For July’s Second Saturday, attendees were treated to a tag team presentation by a couple of great local experts. Bill Marshall, Author and Retired Director of Special Collections at the University of Kentucky, joined Jen Duplaga, our KHS Archivist, Special Collections & Digital Programs Administrator, for a two hour exploration of the photograph and how to preserve those special family keepsakes.
The format this month was a little different. Since photography production varied so widely over the decades, simply talking about the methods and formats was not going to do the trick. For the first hour, we asked Bill to treat the audience like his former graduate students and give them a practical lesson that could only be learned through tactile handling of the various types of photos. As Bill covered the various formats, beginning with the daguerreotype, examples from KHS’ photographic collection were passed around the room. Prior to the passing, attendees were given gloves to wear while handling the photos, and magnifying glasses to get a closer look at emulsion details.
This type of approach is invaluable when learning about the lineage of photo production. You can educate yourself, and read all about the history of photography, but until you hold a photo in your hands and see the effects of light when held at various angles, you cannot fully grasp the concepts. Some of the formats shared with the audience were: Daguerreotype, Ambrotype, Tintype, Lantern Slide, Stereograph, Silver Prints, Cyanotype, Albumen, etc.
So, why would you care about the different types of photographs produced throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries? For the family historian, this information can help you pinpoint a time frame of production, thereby giving you identity clues as to the subject….or rule out the identity of a subject. Just as some people gather information regarding the clothing and hairstyles to pinpoint time of origin, so too can the nuances of photography production help in the same way.
There is also the importance of learning about the process used in the production of a photo to understand its preservation needs. Many of us have personal family collections, and we want to protect them for the next generation. If we don’t understand the process and chemicals used, we could irreversibly harm the image – which then brings us to the second hour of fun: Preservation!
Jen Duplaga explored the various ways we can protect the items we have in our collection. From documents, to books, to photographs, Jen covered them all. Some of the tips she gave that day:
- Scotch tape is BAD – do not use this, EVER!
- Lamination might sound like a great idea, but over time, the lamination will render the document transparent!
- Think about where you keep your original family documents and photos: the best place is in a dark, dry, even temperate place in your home – think first floor closet – no attic or basement.
- Use archival quality materials from a trusted vendor to ensure a long life for your historical items.
- Consider digital options for ease of sharing your items with other family members – not as a means of preservation.
Of course, Jen could have covered A LOT more issues, but time prevented her from delving deeper into the subject. So…Jen has agreed to provide some regular Preservation advice in our How-To section of KAO. Be watching for a new segment, based on questions we receive here in the Special Collections & Library. If you have any preservation questions, just let us know, and Jen will be glad to answer them in future How-To pieces. Feel free to send photos of your item if possible!
Special thanks to our sharing gang who ran around the room delivering various photo types to the tables – and then played photo police to make sure everyone treated the photos gently!
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