Identifying a Family Photograph

Family photo from the early 1940s. My great grandmother is on the right.

One of my classes this semester is a photography preservation class. Part of doing archival work around photographs involves identifying different photography processes. There are many ways of making a photograph, even from the earliest days of photography in 1839. Some photographs are one of a kind objects, other photography techniques involve creating a photo negative that is then developed into a positive print.

This week we were challenged to identify a photograph either from our own collections or from an archive or other repository. Since most archives are closed right now, I chose one of the prints in my own photography collection.

This photo is a gelatin silver DOP print, which was one of the most popular print techniques of the 20th century. You can’t see it from the photo, but it has a high gloss finish, which became popular during the 1930s.

My Nana was able to tell me a lot more about the people in the photograph and when and where it was taken, so learning about the photograph’s process also meant that I learned more about my family history.

Are you interested in learning about your own family photographs? Graphics Atlas has great information about identifying different kinds of photography and has great information about the science behind each kind of photo process. It shows views under magnification and commons signs of deterioration.

For example, my family photo shows signs of silver mirroring in the darkest areas. See that silvery blue sheen in the photo? That means that the silver has migrated closer to the surface in areas that are really dark (where there was a high density in silver to develop the photo).

Why do archives care about identifying photos?

  • It helps to date photos. By identifying the process, we can have rough estimates about the date based on when the technique was being used. That said, this isn’t foolproof because some really old techniques are still being used by photographers today.
  • It helps with preservation. Knowing the ideal conditions for a photograph or a negative is dependent on knowing the kind of artifact you’re working with.
  • It helps with access. Importantly, knowing that you have a specific type of print can help researchers looking for specific kinds of photos to study.

What’s the oldest family photo you have? Let me know in the comments!

2015 Women Writers Reading Challenge–Book #7: If You Ask Me by Betty White

IMG_1954_2I thought it was time to talk about (and therefore read) some nonfiction. I’ve got them piling up on my shelf because I always promise myself I’m only going to take x amount of books out at the library at one time, and I always exceed that by a multiple of at least three. I currently have 15 library books on the shelf, and I probably won’t get through them all, but that’s not going to stop me from getting more (because reading for me is basically working and going to the library is basically reading).

Anyway back to Betty. I haven’t seen much of Betty White’s early work (Golden Girls and The Mary Tyler Moore Show). I’m much more familiar with her character work in films like The Proposal and Bringing Down the House. So it was really interesting for me to read her newest memoir, which deals with her newer work. This is the age I always picture her–though now I know I’m going to have to go watch her earlier work because I love her even more now then when I started.

Since this book is her sixth, it’s less an autobiography and more of a collection of thoughts about various subjects including her acting, writing, and aging. They’re grouped into categories, and the sections are very short, most being only two to three pages. Interspersed are dozens of pictures, which show you a very happy life. You can tell she does the things she loves to do.

Her writing is very down to earth. It reads somewhere between a journal entry and a conversation with a close friend. She is frank, grateful for her experiences, humble, funny, and lives life with zest. My favorite quote from the book talks about following your passions: “If you live without passion, you can go through life without leaving any footprints.” I thought this was such a beautiful way of putting this idea. Beautiful, and yet simple.

I think this work is quite lovely. I love the way she references advice from her parents and how she describes aging. I really enjoyed this book, but if you’re interested in reading more about Betty’s earlier appearances, I’d suggest reading one of her earlier works as this book is really focused on her more current roles and appearances.

Do you like memoirs? What kind of experiences are you most interested in (film and entertainment, politics, food, science, etc.)? Personally, I love film memoirs and biographies, but I’ll read anything with good writing and an interesting perspective.