Family Photos: Photographic History

Boxes and plastic tubs, many containing family photographs and memorabilia occupy the space beneath our basement stairs. They have been there for 10 years. When I consider the houses we’ve lived in, they’ve been stored for many more. The sheer volume of images has left me wondering how I will ever make sense of them. 

Slides, prints, negatives and albums encompass the history of our family. I’ve made most of the images but the collection also includes those made by our parents, grandparents and other family members who have long ago passed away.  

Last week, I dragged them all out. Some are organized. Many are not. It was fun looking back remembering the events where these pictures came from. But the lingering question remains. How can they be organized so that our kids and grand kids might find them interesting and maybe useful? 

Besides the images I had made there was a large album collection. Most belonged to my mom. She was fastidious in making sure that the events of her family and friends were properly mounted in albums for her and all of us to enjoy over the years.  

Lawrence Dale, My Grandfather

The most important albums contained the black and whites. Mounted on black pages  sticky corners held the prints in place.  Mom’s dated back to the 1920’s. I’m not sure who captured the images from Dad’s family but I believe they were made between 1900 and 1915. And then there was one album of black and whites with portraits that I believe were made between 1865 and 1890. 

When I sat back and looked at this particular album I realized that not only was this a history of the Dale family but in part a chapter of photography’s history. In my next few blog articles I’ll discuss how these old photographs fit into this narrative.  

A.A. Dale, My Great Grandfather 

 I’ve included pictures of my great grandfather, A.A. Dale and my grandfather, Lawrence Dale. Both were made in London, England. My guess is that the image of great grandfather was made between 1875 and 1880. The image of my grandfather was likely made around 1890. The album contains many other similar images and that were likely produced in a similar time frame.  

Photographs made in the mid to late 1800’s were made with large view cameras and exposed on glass negatives coated with a light sensitive solution. Contact prints were made relative to the size of the negative on very thin paper containing an albumen-based emulsion. Prints were mounted on card stock with details of the relevant studio printed on the back.  

Royal Card Mount

Interestingly, many of these photographs advertised that they were made by “Photographers to H.M. The Queen, H.R.H. The Prince of Wales and H.R.H. The Princess of Wales.” The reference here was to Queen Victoria.  

There were many photography studios in London at this time. Likely, the portraits they produced were expensive available mostly to individuals and families of reasonable financial means.

 With the hope of  a better future my great grandfather moved his family to Canada in 1895 settling near the town of Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan.  If these images indicate a relatively comfortable life in England those that I will share in a future post show the complete opposite. 

This entry was posted in Education, My Work.

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