This April we are once again blogging along with the A-Z Blogging Challenge. Our team of one-place studiers will be sharing some of the treasures to be found for a one-place study, particularly around the theme of Visualisation, our Shared Endeavour for 2016.
"A picture is worth a thousand words" is an oft-quoted phrase that leaves no doubt that whilst words can educate, inform and enchant, it is the images that often stick in people's mind. From the first image taken in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce of his estate in Burgundy, through the Victorian carte de visite, to today’s selfies, photography has become the medium of choice for the popular image.
Photographs for one-place studies purposes fall into three loose categories – portraiture, scenes and events. Victorian local photographers would take studio photographs of people or family groups for special occasions or to send to family elsewhere. Unfortunately unless the details of the sitters are recorded on the back, their value to local historians is limited in the same way as to family historians.
Scenes are much more useful and provide us with a view of how things looked in the past, especially where the buildings have changed substantially or even been demolished. A comparison of an old photograph alongside a more recent one can be dramatic and also provide a useful catalyst for conversations with people who remember your place as it was.
Local photographers also were likely to be on hand to record events, whether the local gala or a tragic accident, and these could provide a lucrative side-line income for the curious or anyone wanting a souvenir.
Dating old photographs is a complex process from style of dress of the sitters, features in scenes (for example whether a building exists or not) or the dates of events (accidents were often mentioned in newspapers). In the case of Victorian and Edwardian photograph where the photographer’s name is shown on the back, researching a range of street directories may show the dates when the photographer was in business (there are a number here for the UK). There are also a number of sites that have biographical details of photographers and other guidance on dating photographs (as examples see http://www.cartedevisite.co.uk/photographers-category/photographers/ and http://www.cartes.freeuk.com/time/time.htm).
So where to find those photographs? A number of county record offices have extensive catalogued collections – West Sussex is here and Manchester is here. National libraries, like the Library of Congress, may also have online (and offline, of course!) collections.
I have already mentioned some auction and on-line sales sites in the “E is for Ephemera” page which are useful especially for postcards.
Newspapers and magazines started using images from photographs in the late 1800s (before that, wood engravings were used), but it was not until the next century that their use became more widespread, but the advent of the British Library on-line newspapers and index has made things easier to find (a subset of the collection is also available on Find My Past).
Which leaves on-line photograph sites that are more usually associated with modern photographs – but people also post old photographs on these sites https://www.flickr.com, https://www.smugmug.com/, http://www.photobucket.com/, https://www.pinterest.com/ and many more.
And if all else fails there is Google Images (although the search is sometimes a bit of a blunt instrument) - I have also put an address directly into a search engine and found useful modern and old photographs.