How do you learn more about a photograph? Here are some basic questions to help get started.
WHO is in the photograph?
It would seem that this is a simple question to answer, but identifying people in photographs is not always that easy, especially if there are no other photographs of that person and no living person is around to make the identification. In that case, it may be necessary to rely on a name written on the photograph.
WHAT is in the photograph?
Some photographs have clues that can help identify the subject and the place, even the date, of the photograph. There are numerous things that can appear in a photograph:
- Commercial buildings
- Street signs
Even Mother Nature can help out if the landscape is studied.
- Are the trees bare?
- Is the ground covered in snow?
All of these items are clues to the time of year in which the photo was taken.
WHY was the photograph taken?
Before snapshot cameras became popular around 1900 or so, people did not usually have their photographs taken very often (if at all). So when they did have their photograph taken is was for something special such as a birthday, an engagement or wedding, their arrival in America or in a new town, or a funeral.
Keep in mind that 19th and early 20th century engagement photographs can look almost identical to wedding photographs as most women wore their best Sunday dresses when they married.
It is very helpful to know the basic history of people, places, and things when examining old photographs. These are just some of the topics covered in our Photography: Clues Pictures Hold, Editing, Digitizing and Various Projects course