Caring for Your Family Photograph Collection

Over the past twenty years with the transition into a digital world, the way we collect, view and capture photographs has changed. Gone are the days when each of our snapshots took a physical form and held value in the time and money it took to create it. With digital technology offering high quality images with the use of a cell phone, and the cost of storing those images continuously decreasing, the decision to make and keep an expansive collection takes little deliberation. For those of us who were around to watch the transition from analogue to digital photography formats, we can still remember the days when that push of a button created a real object that held our memories and could be kept as a souvenir for the years to come. So how do we care for and ensure the longevity of our shoe-boxes and albums of prints combined with our hard drive of digital images?

If your photograph collection looks like this, you should probably read this blog post.

If your photograph collection looks like this, you should probably read this blog post.

Digitization

Analogue photographs, whether developed in a drug store or printed in a dark room, are far from permanent. In fact, if your photo collection is anything like mine, the majority of those photographs are probably colour 4×6, Polaroid, or photo paper print. These colour prints are actually at a higher risk of fading than your great grandmother’s old silver gelatin black and white prints. In fact, if you go take a look, they are probably far from the way they looked when you got them already. This is why, if you want those pictures of you as a kid or your wedding day to be around for your grandchildren and great grandchildren, your best option is to re-capture them digitally.

Digitization doesn’t have to be expensive, but it can be time consuming. Deciding to digitize is the first step, but depending on time, technical know-how, digital storage capacity and available equipment, executing your digitization plan can  take a variety of forms.

 

Scanning

Ideally, for long-term preservation, scanning is the way to go. A good scanner can provide you with high quality images that will allow you to view, print and display your family photos however you choose. Depending on the type of photographs you have (especially if there are negatives or slides in your collection), you may need a scanner capable of transparency scanning. A good scanner goes up in price pretty quickly, but there are other options. For instance, the Toronto Public Library has Digital Design Workstations equipped with Epson scanners that can be reserved for two hours at a time to help get you through that shoebox or two in your closet. Software such as PhotoShop, EPSON Scan in professional mode, or SilverFast will provide you with all the settings you need and usually come with the purchase of a scanner.

 

Essentially, the settings you will be looking for include things like Document Type, Image Type, Resolution and Image Format. Features such as batch scanning that speed up the process by allowing you to select and scan more than one photograph at a time are also something to look for. Generally, the auto settings of the scanner should work fine, but you will want to ensure a resolution of at least 300 dpi/ppi with 24-bit colour RGB depth and that you are saving in TIFF or JPEG format. Make sure you are working with a clean scanner and have dusted off your photographs to prevent it from appearing in your digital image and avoid timely editing later on.

 

EPSON scan Professional Mode screenshot

If you are really concerned about capturing the colours of your photograph as accurately as possible, the FADGI Guidelines for Digitizing Cultural Heritage Materials reviews how to scan a photograph for conservation and long-term preservation, and cover topics such as using a colour reference target, preparing your viewing environment, monitor calibration, spatial and signal resolution, colour gamut, colour mode, colour space. Generally, for heritage preservation the recommended pixel array is 4000 pixels along the longest dimension of your photograph. So if you are scanning a 4 x 6 inch print, your spatial resolution should be set to (4000 ppi ÷ 6” =) 600 dpi/ppi.

 

 

 

Re-photographing

If a scanner is out of your budget, and your local library doesn’t have scanners for public use, you might want to consider the option of re-capturing your photographs in a digital format. This can also be as simple or complex as you decide to make it.

 

Just as easily as your cell phone helps you capture everyday moments, it can also help you digitize your family photograph collection. Although there are apps like CamScanner, that can help edit a poorly captured reproduction, use these as a last resort or when time is limited, as they will likely provide you with low quality and slightly distorted images. Whether using your cell phone camera, a digital point-and-shoot, or a professional digital camera, here are some things to think about before creating a digital version by re-photographing that old family photo:

  • If the size of your original photograph is information you find valuable in its preservation, include a ruler or other measurement scale in your image.
  • Other information about the photograph, such as geographical location where the image was taken, or the names of its subjects, that you do not want to lose can also be included in the frame of your new image.
  • Place photograph on a solid grey background, use an easel or copystand if available.
  • Use a tripod (and a release cord if possible)  or other steadying device to prevent blur from occurring in your digital images.
  • Line up the frame of your digital image with the frame of the photograph.
    • Try to ensure each corner of the original photograph appears as a right angle in your viewfinder to prevent distorted imaging.
  • Be aware of light and shadows. Optimally you will want to set up two lights, the same height and distance away and on either side of the photograph to ensure even illumination.
    • Additional light sources can help prevent shadows caused by curling or frames.

 

Diagram depicting the set-up for digitizing a photographic print using a digital camera.

Diagram depicting the set-up for digitizing a photographic print using a digital camera.

 

Storage

Digital storage

Preserving your family photograph collection doesn’t end with digitization. To ensure that your memories don’t get lost in a sea of desktop files or become an obsolete file format, you will need to maintain and follow a system. Organization is key in the prolonged care of both physical and digital photography collections.

 

An effective and easy way to start thinking about how to organize your digital images is to picture their file structure like a hierarchical tree:

 

Example of a tree-style arrangement for digital photograph storage. If you are an avid photographer, you may choose to add another level, such as "2011 artistic" and "2011 events."

Example of a tree-style arrangement for digital photograph storage. If you are an avid photographer, you may choose to add another level, such as “2011 artistic” and “2011 events.”

 

Choose file names that will make your images easy to search so that they won’t be hard to find when you need them, and save in formats that you know you will be able to access in five years (e.g. JPEG, TIFF). Keep a backup (or two!) on a cloud or an external hard drive, so that if something should happen to your computer and your files are destroyed, you will always have another copy. Set a reminder to update your backup weekly, monthly, or yearly depending on how many pictures you’re taking and if possible, store the backup at a different location.

 

Physical storage

A rule of thumb is that generally photographs like to be stored in the same environment that people like to be in. A cool, dark place with about 40% relative humidity is ideal, so it is best to avoid storing your prints in a damp basement or humid attic. Also remove any potentially harmful storage materials, such as glassine, which has been a popular material for photo sleeves.

Acid-free paper sleeves are a good option for storing photographs you don't intend to handle often.

Acid-free paper sleeves are a good option for storing photographs you don’t intend to handle often.

If your prints are in a shoebox you’re on the right track, but ideally it is best to store them in a material less acidic than cardboard to ensure they will not be subject to the harmful results of off-gassing. To prevent any warping it is best to lay them flat, and in case there is any adhesive, try to separate each print with Mylar, acid-free paper, or acid-free tissue. House them in individual sleeves, envelopes or enclosures to protect them from handling and changes in the environment.

Polyester sleeves will protect your prints while also allowing you to look at them.

Polyester sleeves will protect your prints while also allowing you to look at them.

If you want to store your prints upright, make sure they are kept flat by including a spacer to prevent warping.

If you want to store your prints upright, make sure they are kept flat by including a spacer to prevent warping.

Albums can also be a great place to store photographic prints, but you need to be careful that you are using a photo-friendly style of album. Avoid self-adhesive albums! These albums can destroy the image of your photograph and speed up deterioration. If you have some of these already in your collection, you may no longer be able to remove your prints without causing them serious damage, in which case digitization is your best bet for image preservation. If you are creating a new album here are some best practices to follow:

  • Use photo-corners to attach prints to the pages. This way, only the corners will touch adhesive, and not your prints. Should someone want to remove the print from the album they will be able to do so with little to no damage to the object.
  • Use acid free paper. This will delay deterioration such as silver mirroring and fading.
  • Separate the prints so they are not stored facing each other. Some albums are sold with acid free tissue in between the pages that will do this for you. If you are using a binder, you can also do this by inserting each page into a Mylar (Polyester) sleeve.
  • Avoid writing directly onto your prints. If you have information to include about the subject of an image, inscribe this on the space surrounding your print. Inks can bleed or gradually discolour your images.

Don’t use self-adhesive albums! Reference number: 2005.001.06.01.008.2.

Do use photo corners, archival sleeves and tissue to protect your prints.

Do use photo corners, archival sleeves and tissue to protect your prints. Write descriptions on the area around the photograph, and not on the photo itself. Reference number: 2008.001.2.010.

Other notes on preserving your family photographs

Negatives and transparencies

If you have negatives interfiled with your prints they can also benefit from re-housing and separate enclosures. Acetate negatives in particular might be something you choose to digitize, as they are prone to vinegar syndrome, a form of deterioration that can only be delayed by freezer storage.

 

 

Undeveloped rolls of film

If you have undeveloped rolls of film that you’ve been meaning to process, but haven’t got around to, sooner is better than later. Just like your prints, film is subject to natural deterioration that may have already distorted your undeveloped images. Also, your opportunity to have someone else print them is quickly diminishing as the onset of digital takes its toll on commercial printing businesses.

 

Sources:

Cornell University Library https://www.library.cornell.edu/preservation/brochure/Family%20Photos%20Text%2001.pdf

Northeast Document Conservation Centre Leaflets https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/overview

“Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Cultural Heritage Materials: Creation of Raster Image Master Files,” Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative. August 2010. http://www.digitizationguidelines.gov/guidelines/FADGI_Still_Image-Tech_Guidelines_2010-08-24.pdf

Tony Hoffman, The Five Best Photo Scanners, PCMag. July 2014. http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2362752,00.asp

Toronto Public Library Digital Design Work Stations http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/using-the-library/computer-services/innovation-spaces/workstations.jsp
U.S. National Archives http://www.archives.gov/preservation/family-archives/

Days Gone By: A Summer Guide to Toronto

With the first day of summer quickly approaching, the people of Toronto are flocking outdoors to enjoy the many events and activities taking place across the city. And although there are endless ways to take advantage of such a lively time of year, the pages of a Toronto family scrapbook may help to determine how best to enjoy the season.

 

The following is a list of activities to consider this year, recommended by Torontonians circa 1913:

Enjoy a promenade through Allan Gardens, one of Toronto’s oldest parks founded in 1858. While you’re there you may want to drop into Allan Gardens Conservatory, built in 1910, just a few years before these photographs were taken.

Scenes from Allan Gardens. [ca. 1911]

Scenes from Allan Gardens [ca. 1911]. Album reference number: 2008.001.049.

 

Visit one of North America’s largest fairs, taking place annually at Exhibition Place.

Image from "A Souvenir of Toronto." (Toronto: The Valentine & Sons Publishing Co., Limited: [1913?])

Image from “A Souvenir of Toronto.” (Toronto: The Valentine & Sons Publishing Co., Limited: [1913?]).

First held in 1879 to celebrate the best in Canadian agriculture and technology, the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) has become a major city attraction. These photographs were captured in 1911, the final year the fair was known as the Toronto Industrial Exhibition before changing its name to CNE in 1912.

First held in 1879 to celebrate the best in Canadian agriculture and technology, the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) has become a major city attraction. These photographs were captured in 1911, the final year the fair was known as the Toronto Industrial Exhibition before changing its name to CNE in 1912. Album reference number: 2008.001.049.

 

 

Venture out to the Scarborough Bluffs and explore a unique geological feature of the city’s landscape.

The first side of a spread in the scrapbook dedicated to a trip to the Scarborough Bluffs. 1913.

The first side of a spread in the scrapbook dedicated to a trip to the Scarborough Bluffs, 1913. Album reference number: 2008.001.049.

The second side of the scrapbook spread featuring images from a trip to the Scarborough Bluffs. [ca. 1911]

The second side of the scrapbook spread featuring images from a trip to the Scarborough Bluffs, 1913. Album reference number: 2008.001.049.

 

Gather some friends and head to one of Toronto’s many parks and beaches.

Taken at Kew Beach, summer 1911. Album reference number: 2008.001.049.

 

Image from "A Souvenir of Toronto." (Toronto: The Valentine & Sons Publishing Co., Limited: [1913?]).

Image from “A Souvenir of Toronto.” (Toronto: The Valentine & Sons Publishing Co., Limited: [1913?]).

 

The waterfront is at its best this time of year. Venture out on the Toronto Harbour and hop aboard a boat cruise, or take out a canoe. Maybe pay a visit to the Island.

Image from "A Souvenir of Toronto." (Toronto: The Valentine & Sons Publishing Co., Limited: [1913?]).

Image from “A Souvenir of Toronto.” (Toronto: The Valentine & Sons Publishing Co., Limited: [1913?]).

The S. S. Cayuga, launched in 1906, sailed from the Toronto Harbour to the Niagara Region transporting passengers and cargo until 1960. Photos taken circa 1912.

The S.S. Cayuga, launched in 1906, sailed from the Toronto Harbour to the Niagara Region transporting passengers and cargo until 1960. [ca. 1912]. Album reference number: 2008.001.049.

 

[ca. 1912]

[ca. 1912]. Album reference number: 2008.001.049.

Image from "A Souvenir of Toronto." (Toronto: The Valentine & Sons Publishing Co., Limited: [1913?]).

Image from “A Souvenir of Toronto.” (Toronto: The Valentine & Sons Publishing Co., Limited: [1913?]).

 

Image from "A Souvenir of Toronto." (Toronto: The Valentine & Sons Publishing Co., Limited: [1913?]).

Image from “A Souvenir of Toronto.” (Toronto: The Valentine & Sons Publishing Co., Limited: [1913?]).

Bike along a trail or through your favourite neighbourhood.

'Some boy' posed in front of a bike. [ca. 1911]

‘Some boy’ posed in front of a bike, [ca. 1911]. Album reference number: 2008.001.049.

Image from "A Souvenir of Toronto." (Toronto: The Valentine & Sons Publishing Co., Limited: [1913?]).

Image from “A Souvenir of Toronto.” (Toronto: The Valentine & Sons Publishing Co., Limited: [1913?]).

 

 

Wander over to your favourite store or market.

Moore's Ltd. would have been located at the North West corner of Yonge and Gerrard.

Moore’s Ltd. would have been located at the North West corner of Yonge and Gerrard [ca. 1912]. Album reference number: 2008.001.049.

Shoppers at the crosswalk between Eaton's and Simpsons. [ca. 1905]. Image from: "The Simpsons Century." (Toronto, Ontario: Toronto Star Limited, 1972).

Shoppers at the crosswalk between Eaton’s and Simpsons. [ca. 1905]. Image from: “The Simpsons Century.” (Toronto, Ontario: Toronto Star Limited, 1972).

 

 

Embrace local history and check out how the city has evolved.

Image from "A Souvenir of Toronto." (Toronto: The Valentine & Sons Publishing Co., Limited: [1913?]).

Image from “A Souvenir of Toronto.” (Toronto: The Valentine & Sons Publishing Co., Limited: [1913?]).

Scarboro Beach Park was an amusement park located near the present site of Beaches Park. It operated from 1907-1925.

Scarboro Beach Park was an amusement park located near the present site of Beaches Park. It operated from 1907-1925, [ca. 1911]. Album reference number: 2008.001.049.

 

 

If the city has become too overwhelming, maybe it’s time to get away and take a weekend or day trip to the surrounding area.

“Dingle near Simcoe” [ca. 1912]. Album reference number: 2008.001.049.

“Summer time in ‘Johnstown'” [ca. 1912]. Album reference number: 2008.001.049.

Put-in-Bay, Ohio, is a popular recreational attraction during the summer months.

Put-in-Bay, Ohio, is a popular recreational attraction during the summer months, [ca. 1912]. Album reference number: 2008.001.049.

 

 

So long as there are friends and family, there are no shortage of ways to appreciate summer in and around Toronto.

[ca. 1912]

[ca. 1912]. Album reference number: 2008.001.049.

[ca. 1912]. Album reference number: 2008.001.049.

A family posed in front of a monument at the corner of Sherbourne and Carlton Streets, with St. Luke's United Church in the background.

A family posed in front of a monument at the corner of Sherbourne and Carlton Streets, with St. Luke’s United Church in the background, [ca. 1914]. Album reference number: 2008.001.049.

 

 

This blog features items from the Historical Collection, the Robert MacIntosh Collection on the History of Toronto, and the Rare Books Collection held at Ryerson’s Special Collections on the 4th floor of the library. Drop in and see what else these collections have to offer. Call 416-979-5000 ext. 4996 or email specialcollections@ryerson.ca to make an appointment.

The Automobile in Early Twentieth-Century Portraiture

The trend of portraiture rapidly evolved after the birth of the medium of photography. With this new and fascinating technology it became a novelty to have your photograph made and to use it as a symbol of personal identity. Through image content and format, a photograph can tell many things about its subject such as class, position, time period and personal values. With the first internal-combustion engine patented by Karl Benz in 1896, the rise of the automobile commenced and its increasing presence in photography is representative of the role it played in society during that time.

 

Figure 1: 2008.001.221. William Lees, [Family group sitting in a studio car prop], cabinet card [between 1898 and 1914], Portobello, Scotland, 16.4 x 10.3 cm.

Figure 1: 2008.001.221. William Lees, [Family group sitting in a studio car prop], cabinet card [between 1898 and 1914], Portobello, Scotland, 16.4 x 10.3 cm.

The presence of the automobile in this cabinet card (figure 1), made at a photography studio in Portobello, Scotland, suggests a general excitement for the ever increasing popularity of this new method of transportation. William Lees, a photographer known for his unique and entertaining studio backdrops, captured this family in front of a painted landscape where they are positioned around and inside of a painted studio prop car. Although this may have created an image that seems somewhat comedic to modern day viewers, the inclusion of this horseless carriage, even as a painted cardboard cut-out, speaks to the values and studio practices of the time period.

W. Lees has paid attention to popular recommendations for photography studio backdrops that encouraged photographers to approach the background of their composition with “as much attention as would an artist painting a picture.”[i] For instance, he painted this backdrop with gradation, creating depth complimentary to the presentation of his subjects. However, whether Lees has approached the Leonardo da Vinci level of natural authenticity desired by contemporary Henry Peach Robinson is left open for debate. As stated by the pioneer of combination printing, “be the figures ever so good, their effect may be seriously injured by ineffective support.”[ii] Lees’ use of the car prop also may not reach Robinson’s standards for accuracy, as although Robinson encouraged the photographer to pursue the use studio props outside of conventional columns and curtains, he warned that to do so is a fine art “in which departure from truth becomes absurd.”[iii]

Regardless of the quality found in the studio backdrop and props, W. Lees was working at the request of a customer desiring to be photographed in this specific way. What would have motivated a family to want their professional portrait taken in a makeshift cardboard car placed in front of a landscape backdrop that it does not quite fit into? Through the 1890s and the first decade of the twentieth century, cars were a luxury that only the wealthy could afford to buy and maintain.[iv] They were a symbol of status and more of a plaything than a practical method of transportation. At the same time, they were new and increasingly accessible inventions that were readily gaining popularity in the U.K. throughout the late nineteenth-century. That a Scottish family such as that in figure 1 would have been eager to take part in this cultural experience, or even a makeshift version of it, is not a surprise.

 

Figure 2: 2008.001.1821. Unknown, [Group portrait with a car], tintype [ca. 1905], 8.5 x 6.5 cm.

Figure 2: 2008.001.1821. Unknown, [Group portrait with a car], tintype [ca. 1905], 8.5 x 6.5 cm.

Seen in this tintype (figure 2) is another example of a group choosing to sit within an automobile for their studio portrait. Although the photographer is unknown, the painted backdrop and presence of an actual car suggest the importance for this group to own a photograph documenting themselves within it. Generally, America had adopted the automobile by 1899, but it was still a novelty few were fortunate to own, an estimated 2500 produced in the United States that year for a population of approximately 74.5 million.[v]  Perhaps the photographer was a travelling one, as many tintype studios were, and set up their backdrop outdoors allowing the inclusion of a real automobile to be a plausible option. Regardless of how it got there, its presence in this photograph makes a statement to the growing interest in this new machine.

 

Figure 3 (above): 2009.005.026. Stanley Park Photographers, [Group seated in a car in front of the Hollow Tree in Stanley Park], gelatin silver print on card mount [ca. 1910], Vancouver BC, 20.2 x 25.4 cm (with mount). Figure 4 (below): 2008.001.622. Stanley Park Photographers, [Portrait of men in car at Stanley Park], gelatin silver print on card mount [ca. 1915], Vancouver BC, 22.0 x 26.7 cm (with mount).

Figure 3 (above): 2009.005.026. Stanley Park Photographers, [Group seated in a car in front of the Hollow Tree in Stanley Park], gelatin silver print on card mount [ca. 1910], Vancouver BC, 20.2 x 25.4 cm (with mount).
Figure 4 (below): 2008.001.622. Stanley Park Photographers, [Portrait of men in car at Stanley Park], gelatin silver print on card mount [ca. 1915], Vancouver BC, 22.0 x 26.7 cm (with mount).

These two portraits (figures 3 and 4), taken in front of the Hollow Tree in Vancouver, B.C., illustrate the role of the automobile and photography in tourism. Between 1900 and 1910 considerable progress was made in North American automobile production and automobiles were surpassing speeds of 25 kilometers per hour. Owning an automobile provided not only an opportunity to show off your wealth, but also an efficient way to travel through the countryside. No longer requiring the long set-up of horse and carriage, groups and families could spontaneously decide to take their car out to see sites and landmarks such as the Stanley Park Hollow Tree.[vi] Here we see the results of when these lucky travellers were met with a strategically placed camera in front of the Western Red Cedar tree, where a photographer was ready to snap a picture and document their visit.

 

Figure 5: 2008.001.1471. Unknown, [Men in car], gelatin silver print on card mount [ca. 1910], United States, 25.5 x 30.6 cm (with mount).

Figure 5: 2008.001.1471. Unknown, [Men in car], gelatin silver print on card mount [ca. 1910], United States, 25.5 x 30.6 cm (with mount).

As the introduction of the Kodak Brownie camera in 1900 provided the masses with an easy and inexpensive method of making their own snapshot pictures, professional photographers also found an increased mobility in their practice. Moving towards the 1920s, the increasing commonplace of photography was mirrored by that of the automobile, increasing the likelihood of seeing a car parked in front of your neighbour’s house. Combined, the presence of cars in photographs became more frequent and less formal. Groups and individuals were photographed in their cars at events, at their homes and anywhere else their car could take them (figures 5 and 6).

Figure 6: 2008.001.1482.2. Unknown, [Portrait of two men in a car], gelatin silver print on card mount [ca. 1905], 24.8 x 30.5 cm (with mount).

Figure 6: 2008.001.1482.2. Unknown, [Portrait of two men in a car], gelatin silver print on card mount [ca. 1905], 24.8 x 30.5 cm (with mount).

The phenomenon of including an automobile within portrait photographs is not restricted to the early twentieth century. Cars, trucks, vans, motorcycles, RVs and ATVs are still among our most expensive and prized possessions and it is not unusual to desire a picture taken of ourselves with it. However, as technology changes, so too does the appearance of the vehicle we are sitting in (or standing beside), the ease at which we can acquire such an image, and the format in which we capture and display it.

Figure 7: 2005.001.06.03.006. Unknown, Kodak Canada Inc., [Vehicles], gelatin silver print [ca. 1910], Toronto ON, 20.32 x 25.4 cm.

Figure 7: 2005.001.06.03.006. Unknown, Kodak Canada Inc., [Vehicles], gelatin silver print [ca. 1910], Toronto ON, 20.32 x 25.4 cm.

If you have any additional information about these photographs or the automobiles in them, we would love to hear from you!

Special Collections, located on the fourth floor of the Ryerson Library, holds numerous examples of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century photographs, including cabinet cards, cartes de visite, tintypes, daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, as well as contemporary guidebooks and manuals. To access Special Collections give us a call or send us an email to book an appointment at: specialcollections@ryerson.ca or 416-979-5000 ext. 4996.

Notes

[i] W. Whitehead, “Home-made Backgrounds,” The Photo-American, Vol. 3, no. 3 (January 1892): 70.

[ii] Henry Peach Robinson, Pictorial Effect in Photography Being Hints on Composition and Chiaroscuro for Photographers, (1869. Reprint, Pawlet, Vermont: Helios, 1971): 102.

[iii] Ibid., 106.

[iv] John Heitmann, The Automobile and American Life, (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2009): 10.

[v] James J. Flink, America Adopts the Automobile, 1895-1910, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1970): 29.

[vi] George S. May, A Most Unique Machine: The Michigan Origins of the American Automobile Industry, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975): 42-45.

Bibliography

Flink, James J. America Adopts the Automobile, 1895-1910. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1970.

Heitmann, John. The Automobile and American Life. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2009.

May, George S. A Most Unique Machine: The Michigan Origins of the American Automobile Industry. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975.

Neal, Avon. “Folk Art Fantasies: Photographers’ Backdrops.” Afterimage. Vol. 24, issue 5 (March/April 1997): 1-13. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (9703172176).

Roberts, Peter. A Pictorial History of the Automobile. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1977.

Robinson, Henry Peach. Pictorial Effect in Photography Being Hints on Composition and Chiaroscuro for Photographers. 1869. Reprint, Pawlet, Vermont: Helios, 1971.

Thomas, Alan. The Expanding Eye: Photography and the Nineteenth-Century Mind. London: Croom Helm Ltd., 1978.

The Studio. Edited by Jerry Korn. New York: Time-Life Books, 1971.

Vogel, Dr. Hermann. “Filling the Picture. Accessories and Backgrounds.” Handbook of the Practice and Art of Photography. 2nd ed. Translated by unknown. Philidelphia: Benerman & Wilson, 1875.

Whitehead, W. “Home-made Backgrounds.” The Photo-American. Vol. 3, no. 3 (January 1892).

Wilson, Edward L. “Lesson K. Accessories and Light.” Wilson’s Photographics: A Series of Lessons, Accompanied by Notes, On All the Processes Which are Needful in the Art of Photography. New York: Edward L. Wilson, 1881.


 

 

 

Ingersoll to Kingston circa 1905

This unique cabinet card from the Lorne Shields fonds of the Historical Photograph Collection at Ryerson’s Special Collections features not only an uncommon composition, but also an interesting history of Canada’s railway systems inscribed on its verso.

2008.001.184. [Portrait of two women in a doorway with tree branch], cabinet card [ca. 1910], 20.4 x 12.6 cm (with mount). Left: recto, right: verso.

2008.001.184. [Portrait of two women in a doorway with tree branch], cabinet card [ca. 1910], 20.4 x 12.6 cm (with mount). Left: recto, right: verso.

Written in pencil on the back of this cabinet card are the arrival and departure times for a journey from Ingersoll, Ontario to Kingston, Ontario via both the Grand Trunk Railway and the Canadian Pacific Railway circa 1905.

2008.001.184. Detail of inscription reading: "Leave G-T Kingston 3:45 pm Toronto ar 10:15 pm leave 11pm ar at Hamilton 12:30 leave Hamilton 2:35am in Ingersoll 4:31".

2008.001.184. Detail of inscription reading: “Leave G-T Kingston 3:45 pm Toronto ar 10:15 pm leave 11pm ar at Hamilton 12:30 leave Hamilton 2:35am in Ingersoll 4:31”.

Impressively, using the Grand Trunk Railway (inscribed as “G-T”), the traveller would have been able to make the trip in just under 13 hours, leaving Kingston at 3:45 p.m. and arriving back in Ingersoll at 4:31 a.m. with transfers in Toronto and Hamilton. According to Google Maps, the same journey today would take 13 hours and 50 minutes using Via Rail Canada (including transfer waiting time). Whether either of the women in the photograph were travelling can only be speculated.

Screenshot of Google Maps route from Kingston to Ingersoll using Via Rail Canada and Kingston Transit.

Screenshot of Google Maps route from Kingston to Ingersoll using Via Rail Canada and Kingston Transit.


Special Collections, located on the fourth floor of the Ryerson Library, holds numerous examples of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century photographs, including cabinet cards, cartes de visite, tintypes, daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, as well as contemporary guidebooks and manuals. To access Special Collections give us a call or send us an email to book an appointment at: specialcollections@ryerson.ca or 416-979-5000 ext. 4996.

The Early Days of Kodak: The Strategies Eastman Used to Form his Legacy

Even today, just over two years since Kodak filed for bankruptcy, George Eastman’s name is unforgotten for the acute business prowess he demonstrated during the formation of his legacy, the Eastman Kodak Company. Often compared to Apple’s Steve Jobs, Eastman was known for his ingenious business strategies that began the mass commercialization of photography and put a camera in every home.

Portrait of George Eastman at age 36.

Looking at Eastman’s childhood, it is no surprise that he became such an incisive business man. Although his father, George Washington Eastman, passed away when he was only six year’s old, he still managed to found one of the oldest commercial colleges in the world, the Eastman Commercial College, that later became part of the Rochester Business Institute. Entrepreneurialism was in Eastman’s genes. His family did not fare well after the death of George Washington, and as Eastman grew up he watched his mother struggle to keep the lifestyle her family had been accustomed to. It could be said that this may have helped to motivate Eastman to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Having shown an early interest in photographs and stereoviews, Eastman’s real journey with photography first began in 1877, when he purchased his first camera to take pictures on a trip he didn’t end up making. At the time, photography was an expensive and labour-intensive hobby that required patience and a lot of equipment. Eastman began experimenting with this camera and before long he had patented his first photographic contributions: a gelatin dry plate emulsion and a mechanism for coating glass plates. With these he began the Eastman Dry Plate Company. By 1881 Eastman had turned his company into a successful and sustainable business, but it was a different invention that truly set the stage for what Eastman’s business would become: film.

George Eastman aboard the Gallia. 1890.

Despite having already established such a prosperous business, Eastman still had bigger plans. At a time when the industrial revolution was still a recent memory, his 1932 biography by Ackerman states the four policy guidelines Eastman followed to encourage the growth of his company:

  1. Production in large quantities by machinery
  2. Low prices to increase the usefulness of products
  3. Foreign as well as domestic distribution
  4. Extensive advertising as well as selling by demonstration

Eastman wanted to find a way to replace the glass from a collodion negative, create a workable holder for that replacement, and build machinery that would be able to efficiently manufacture each invention. He looked to previous unsuccessful attempts at roll-film, such as one by Wernerke from the 1870s, and sought to improve on them and increase their usability. By June 1885, in collaboration with camera builder William Walker, George Eastman had patented and put on the market a form of roll film, a roll holder, as well as a form of sheet paper plates, a more recognizable substitute for glass. With this shift in focus towards his business, the Eastman Dry Plate Company was purchased by the Eastman Dry Plate & Film Company.

In 1889, George Eastman introduced Flexible Film in rolls, a lightweight, non-breakable substitute for glass. The transparent nitro-cellulose roll film base was cast on these 200-foot long tables.

In 1889, George Eastman introduced Flexible Film in rolls, a lightweight, non-breakable substitute for glass. The transparent nitro-cellulose roll film base was cast on these 200-foot long tables.

Because of the contemporary fascination with the photography, as well as the labour intensive traits of the hobby, many people involved in the technology were eager to improve on it. During the late 1800s and into the early 1900s many ideas were popping up and photographers wanted to ensure they would receive the credit for them, by applying for patents. Eastman himself was aware of the need to protect his inventions and made sure to attain patents (through application or buying them from other inventors) for every step of his new film system, a strategy continued throughout the life of the company. He, along with his business partners at the time, bought out all their foreign patents as well, and began to initiate step 3, opening an outlet in London, U.K. in 1884. By 1886 Eastman had placed a man named Joseph Thatcher Clarke in charge of in charge of linking the United States with Europe, to help protect the company’s American inventions.

Many doubted Eastman’s commitment to his early flexible films, and it did not initially catch on with experienced photographers. Consumers, still primarily established photographers, were not able to produce as good of results as they could with their glass plates. However, Eastman had confidence that the inexpensive and effective qualities of this product would eventually lead to mass manufacturing. In reaction to poor public response, Eastman added new products to his business: American film and a developing out paper called “Permanent Bromide”, which yielded better results than his earlier paper-based films. He dreamt of popularizing photography to the extent that everyone would participate in the practice, and added a photofinishing service that could provide enlargements and prints to those who used his films. Eastman now sold films, paper, prints and enlargements, yet there was still one component missing from the Eastman Dry Plate & Film Company that was hindering his products from reaching every household, and that was a camera.

The first Kodak camera, introduced in 1888, sold for $25, loaded with enough Eastman film for 100 exposures. It produced a 2 1/2 inch diameter negative.

The first Kodak camera, introduced in 1888, sold for $25, loaded with enough Eastman film for 100 exposures. It produced a 2 1/2 inch diameter negative.

It was in 1888 that George Eastman coined the word Kodak, a unique, short, memorable name that could not be mispronounced, and unveiled his first box camera along with a new system of photographic image making that anyone could use. Along with the slogan “You press the button, we do the rest”, Eastman had found a new market to sell his products to that experienced photographers had refused to buy. Anyone could purchase a camera pre-loaded with a pre-loaded 100 exposure roll of film, take their 100 shots, mail the camera back to the Eastman Dry Plate & Film Company in Rochester, and wait to have their prints and the camera loaded with a new roll of film mailed back to them. Within the next decade Eastman was able to improve his technology to make photography even more affordable, and his dream a reality.

Ryerson Library Special Collections, located on the fourth floor of the Ryerson Library, holds numerous examples of the formation of the Eastman Kodak Company, particularly in Canada, including cameras, films, photographs and more! To access Special Collections give us a call or send us an email to book an appointment at: specialcollections@ryerson.ca or 416-979-5000 ext. 4996.

References:

Ackerman, Carl W. George Eastman.

Brayer, Elizabeth. George Eastman.

Collins, Douglas. The Story of Kodak.

Jenkin, Reese. Images and Enterprise: Technology and the American Photographic Industry, 1839-1925. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1897.

Forgotten Amusements

Living in an image saturated world, it is easy to forget that photography is still a relatively new invention. Less than two hundred years ago, people saw extremely detailed and realistic images of the world captured in a permanent photograph for the first time. Needless to say, the invention of our favourite past-time, the motion picture, is even newer still. It is human nature to seek entertainment, yet we rarely consider what our great-great grandparents did for leisure. There has always been a desire to learn and discover new parts of the world, but long-distance travel was much less feasible during the 1800s, thus substitutes were made in a variety of forms of amusement. Before film and television, at a time that was full of innovation and creativity, there existed a number of forgotten optical spectacles involving the use of light and movement that have since disappeared from our generation.

Magic Lanterns

The magic lantern existed in many different formats for thousands of years and was based on the idea of projecting images with light onto a wall or surface. In fact, this idea is still one that is in popular demand, most familiarly with the projectors that are used for PowerPoint and other presentations in many classes here at Ryerson. However, this is by no means a new idea. The fascination with projection dates back to drawings made by Da Vinci that look similar to a Bull’s Eye lantern. First described in 1646 by Anthanasius Kircher, a German scholar, for use in science and philosophy, the magic lantern was quick to become a form of public entertainment.

Hand-painted lantern slide with a circular image, circa 1890.

A reflective and transparent image of a hand-painted lantern slide with a circular image, circa 1890.

Although first limited to small audiences because of the strength of its illuminants, throughout the nineteenth century significant improvements were made to the technology, such as advances in lenses, illuminants and the use of mirrors that allowed for bigger, indoor shows and more fanciful and detailed slides. Magic lanterns were eagerly adopted as a form of entertainment and were used for shadow puppet shows, to illuminate engravings and create apparitions, and with hand-painted and photographic slides.

Hand-painted lantern slide circa 1890 illustrating the 1782 poem, “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye” by Robert Burns.

Hand-painted lantern slide circa 1890 illustrating the 1782 poem, “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye” by Robert Burns.

Especially during the nineteen hundreds, new types of magic lanterns began to appear. There were projecting microscopes, which were used in the field of biology, and magic lanterns that were used in pairs or sets of 3 that, with the aid of a fan-like device, were capable of creating dissolving views and other special effects. With the advent of photography and cinema, magic lanterns began to appear on the mass market under numerous names in a variety of formats. The Lumière Brothers used the technology for their first film screening in 1895. The 1950s saw the opto-mechanical advancements that began the popular trend of the slide projector, which was often used as a form of entertainment to show photographs to family and friends.

A motion picture projector circa 1950.

A motion picture projector circa 1950.

The idea behind them all was the same and they were actively used to tell stories, to educate, and to show audiences views of faraway places. Here in Special Collections we have a number of more recent examples of both slide and motion picture projectors, as well as photographic and hand-painted slides in a variety of formats.

 

 

 

More about magic lanterns can be found on The Magic Lantern Society webpage.

Panoramas

Today when we hear the word “panorama” a 180 to 360-degree photograph is likely what comes to mind. However, the first patent for a panorama was issued in 1787 to Robert Barker, over 50 years before the invention of photography around 1839. It was one of the most popular forms of entertainment during the nineteenth century, yet something we rarely hear about today. Translated from Greek, the term panorama means ‘see all’ and that is exactly what they aimed to do. To really understand what the term panorama meant during the late 18th and 19th centuries, try to imagine walking through a dark corridor into a large, circular, naturally lit room in which, constructed from floor to ceiling, is a continuous representation of a distant land, a battle scene, or an escape from the industrializing city landscape that completely surrounds you. The painting has been made to appear as realistic as possible: the top edge has been masked by a veil or roof, and the bottom edge is concealed by a fence which you can walk up to. The average size of a panorama was 15 by 20 metres and took an immense amount of teamwork to build, but the results always attracted a crowd.

Hand-painted lantern slide. Panoramic slides such as this could be moved through a magic lantern to create a moving panorama type of effect.

Hand-painted lantern slide. Panoramic slides such as this could be moved through a magic lantern to create a moving panorama type of effect.

As the popularity of the panorama took off in the late 1700s and early 1800s, the term began to take on other meanings, and new formats of the medium began to be created. Any sort of large or oversized painting began to be considered a ‘panorama’ as well as huge paintings that would only cover a semi-circle rather than 360-degrees.  Another popular format of the panorama was the moving panorama. Spectators of the moving panorama were seated in an auditorium and instead of being surrounded by the panorama a long roll painting was moved across a window, often set up with curtains similar to a typical theatre stage. A mechanical cranking system was used to pull the painting across the audience’s view. Often, music, lecturers or sound and light effects would accompany the presentation of the work. Unlike the circular panorama, the moving panorama used a transportable format that could tour to new cities and towns, saving on the costly operation of construction and making it more accessible. The panorama, in any sense of the word, was truly a spectacle that gave viewers a chance to experience the world without having to travel far from home, some of which still exist and can be viewed today.

Black and white glass lantern slide in a wooden frame circa the 1890s. Handwritten on the frame is “Panorama of Cairo” suggesting the use of magic lanterns to create panorama-like effects.

Black and white glass lantern slide in a wooden frame circa the 1890s. Handwritten on the frame is “Panorama of Cairo” suggesting the use of magic lanterns to create panorama-like effects.

For examples of full panoramas still existing today:

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/52.184

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/artsandliving/interactives/cyclorama/

               

Dioramas

If you have taken a photography course at Ryerson, it is likely you have heard of L.J.M. Daguerre and his infamous diorama. The diorama often competed with the panorama and used a combination of ideas from both the panorama and the magic lantern to create a theatrical experience for the audience. The diorama consisted of an exhibition of enormous transparent paintings under changing lighting effects. With these effects, audiences could witness changes in mood and scenery, such as the weather. The illusions immediately got attention for their ability to transform paintings into three-dimensional renderings that many claimed could not be distinguished from large-scale models that used real objects. Similar to the panorama, the viewer was walked through a dark hallway into an auditorium that could hold close to 350 people, where they were kept stationary with the illuminations revolving slowly around them, only visible through screen tunnels that created depth and hid the edges of the paintings. The pictures measured close to 22 metres wide by 14 metres high and were situated 13 metres back from the front row. The viewer was kept in very dim lighting until the start of the show when the curtain was drawn up and the image was revealed. Effects were rendered through use of transparent and opaque painting techniques and coloured screens that altered the daylight passing through the back of the picture.

Information and images about Daguerre’s recently restored diorama at Bry-Sur-Marne can be found here:

http://www.daguerre-bry.com/index_english.htm

http://blogs.getty.edu/iris/getty-foundation-grant-helps-restore-daguerres-final-illusion/

A more modern colour slide from the 1960s.

A more modern colour slide from the 1960s.

Conclusion

Hence, our enjoyment of light, image and motion did not begin with the photograph, or the motion picture. Multiple forms of entertainment experimenting with these elements existed from the 1400s through the 1800s and were very popular with audiences. Although here we have only discussed the panorama, the magic lantern, and the diorama, inventions for optical entertainment were not limited to these, and often shows would use a combination of each. If you are still curious about these forgotten forms of entertainment, visit Special Collections to find out what kinds of materials we have to facilitate further research into the subject, including books, slides and projectors. We are located on the 4th floor of the Ryerson University Library and Archives. Call us at 416-979-5000 ext. 4996 or send us an email at specialcollections@ryerson.ca

Kodaslide Merit Film Projector. Manufactured from 1951 to 1956.

Kodaslide Merit Film Projector. Manufactured from 1951 to 1956.

 

References:

Balzer, Richard. Optical Amusements: Magic Lanterns and Other Transforming Images – A Catalog of Popular Entertainments. Watertown, MA: Richard Balzer, 1987.

Chadwick, W.J. The Magic Lantern Manual. London: Frederick Warne & Co., 1878.

Comment, Bernard. The Panorama. Translated by Anne-Marie Glasheen. London: Reaktion Books, 1999.

Daguerre, Louis Jacques Mandé. An Historical and Descriptive Account of the Various Processes of the Daguerreotype and the Diorama. Paris: Béthune et plon, 1839. Reprinted with illustrations and an introduction by Beaumont Newhall. New York: Winter House, 1971.

Greenacre, Derek. Magic Lanterns. Princes Risborough, Bucks, England: Shire, 1986.

Huhtamo, Erkki. Illusions in Motion: Media Archeology of the Moving Panorama and Related Spectacles. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013.

Polaroid versus Kodak: The Battle for Instant Photography

In 1947, Edwin Land unveiled a new process that would change the direction of amateur photography. It was a one-step, one-minute process that produced a fully finished photograph, something no one had ever seen before. This process was the beginning of a new genre of creating photographs called instant photography. The camera that was made for this in-camera process was the Land camera, named for the inventor of synthetic polarizer and the instant film process, and the founder of the Polaroid Corporation. Many different models of these first Polaroid cameras, as well as many later models, can be viewed at Special Collections in the Ryerson University Library Archives, along with examples of different Polaroid photographs and instant film.

Polaroid Land Camera, model 95a

Polaroid Land Camera, model 95a. Manufactured 1949-1950.

Polaroid dominated the market for this unique and easy photographic process that was a huge hit with amateur and professional consumers. However, also among the shelves of Special Collections, are examples of cameras, prints and film made by a number of different manufacturing companies who tried to get in on this popular genre of photography. None were nearly as successful, as no one could compete with the Polaroid name or their (what is often referred to as brilliant) marketing campaign. Stars such as Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Sir Lawrence Olivier, Mariette Hartley & James Garner, Blyth Danner, Candice Bergen, and The Muppets loaned their talents to promoting Polaroid products at a time when many stars were wary of doing commercials.  

Then, in 1976, Polaroid was finally faced with their first real competitor for the instant photography market, an already established manufacturer of photographic equipment and materials: the Eastman Kodak Company. But Polaroid was prepared to deal with their competition, and by 1986, all of Kodak’s instant photography films and cameras had been pulled from the market, and Kodak ceased to manufacture any products that would directly compete with Polaroid’s instant photography niche.

Polaroid JoyCam, ca. 1995.

Polaroid JoyCam. ca. 1995.

In fact, from 1963-1969, the Eastman Kodak Company had actually manufactured Polaroid’s instant film for them. At this time, Kodak was planning to introduce themselves to the market with a packfilm design, but later, after Polaroid released their SX-70 system in 1972, Kodak decided to go in a different direction and follow Polaroid with an integral type process instead. Although Kodak’s design differed from Polaroid’s in numerous ways, Polaroid filed suit against Kodak mere months after the release of the new products for the infringement of 12 Polaroid patents, accusing Kodak of illegally incorporating instant photography technology into their products. They claimed that during the 10 years the Eastman Kodak Company produced instant photography materials, they had cost the Polaroid Corporation $12 billion.

Kodamatic 940. 1983.

Kodamatic 940. 1983.

The final charges, announced in 1990, did not amount to $12 billion (what many considered a huge exaggeration), but at $909 million, they did come close to a billion. Found guilty on 7 of the 12 patent infringements after a trial in 1985, Kodak was forced out of instant photography the following year.  The widely reported ruling was bad news for customers who had purchased a Kodak Instant camera.

The case did end favourably for Kodak though, especially after the high demands from Polaroid, who felt that Kodak had intentionally copied their technology. After a 14-year legal battle, in 1991 Kodak was finally ordered to pay Polaroid a total of $909 million, $925 million with interest, the largest settlement ever paid out until last year when Apple was awarded $1.049 billion in damages from Samsung infringements.

As part of the settlement, Kodak needed to provide compensation for customers who had bought any of their instant cameras between 1976 and 1986 and would no longer be able to purchase film to use in them. Owners of Kodak instant cameras were invited to call a toll free number and register themselves in order to receive a settlement packet. The packet was mailed out to those who registered, and provided customers with instructions of how to receive a rebate check or certificate, which often involved removing the name plate off of the front of the camera and mailing it in as proof of purchase.

Kodak Colorburst 250. ca. 1979.

Kodak Colorburst 250. ca. 1979.

The Eastman Kodak Company did manage to recover after the Polaroid lawsuit, and with the sales of their popular movie films were able to regain their success. Unfortunately, the company was much slower with the uptake of the digital market, and in 2012 filed for bankruptcy due to lack of demand for the primary products made by their company, photographic films.

If you wish to pay tribute to some of Kodak’s instant photography cameras, you can make an appointment to come and see examples such as the Kodamatic 940, the Kodak Colorburst models 250 and 300, and the Kodak Trimprint 940 (with nameplates still intact!), as well as a wide range of instant cameras, film, and equipment made by Polaroid and other instant photography manufacturers that Special Collections keeps in their Heritage Camera Collection and the Kodak Canada Corporate Archives.

More information

Have a look at some of the original television advertisements for the Kodak instant Cameras.

For more detailed information on how the instant photography process works, have a look at this article by Tom Harris at How Stuff Works.

To make an appointment with Ryerson Library Special Collections, contact:

specialcollections@ryerson.ca

416-979-5000 ext 4996

Sources

Frezza, Bill. “Polaroid, Kodak, Apple: No One Escapes the Winds of Creative Destruction” Forbes, Sept 5, 2012. http://www.forbes.com/sites/billfrezza/2012/09/05/polaroid-kodak-apple-no-one-escapes-the-winds-of-creative-destruction.

Holusha, John. “Kodak Told it must Pay $909 Million.” New York Times (1923-Current File), Oct 13, 1990. http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/108482495?accountid=13631.

“Instant Camera Settlement.” Kodak Service and Support. http://www.kodak.com/global/en/service/faqs/faq0098.shtml.

“Kodak Settles Dispute With Polaroid the Fight Over Instant-photography Technology Took 15 Years and Cost Kodak $925 Million in Damages.” The Inquirer, July 16, 1991. http://articles.philly.com/1991-07-16/business/25783982_1_polaroid-patents-instant-cameras-instant-photography-business.

McCarty, Dawn and Beth Jinks. “Kodak Files for Bankruptcy as Digital Era Spells End for Film.” Bloomberg, January 19, 2012. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-01-19/kodak-photography-pioneer-files-for-bankruptcy-protection-1-.html.

Wurman, Richard Saul. Polaroid Access: Fifty Years. [S.I.] : Access Press, 1989.