There is something about the clarity and mood of glass plate photo images. I think its the simplicity of a world before pixels when the light of an image transferred itself directly to a crystal clear medium in sensitive fluid silver. This moment occurred in the 19th century and looking into it now, during the 21st, there is no evidence or distortion from the intervening 20th Century or the passing of the millennium.
One of the saddest stories I ever heard was about a researcher venturing into the greenhouse of the deep woods photographer Darius Kinsey. In his last years the view camera photographer, unable to carry his heavy camera into the logging camps, retired with his wife Tabitha in Sedro Woolly. As safety film and smaller camera rendered his work obsolete Darius and Tabitha retired to their gardens and their flowers.
Searching the house for the trove of masterful glass plate negatives Kinsey was known to have taken and Tabitha had developed, the researcher was disappointed. Little could be found of the irreplaceable photographic history they had recorded together over decades of image making in the ancient forests of the Northwest. Then, standing in the large greenhouse, the searcher noticed a faint ghost of a row of faces staring at him through one of the panes of glass. He looked closer and realized that the entire green house was made of glass plates with ghost images. In their last years Darius and Tabitha had washed off hundreds of negative images so more sunlight could reach the flowers.
Most of Kinsey’s remarkable surviving images belong to the Whatcom Museum of History and Art in Bellingham.
Something like that almost happened with some Klondike Gold Rush photos, too — I think they were Eric Hoel’s. But they were saved, and are now at the University of Washington.