial card probably from a glass negative.

Commercially produced card made for bookseller, A.E. Paul of Napanee from a negative which was not 3 1/2 x 5 1/2" and not easy to crop to fit the card. Lennox and Addington County Museum.

Amateur photographers, who did not have a shop on main street, also liked the idea of making postcards to show off their work to family and friends. They ordered postcard photographic stock for use in their home darkroom, typically set up in the tool shed or the pantry. Not everyone wanted to invest in a special camera like the Kodak 3A, but like the professionals, amateur photographers could produce postcards by cropping the negatives from the camera they already owned. If they lacked skill or judgment, the resulting image might not properly fill the card.  The church interior (above) is not a Real Photo Postcard but it shows the challenges of cropping images to fit.

Whether the product of the shop on the main street, or an amateur photographer, RPPC’s were produced in very, very limited edition. The shop on main street might print out thirty or forty, perhaps one hundred if the view proved popular. The amateur might make as few as one or two.

The photographic postcard paper has a major disadvantage. The address side (back) was generic and there was no way to identify the subject. Some professionals got around this by scratching a caption in reverse on the negative. This would show as a legible title when the negative was printed.  (See Moscow School above.)  Amateurs relied on the written (holograph) message on the back.

Because of the lack of a printed title, RPPC’s are difficult to date and identify. If the card has been postally used, the postmark can be a help. Also, the stamp provides evidence. For example, in the United States, postcards required a one cent stamp from 1898 until 1917, when the price went up to two cents. It came back down to one cent in 1919.

The manufacturer of the postcard stock usually marked the back of the card, often in the block where the stamp would cover it. In Canada, so-called “AZO” postcards first appeared in 1904. The earliest papers (1904-1918) have four triangles pointed up in the stamp box. AZO papers with diamonds in the corners of the stamp box apparently were produced almost concurrently, and date from 1907-1909.

Understanding of this kind of evidence is increasing all the time. This is the reason that it is so important to collectors to see the back of the card, and why owning the original (and not just a scan of the front) is critical for an archive.

The heyday of RPPC’s is from about 1898 until the the mid 1920’s although amateurs continued to produce them as a hobby through much of the 20th century.

chromo-lith postcard

Chromo-lith Postcard, made from a photograph taken by a local photographer. Lennox and Addington County Museum N-00284

RPPC’s are labour-intensive to produce, making the profit small. Professional photographers quickly found that they could make more money selling their rights to publishers or manufacturers to print out their products in large numbers. The resulting commercially produced cards could be purchased very cheaply wholesale and sold for as much as the old RPPC’s. Moreover, RPPC’s were black and white. Postcard publishers could use colour lithograph processes (chromo-lithography) to produce a coloured card, which was very appealing to the customers.

Photo Postcard Not Strictly an RPPC

Commercial, black and white photographic postcard made between 1950 and 1970. Not strictly an RPPC. Lennox and Addington County Museum PCN-04275.

Postcards made by printing out on a photographic stock have been produced commercially throughout the twentieth century, in black and white and in colour. After about 1970, they include very glossy colourful photographic views. However, to the collector, the term Real Photo Postcard is assumed to mean a limited-edition, locally produced card, the product of the so-called “golden age” of postcards between 1898 and the late 1920’s. A card mass-produced by a commercial publisher using a photographic process is not an “RPPC”.

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Photograph Albums: What you don’t see…

Front of Album.

First page, with cabinets removed.

Photograph albums created between 1869, when paper photographic prints really took off in popularity in Ontario and January, 1901 may be accurately called Victorian. The earliest albums were made for the small prints known as cartes-de-visites, but within a few years albums were being manufactured with slots for larger cabinet prints. Unfortunately, the owners of photograph albums often did not identify the portraits. After all they knew their own relatives and friends, and like we in the 21st century imagined they would always be on hand to explain. Sadly, no one is exempt from the Great Reckoning.

It is heartbreaking to find oneself the custodian of a truly lovely album with little or no identification. However, creators of photograph albums seldom inserted the pictures in random sequence. This is the reason that it is important to keep the album contents in original order. If they are removed to better protect the images, then they should be numbered to perpetuate the sequence.

Pictures in the album are often arranged in family groups: husband opposite wife; brothers and sisters in proximity; a couple and their children close by. If this is suspected, then the place where the photograph was taken (provided mercifully by the byline of the photographer) can confirm relationships. If there are several photographs of the same individual which were not taken on the same day but on different days, wearing different clothing and perhaps aging over time, then it is likely (but of course not absolutely certain) that you are looking at the first owner of the album.

Nearly always, the first photograph or first two photographs in the album are persons of great importance, usually parents (mother often first, then father) or the owner of the album and her spouse, usually at the time of marriage. The identities of these individuals is often the last to fade from family memory, and so these pictures are usually removed before the luckless album is sold off with the rest of its contents.

When I acquire a photograph album in which the contents are still tightly in their sleeves (and thus likely still in original order) but the photographs at the beginning have been pulled away, then I believe that the album was ‘picked’ from the family as they kept the portraits which they could identify. Often, the flyleaf is also missing as it usually carries a presentation message written when it was empty and new and a gift. It is so frustrating to be the custodian of a super piece of Victoriana with the last link to the family torn away.

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Fashionable Lady of Belleville, circa 1881-3

Belleville, Ontario Lady. Collection of the author.

This is “Cassie”, wearing a stunning bonnet and gown consistent with the period 1881-1883, if she was style conscious. The profile of the dress would have been long and slim with a form-hugging skirt and only the ghost of a bustle. The high neck and fussy fringe are also haute-mode for the early ’80’s. Hats of this kind were inspired by European old master paintings.


Also note the jewellry. Cassie has pierced ears and modest drop earrings. The brooch is of the “bar” type, extremely popular in the late 19th century. Many examples, costume and fine, are offered by dealers today.

Before the twentieth century, the name “Cassie” was usually a nickname for girls baptized Cassandra. In Greek myths Cassandra was a beautiful woman with the power of prophesy. After she rejected the advances of the god Apollo, she was cursed. Although she could still see the future she was no longer believed. Cassandra foretold the fall of Troy and her own death, but was powerless to prevent it. In literature, the name is synonymous with tragedy and particularly with gifted but doomed women. It was a strange choice for a baby girl. I have often wondered if some forgotten Victorian novel popularized it.

There are two potential Cassies in Belleville in 1881. Cassie Cole was born in 1849 and was living in Belleville with her widowed mother, Elizabeth. This Cassie would have been in her early thirties when the photograph was taken. She is the most likely candidate. However, there was another Cassie, Cassie McGarry, a seamstress born in 1861, daughter of Thomas McGarry, a builder. She would have been in her early twenties.

The photographer, J.H. Ford, is found under Belleville in directories from about 1879 to about 1884, according to Glen C. Phillips.

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Archival Appraisal for Acquisition

The Usefulness of Press Photographs

Acquisition of images which will both fit the mission of the archives and offer maximum usefulness to numerous archive clients is a challenge.

The most useful pictures are those which illustrate activities, events or specific locations. Original press photographs may be appropriate and useful additions to the photograph holdings, but press photographs have a poor reputation amongst archivists. Many repositories have had recent copies thrust upon them, minus the original documentation. Sometimes, these copies have been made from the many digitized image sources available online, and the original is the proud property of another archive. Not all archivists are skilled at separating silver prints from dye and plastic. Nor does every institution have staff time to check the provenance of each image. Once embarrassed by being caught serving a photograph with a really bad donor-imposed caption, the archivist cannot be blamed for being nervous about accepting more.

We wish that family photographs were richer in documented views and vignettes of activities. However, what are most commonly offered by donors are portraits. Portraits of accomplished persons are of wider use, particularly if they are not represented in another accessible collection and are not restricted by copyright or donor agreements. However, the sad truth is that portraits of average citizens will have limited appeal (mostly to the occasional descendants who are thrilled to finally see great-uncle Fred). If the portrait is both identified AND dated, there may be useful details such as costume or hair style which will serve the clients at the archive. The archivist might ponder, however, just how many clients researching the history of hairdressing arrive each year. A quick glance at the photograph index will prove that, outside of portraits, the major subject groups are family activities such as picnics, weddings and cute grandkids. Being part of the family fonds these are kept. The topics are useful, but they not the important themes which give the archive status and win public support.

In my opinion, the small local archives in particular must be proactive with image collections. There is a danger of becoming a substitute shoebox for guilty families who no longer want grandma’s photos. Although lovely, many family photo fonds lack sufficient image “oomph” to be widely useful and desirable to patrons.

Below is an example of a press photograph which enhances a collection of portraits of World War Two soldiers.

Many Lennox and Addington veterans served in the Canadian Artillery in World War Two, and were part of the Canadian First Army in 1945, which was a multi-national force commanded by Canadian General Harry Crerar. In February 1945, they were advancing into Germany along the Nijmegen-Cleve road. A ridge of land held by the German 84th Division was a major impediment. The Allies called this ridge, “The Nutterden Feature”. The airforce was to bomb the ridge on February 8th, but bad weather and the proximity of the Canadians delayed the attack. Instead, the artillery was used, consisting of the British Worcestershire Regiment and the Canadians. On February 9th through February 10th, following the bombardment, the allies advanced on the ridge. This assault was actually commanded by General Brian Horrocks. The weather was grey, cold and generally miserable. After a struggle with the very determined enemy, the Nutterden Feature was won, opening up the Cleve Road. This action was part of “Operation Veritable” (Battle of the Rhineland).

This photograph (British Newspaper Pool No. 390213/4) shows British troops and Canadians advancing into the German trenches on the Nutterden feature. It conveys more quickly then words the military significance of the ridge and the size of the bombardment necessary to win it.

Allied troops in the German trenches of Nutterden Feature, 1945

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