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Book Notes – Ohio Photographers 1839-1900

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CoverOhio Photographers 1839-1900. By Diane VanSkiver Gagel.  (2013.  Pp. 371.  $42.75. Paperback. Baltimore: Clearfield Company for Genealogical Publishing Company.  ISBN: 978-0-8063-5669-3.) www.genealogical.com

Statewide resources on early photography are few and far between.  A brief check of OCLC’s WorldCat shows just six states with statewide directories, a clue to how difficult and time consuming it can be to research and document early American photographers.  This work, compiled by Diane VanSkiver Gagel, showcases the lives and work of Ohio photographers between 1839 and 1900.  During this period, the technology of photography changed from daguerreotype to glass plate negative, and the studio itself from jeweler’s sideline business to fine art portraiture studio.  Many of the earliest photographers travelled across the state by wagons equipped as developing laboratories, staying short periods in each community until they had exhausted the clientele there and needed to move on.  As they did, they left behind evidence of their trade and their art, and for family historians they provided a glimpse of the life and community in which our ancestors lived.

This edition is divided into five sections: Biographies, Directory, Writings by or about, Views of Studios and Works consulted.  The Biographies section is richly researched and takes up most of the first 170 pages.  The detailed biographical essays on each photographer include geographical area in which they operated, years in practice, where they studied, as well as brief personal statements about their families.  The Directory section is equally well researched but includes brief alphabetical entries arranged by studio name or photographer.  If information was available, the entry lists the years in business and the street and town location.

The two sections readers may find most curious are the Writings by or about and the Views of studios.  As the profession evolved from science to art, so did the photographers’ view of their role in documenting the sitter.  The entries included here included autobiographical entries written by photographers, as well as advertisements documenting professional advice offered to colleagues.  And accompanying this are contemporary photographic and engraved images of photographers’ studios.  These represent a tangible glimpse into the working environment of these skilled professionals.

No statewide directory would be complete without a bibliography.  The Works consulted section gives a definitive list of works both in print and online that document early photography in Ohio.  The interested researcher will find inspiration for further study. As any family historian knows, travel across the Ohio River was common, if not frequent, during this period.  Many of the photographers who practiced along the Ohio River provided services to Kentuckians and Ohioans alike.  From Cincinnati to Catlettsburg, it is common to see photographer’s marks which differ from the known residence of the subject of the portrait.  This volume will help any family historian trying to document time period and geographical region.

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