IPI Photographic Processes Identification Workshop

Last week, I attended a 3-day workshop in identifying photographic prints at the Chicago History Museum. Developed by the Image Permanence Institute, this was an intensive and incredibly helpful opportunity. Two staff from IPI led the sessions - Jae and Alice - and each day alternated between lectures and hands-on activities. After each lecture, we were able to work with the teaching collection, walking through the methodology we were taught to properly identify the images. This really helped to reinforce the ideas presented, especially by working with a partner to talk through what we were seeing.

Our first day was dedicated to an overview of the development and challenges in creating photographic images. The framework for the rest of the workshop was also established via an introduction to a visual identification guide. This checklist helps establish a methodology to looking with the aim of identification, by inspecting: image content, primary support, image color and tone, image deterioration, surface sheen, image structure (continuous tone or patterned), and layer structure. These visual cues align with the content of Graphics Atlas, an online resource provided by IPI. This way of walking through prints, starting with overall observations and gradually working towards magnification, proved to be very helpful throughout the sessions. They also discussed the earliest processes from the 19th century. We covered photographs on rigid supports - Daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes - in addition to silver based printed-out prints on paper - salted paper, albumen, collodion, and gelatin prints.

19th century processes

19th century processes

The next day was spent reviewing non-silver based printed-out prints on paper - carbon, cyanotype, and platinum prints. The rest of the session was spent moving forward into the 20th century, focusing primarily on the most common black and white print form of the century - the silver gelatin developed-out print. After learning about this highly variable print type, Jae and Alice introduced us to color photographic prints - autochrome, carbro, dye imbibition, chromogenic, silver dye bleach, and diffusion transfer prints. We rounded out the day by reviewing the non-photographic counterpart to all the processes we had learned up to this point - photomechanical prints. These included Woodburytypes, photogravures, rotogravures, collotypes, letterpress halftone prints, and offset lithography prints.

Comparing bronzing with an overexposed POP print with silver mirroring on a degrading DOP print.

Comparing bronzing with an overexposed POP print with silver mirroring on a degrading DOP print.

20th century process: silver gelatin DOP

20th century process: silver gelatin DOP

The last day moved us into the 21st century and digital printing technologies - inkjet, electrophotography, and dye diffusion thermal transfer prints. We put all our knew knowledge to work by working through the identification of ten prints, which ranged from the earliest to the most contemporary processes. It could have been overwhelming, but knowing the steps helped guide the process. And it was just as helpful to incorrectly identify prints, as Jae and Alice then provided us with additional help on how to get to the right answer. My partner and I went through several packets of prints, and we felt fairly confident by the end! We also had the opportunity to look at some of the photographic prints in the collection at the Chicago History Museum. It was nice to ground everything we had learned with these samples - these are the types of prints we are likely to encounter in the future, and may have to identify without the assistance of our IPI experts.

Teaching collection test!

Teaching collection test!

I went into the experience hoping to gain some greater understanding of print images, and I was floored by how much content we covered, and how effective the instruction and format of active learning were. I still have much to learn, but I am so grateful for the opportunity to get this crash-course in photographic (and photomechanical) print identification.

Print viewing in archival storage at the Chicago History Museum

Print viewing in archival storage at the Chicago History Museum

Early processes in CHM’s collection

Early processes in CHM’s collection

A later process in CHM’s collection

A later process in CHM’s collection






Oregon Historical Society - Mirror on the Modern Woman

We had the chance to visit the Oregon Historical Society in Portland last month. Though we spent the most time wandering through the permanent exhibit, we also happened upon a smaller photography exhibit that I enjoyed. It was located downstairs in a hallway space, so it felt like a great discovery when we started walking through it. The exhibit, Mirror on the Modern Woman: Selected Images from the Oregon Journal, 1927–1932, features portraits of modern female Oregonians, engaging in a variety of activities from a fairly broad cross-section of local society. What made these images even more engaging was the text that accompanied each - the story of these women, the headline or blurb that would have been published in the newspaper. This descriptive information helped to tell deeper stories behind the beautiful portraits, and it provided an important link back to the original source The Oregon Journal.

I was also excited that this exhibit developed as a result of a digitization project. From the website:

“This exhibit is inspired by ongoing work, funded by a generous grant from the Jackson Foundation, to digitize the research library’s collection of 9,000 nitrate negatives from the Oregon Journal. The Portland newspaper, an afternoon daily published from 1902 to 1982, was one of the largest papers in the state and a competitor to The Oregonian. The stunning original images date from approximately the mid-1920s to the early 1930s and have not previously been made accessible to the public. They provide a vivid look at people, places, and topics that journalists of that era found newsworthy. The vibrant breadth of life preserved in these photographs highlights the value of the state’s newspapers as historical resources: they serve as mirrors that reflect expansive views into Oregon’s past.”

It’s wonderful to see work like this being highlighted, to increase awareness about these types of collections and to increase access through physical exhibitions.

"These unidentified dancers were probably performing in a May Day celebration in Portland, Oregon. May Day festivities were common during this era, with celebrations put on by towns, businesses, organizations, and schools."

"These unidentified dancers were probably performing in a May Day celebration in Portland, Oregon. May Day festivities were common during this era, with celebrations put on by towns, businesses, organizations, and schools."

"When the Portland YWCA opened registration for spring sports classes in April 1927, Lillian Blackman and Sophia Wehrly posed for a photograph with field hockey equipment. Field hockey "is not very well known generally," the Journal reported, noting that the YWCA would supply the equipment for the hockey class. "It is a sport which provides vigorous exercise." Blackman and Wehrly are on the roof of what is likely the YWCA building at SW Taylor and Broadway. Visible in the background is the Jackson Tower, where the Oregon Journal offices were located from 1912 to 1948. The YWCA building was demolished in 1959." 

"When the Portland YWCA opened registration for spring sports classes in April 1927, Lillian Blackman and Sophia Wehrly posed for a photograph with field hockey equipment. Field hockey "is not very well known generally," the Journal reported, noting that the YWCA would supply the equipment for the hockey class. "It is a sport which provides vigorous exercise." Blackman and Wehrly are on the roof of what is likely the YWCA building at SW Taylor and Broadway. Visible in the background is the Jackson Tower, where the Oregon Journal offices were located from 1912 to 1948. The YWCA building was demolished in 1959." 

"Mrs. D.W. Barnes of Portland celebrated her 90th birthday on June 27, 1928 by taking her first ride in an airplane. Her son E.L. Barnes (possibly the man on the left) accompanied her in a Ryan monoplane flown by pilot Gordon Mounce (possibly the man in the background). More than two dozen family members and friends turned out to watch. Mrs. Barnes was an avid follower of aviation news, the Journal reported in a brief article, and had been planning the flight for quite a while. At the end of it, she "landed breathless and pleased," the Journal reported."

"Mrs. D.W. Barnes of Portland celebrated her 90th birthday on June 27, 1928 by taking her first ride in an airplane. Her son E.L. Barnes (possibly the man on the left) accompanied her in a Ryan monoplane flown by pilot Gordon Mounce (possibly the man in the background). More than two dozen family members and friends turned out to watch. Mrs. Barnes was an avid follower of aviation news, the Journal reported in a brief article, and had been planning the flight for quite a while. At the end of it, she "landed breathless and pleased," the Journal reported."

"An unidentified performer with the Al G. Barnes Circus demonstrates her skills on horseback during one of the circus's stops in Portland. The Barnes circus performed regularly in Portland and throughout the Pacific Northwest."

"An unidentified performer with the Al G. Barnes Circus demonstrates her skills on horseback during one of the circus's stops in Portland. The Barnes circus performed regularly in Portland and throughout the Pacific Northwest."

"Stunt pilot Dorothy Hester was probably around age nineteen when she posed next to a plan for this photograph. Hester, from Milwaukie, Oregon, learned to fly at the Rankin School of Flying in Portland. She impressed Tex Rankin, and he taught her aerobatics. In June 1930, at age nineteen, she became the first woman to perform a stunt called an outside loop. Hester wowed audiences both in Oregon and at air shows around the nation, set world records for stunt flying, and opened her own flight school. She left her career in aviation after marrying in 1934." 

"Stunt pilot Dorothy Hester was probably around age nineteen when she posed next to a plan for this photograph. Hester, from Milwaukie, Oregon, learned to fly at the Rankin School of Flying in Portland. She impressed Tex Rankin, and he taught her aerobatics. In June 1930, at age nineteen, she became the first woman to perform a stunt called an outside loop. Hester wowed audiences both in Oregon and at air shows around the nation, set world records for stunt flying, and opened her own flight school. She left her career in aviation after marrying in 1934."