A Photo Preservationist Saved a Trove of 4,000 Glass Plate Negatives That Nearly Went Into the Trash — Colossal

A Photo Preservationist Saved a Trove of 4,000 Glass Plate Negatives That Nearly Went Into the Trash — Colossal



History
Photography

#black and white
#portraits
#preservation

November 1, 2023

Kate Mothes

All images courtesy of Terri Cappucci, shared with permission

It’s estimated that people around the world will take a whopping 1.6 trillion photographs this year. With lenses built in to our digital devices, a quick snap has never been easier. In the second half of the 19th century, though, before film was even invented, taking a picture required technical skill and access to expensive equipment and supplies. Some of the earliest large- and medium-format cameras used delicate glass plates to capture black-and-white portraits and landscapes in fine detail.

In 2019, Terri Cappucci, a photographer and preservationist based in Massachusetts, stumbled upon a veritable treasure trove. A collection of 4,000 glass plates spanning the 1860s to the 1930s had been destined for the trash before Cappucci, who has experience shooting wet plates and tintypes, noticed the negatives’ high quality. She also recognized a few Massachusetts landmarks and knew she held abundance of local history in her hands.

 

A photograph from a glass plate negative of a woman holding a lamb.

Cappucci set out on the long and painstaking process of preserving the slides, consulting with conservation experts and enrolling in a course that taught the fundamentals of cleaning and archiving the fragile pieces. “I would clean them individually only on the glass side; I wouldn’t touch the emulsion side,” she told PetaPixel. “Definitely don’t clean them with Windex or anything you would use to clean windows, just distilled water.” Cappucci digitized each slide using scanning guidelines provided by the National Archives, then slipped each one into an acid-free envelope for storage.

The University of Massachusetts Archives in Amherst recently acquired the collection, and Cappucci shares insights into individual photos on the website Somebody Photographed This and Facebook. You can also check out her YouTube channel.

And if you can’t get enough of the discovery old photos, you might also enjoy exploring the Museum of Lost Memories.

 

A photograph from a glass plate negative of three children on a porch with a watermelon.

A photograph from a glass plate negative of a woman sitting on a step with her baby in a buggy.

A photograph from a glass plate negative of two people standing outside a timber home.

A photograph from a glass plate negative of a young boy posing on the grass with a rugby ball.

A photograph from a glass plate negative of two young girls, one standing with her bike.

A photograph from a glass plate negative of a woman at a spinning wheel.

A photograph from a glass plate negative of railroad tracks in Massachusetts.

A photograph from a glass plate negative of an elderly woman sitting in a chair, with a man holding something—likely a parasol—over her.

A photograph from a glass plate negative of a child in a dark coat and hat.

#black and white
#portraits
#preservation

 

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