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.

Written by tacomahistory

This site is about the way history, in this case of a city and it's surrounds, is remembered or recorded in stories and small bits of memory. It's also about the way images and stories go together, how they inform and enrich each other and how we as thinking people fill in the content between a narrative and a visual document. So here is my city in time past, the way it looked and the people and events that create its character. For more than 20 years I have taught a 5 credit course on the History of Tacoma at the University of Washington Tacoma. With an average of 30 or 40 students a year, each doing a research paper as their primary focus for the course, I have benefited from many paths of inquiry and many researched and assembled stories. Here are some of them in the retelling along with the treasures of photographs and images in the collections of the Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma Public Library, University of Washington Digital Archives, Washington State Archives at the Office of the Secretary of State, Library of Congress, Washington State University, Alaska State Library, and many other archives, libraries and private collections.

One comment

  1. 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.

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