What is a Photograph?

On January 13, 2010 Archivist/Curator, Penni Martorell was happy to return to her alma mater, Mount Holyoke College as a guest lecturerer in Professor Tony Lee's What is a Photograph? J-term art history course. Described as a basic introduction class, the course abstract states: "We will look to answer that question by tinkering with different cameras, wandering in the museum, exploring local history collections, thinking about a picture's relationship to the past."

As the example of the "Local History Collection," Martorell's presentation, Photographs in Archives, introduced the ideas of archival process; visual literacy; how to read a photograph and how to research photographs; types of photographic images; condition and preservation issues; legal and ownership topics; determining provenance and authenticity; and privacy and copyright issues. The presentation, of course incorporated lots of historic photos from the Holyoke History collections.

The fifty students had time to examine samples of various types of photographs from the History Room's Collection, including a glass plate negative, dagguerreotypes, carte de visites, silver gelatin prints, and a photo album.
(photo by A. Lee)

The Holyoke History Room has available a unique and rich collection of historic photographic prints made from negatives that date back to the 1880s. The Milan Warner Collection is a collection of over 300 glass plate negatives that Mr. Warner created in the 1880s, during Holyoke's prosperous period. Contact prints have been made from these negatives and they are available to view along with many other photographs at the Holyoke History Room.