both sides now

4×5 glass dry plate wth interior flash

Toronto. Most of us collect photographs as well as cameras, equipment, books, ephemera, etc. The photographs are usually selected for their process, quality, studio, or possibly subject matter. The picture at left is a positive image of a 4×5 dry glass plate negative. I chose it originally as an example of dry plates and flash.

The other day, my good friend and fellow PHSC member, George Dunbar, sent me this thought provoking article by Bill Shapiro. The article titled, “Other People’s Snapshots” was printed in the August 2nd edition of New York Times Magazine. Shapiro uses old photos from his personal collection to offer this different perspective – who is the subject? What were they doing then? Now?

The photograph at left of the young fellow in my dry plate seems to have been taken some 125 years ago (give or take). The shadow he casts suggests a flash exposure, but the room illumination suggests it’s fill flash. The room’s wall paper and furnishings shout out Victorian era. The negative shows no sign of retouching to modify its contrast. There is no signs of electricity here. The piano suggests a degree of prosperity, as does the diploma on the wall. Where was the house? What did the young man do with his life? Did he Prosper? Go to University? Enter a profession? What was his name?

NB. My post title is from Joni Mitchell’s 1969 tune ( her album called ‘Clouds’). Her song was covered by many artists of the time.

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