Learn How to “Read” Photographs at Free Event at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Photographs can tell a lot of stories, if you know how to read them. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) invites the public to attend a free event April 11, to learn the art of “reading” photographs. The Historical Society’s Photograph Specialist D’Arcy White will discuss how to study photographs and dig deeper than their first impression.

“Photographs raise all sorts of questions,” White said. “Who made this photograph and why? What purpose did it serve? What techniques does it use? Photographs can have incredible research value, if we understand how to examine and interpret them.”

This free event will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday April 11 at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1300 Locust Street in Philadelphia. Guests can register here.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has one of the largest and most comprehensive photography collections in the region – everything from early daguerreotypes and crystoleums, as well as modern, digital prints. During her lecture, White will use examples from HSP’s photography collection to discuss “visual literacy” – how to examine photographs’ production techniques, contextual evidence, provenance, physical condition, and other characteristics.

Among HSP’s collection are more than 600 cased photographs, one of the earliest forms of photography, dating back to 1839. These photographs are housed in special cases made of wood and covered with leather, decorated with embossing, and gilding, with silk and velvet interiors, and sealed behind glass with brass mats and small metal frames called preservers.

The Historical Society’s collection is quite remarkable in that many photographs were donated to by direct descendants who inherited the photographs, so many of the subjects are identified, and sometimes they are even dated, or come with abbreviated family histories, as little notes tucked inside the cases.

For the past year, White has worked to locate and digitize of all the cased photographs in the Historical Society’s collection and repair damaged cases and replace deteriorating cover glass. Many of the Historical Society’s photographs are now available to view online at digitallibrary.hsp.org.

After the lecture, guests are invited to view a display of HSP’s photography collection, including the earliest surviving daguerreotype in America taken by Joseph Saxton. This photograph, which dates to 1839, shows the Philadelphia Central High School for Boys. Guests will also be welcome to view an exhibit of cased photographs in HSP’s lobby, titled Fashion and Family Photographs: Dating Cased Photographs Using 19th-Century Ladies’ Journals.

Media is invited to attend the event. To reserve your seat, please contact the Society’s Director of Programs and Communications, Lauri Cielo, at 215-732-6200 ext. 233 or lcielo@hsp.org

About the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Founded in 1824 in Philadelphia, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania collects and shares the stories of Pennsylvania. It is home to some 600,000 printed items and more than 21 million manuscript and graphic items. Its unparalleled collections encompass more than 300 years of America’s history—from its 17th-century origins to the contributions of its most recent immigrants. The society’s remarkable holdings together with its educational programming make it one of the nation’s most important special collections libraries: a center of historical documentation and study, education, and engagement.

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