Tag Archives: photography

Archivist’s View on Baby Milestone Photos

I’ve been seeing more and more of those “baby milestone” (or “baby month-by-month” or “baby growth-progress” or “hey look how much bigger I am!” or whatever you want to call them) photos, especially on Facebook, lately.

I’ve seen a lot of creative things that I would never have thought to do. (Seeing as I don’t have kids, it hasn’t come up, though I suppose some of them might have worked for my cats when they were kittens, had I thought of it…but alas, I think that ship has now sailed! Much to everyone’s disappointment, I’m sure.)

Anyway, I think these “watch me grow” baby photos are great, and I enjoy seeing them. But as an archivist and family historian, I happened to notice that most of them don’t always seem to include some really obvious basic information that I would really like to see on them: name, date, and age.

I was particularly baffled by the missing names and dates, especially if a photo included a lot of other information written on a little sign or chalkboard (love the chalkboard idea!), such as: weight, length, likes & dislikes, cool new tricks, etc. Although, some of them don’t have much writing at all—just a sticker on baby’s chest or back with the number or months or just a stuffed animal for scale (with the months indicated somewhere in a text description rather than in the photo itself).

I talked to some mom friends about this — in the course of asking them if I could use their baby’s photos for this blog post (we’ll get to that in a minute — didn’t want to completely lose your attention by putting all the cute baby photos at the top) — and I did get some enlightening answers:

Some of them plan to put all of the baby photos into a photo book (say “the first year”), which obviously would have baby’s name and info printed in it, but just not in the photo images themselves. Definitely a cool idea.

Someone else mentioned that some moms don’t like to put their baby’s name out there on the Internet. OK, I get that. I can see how that kind of thing might lead to “creepers” or even identity thieves.

But if I’m looking through your random box of photos (or, God willing, a drive full of your digital photos) 50 years from now, and all I have are these original images without any explanation, what I would love to find is: a name (even just a first name), date of the photo (including year), and the age captured in the image itself. That would be awesome. As an archivist or family historian, that would go a long way towards making sure that I was able to identify this baby — especially if, as we’ll see in the example photos below, you have more than one baby and they bear a strong resemblance to one another!

OK, that’s all I’m going to say about it, because I certainly don’t want to sound like I’m criticizing anyone. I am thrilled with all of you who are making this effort to take the month-by-month (or whatever you call them) baby pics! And thank you for sharing them — both on Facebook in general and (more specifically) for this blog. But it was just something that struck me as interesting, and I thought maybe some of you hadn’t thought about the 50-years-from-now-unlabeled-photo-in-a-box thing yet. (After all, I’m sure a lot of you are kind of sleep-deprived, particularly in the beginning, and busy all the time! All the more reason I applaud you for taking the time to do these cute photos!)

So now, I’ll get to what everyone actually came here to see—-the baby pics. (To reduce any creeper danger, I’m only using the mommies’ first names! Thanks again, moms!)

The two photos below are of Gina’s babies use the “stuffed animal for scale” technique but no writing in the photograph itself. She makes a photo book for each child. (I love how the stuffed animal starts out so much bigger than the baby and then shrinks…oh wait. Haha!)

Gina's Baby #1

Gina’s Baby #1

Gina's Baby #2

Gina’s Baby #2

Sarah’s been using two techniques: both the stuffed-animal-for-scale, as well as the chalkboard method. I love that she has the date and all those other little details on her chalkboard. She also said she was making a photo book.

Sarah's baby, stuffed animal

Sarah’s baby, stuffed animal

Sarah's baby, chalkboard photo

Sarah’s baby, chalkboard photo

Beth B. is also using a chalkboard — a really cute chalkboard at that!

Beth B.'s baby

Beth B.’s baby

Beth P. made a sign—and she included the date, with year! Hooray!

Beth P.'s baby

Beth P.’s baby

Mollie has been doing monthly photo comparisons between her two babies — putting the current monthly photo for the younger one next to the same monthly photo from the older one. Love it! And wow do they look alike!

Mollie's babies

Mollie’s babies

One more thing— In the course of attempting find information on the Internet about these baby-growth-photos, I found this article/post with some more cute baby-growth-photo ideas (some of which I haven’t seen my friends doing) and this one about baby time-lapse videos (which are a bit of a different thing but the goal is similar).

Special thanks to Gina, Beth B., Beth P., Mollie, and Sarah for letting me use your babies’ photos to help illustrate this post! Couldn’t have done it without you — well, maybe I could have, but it wouldn’t have been filled with cute.

Job #1 for Your New Camera: Set the Date

The high school graduation I’m about to show you took place on May 26, 2001:

High school graduation, May 2001

High school graduation, May 2001

But you wouldn’t know it from the date on this photograph taken by my grandfather. That printed date is “12-26-1997”:

Date printed on back of photo: Dec. 26, 1997

Date printed on back of the above photo: Dec. 26, 1997

And yes, I’m absolutely positive that event took place  2001. I was there. That’s me, giving the speech. I have a diploma, yearbook, diary entries, and news clippings—not to mention dozens of other photographs—that prove the date was in fact May 26, 2001.

So what gives?  It can’t be the date that the film was processed, because then wouldn’t that date be May 26, 2001, or later? Not 4 years earlier. Unless my grandpa had a time machine nobody knew about. (Wouldn’t that be a fun thing to see in a will? And to my granddaughter, I leave my time machine… But I digress…)

So the date printed on the back of the photograph must be the internal date that was set on the camera. This was a film camera, but it was one of those Kodak Advantix models, with the weird film canisters—

Kodak Advantix film canister

Kodak Advantix film canister — yes, after processing it’s still in its little canister. As an archivist, I’m like, “Oh great, how the crap am I supposed to store this?” Let alone use the negatives. But that’s a different issue from today’s post.)

—and the weird-sized prints and, apparently, the ability to print the “actual” date that the photo was taken on the back of the prints (and on the index print), not just the date of processing.

That is completely commonplace now, to have the actual photo date printed on the backs of your pictures, because today we all mostly use digital photography, and the date is embedded in the image file’s metadata already, so it’s easy for the computers processing your digital photos to print that info on the back. I’m not sure how the Advantix process worked, but it seems like printing the actual date-taken would have been a relatively sophisticated thing for a film-based system to actually accomplish.

Anyhow… Back to the point, though:   Printing the actual photo date-taken on the back of the prints is all well and good, FANTASTIC EVEN…but only if that date is actually CORRECT.

As an archivist, I almost think I would rather have NO DATE AT ALL on the backs of photographs, than to have a date that is completely wrong. Granted, I suppose having that date there lets me know that this photo was taken no earlier than the date printed on the back, because that’s got to be either the processing date, the date taken, or (in this case) a date that is sometime after the manufacturing date of the camera.

But which is it?

If I didn’t know that photograph was taken in 2001 (because I was there)… If I didn’t recognize the family members (and their approximate ages—especially my younger cousins) in the other photographs shown on the index print (or if you’re lucky, contained in the envelope – but these were all just loose)… If I was completely oblivious to who any of these people were…so, if I were just looking at this pile of photographs like most archivists would do with the masses of piles of photo prints that people seem to have from the 1980s to present…

I might have just slapped them into a folder for 1997 and called it a day, thinking that must be either the processing date or date-taken. But that would have been inaccurate. I know these things happen, but it’s hard to ignore dates printed on photos, even when you KNOW from experience that they can be inaccurate for a variety of reasons (wrong camera date, later reprints from an earlier negative, etc.)

So, here’s my charge to you, and by you, I mean everyone in the world who owns any kind of a camera or anything with a camera in it (cell phone?):

Job #1 when you get that equipment out of the box is to figure out where the thing keeps its time and date settings, and make sure they are set correctly. (If you can’t power the thing up until you insert a charged battery, then charging the battery up may be Job #1….But then this date thing is Job #2!)  Not taking a picture of your dog, your cat, your baby (unless your baby is being born like RIGHT THEN, in that case I give you a pass- but that just means you’ll need to diligently correct all the dates later!), your spouse, your plants, or whatever else is around that you are itching to snap that first photo of. Take the extra 2 minutes and figure out how to set the correct date and time on the camera, and actually do it.

And while you’re looking at the manual (if you’re looking at the manual), see if it mentions whether you will need to re-set the date when you replace the batteries. Digital cameras today don’t seem to have that problem; they must have a little ROM chip or something; but I think this may have been the case with some film cameras (like this one my Grandpa had). So just take a few seconds and double-check that.

And while we’re on the subject of dates: I don’t recommend letting the camera print the date on the corner (especially if it’s not correct, oh god! but you’re going to be good and set the date so you won’t have that problem, right?). As someone who loves photos, I think it ruins the picture a bit. I used to love this back when I had a regular film camera, because the date didn’t print on the back; printing it on the front was the only way to have it printed on your picture. But there’s no excuse for that now, since like I said the date-taken is in the digital photo metadata and usually is printed on the back automatically by various photo printing companies (e.g., Shutterfly does this, I know).

Okay, enough scolding. But please, please, set the date on your camera as soon as you get it out of the box. I know it’s an exciting time, and your first thought is probably not the boring task of setting the date but instead to start snapping pictures. But trust me, if you take that extra 2 minutes immediately to set the date and time, you will thank me later. And so will your children, your grandchildren, and your friendly neighborhood archivist.

Un-Review of Dayton Art Institute’s 1913 Flood Exhibition

[I hate the term “review.” It has this overtone, like if you’re not sufficiently critical, you haven’t really “reviewed” the thing. So this is not a review in that sense. It’s “I experience this super-cool thing, and I want to share it with you,” whatever that’s called.]

Last Thursday, February 21, was a busy but fun day for me. After the Miami Valley Archives Roundtable meeting, I was fortunate enough to have been invited to attend a special preview of the Dayton Art Institute‘s new exhibition commemorating the centennial of the Great 1913 Flood: Storm, Watershed, & Riverbank.

Dayton Art Institute

Dayton Art Institute

Dayton Art Institute - Storm--Watershed--Riverbank

Dayton Art Institute – Storm–Watershed–Riverbank

(The 1913 Flood was a defining moment in the Miami Valley’s history. It was a horrible disaster, but it ultimately led to flood control measures that have successfully averted such a thing happening again: the creation of the Miami Conservancy District. To learn more about the flood, check out 1913flood.com or even Wikipedia for a basic overview.)

The exhibition consists of three parts:

  • Storm: Paintings by April Gornik
  • Watershed: 100 Years of Photography Along the Great Miami River
  • Riverbank: Exploring Our River-Centered Development

Storm: Paintings by April Gornik, consisted of several large scale (we’re talking LARGE scale, like 6 feet by 8 feet!) paintings depicting various kinds of storms, weather, and other natural waters. They were really beautiful. You can see many of April’s paintings on her web site, although my favorite one from the exhibit, “Light Passing” (1987), doesn’t seem to be on there.

After a transitional area showing three enlarged lantern slide views of the flood, as well as a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad map with notations about flood damage, we embarked upon the second part of the exhibition: Watershed: 100 Years of Photography Along the Great Miami River.

The Watershed exhibit consists of “before” and “after” photographs showing a scene from the flood, paired with a recent photograph taken at the same location and angle. The photos showed scenes from Piqua all the way down the Great Miami River to Hamilton.

The “before” photographs had been gathered, enlarged, and reproduced from the collections of many Miami Valley archival repositories, including Wright State University Special Collections & Archives, Dayton Metro Library, and many others. (I gleefully recognized many of the Dayton photos!)

The “after” photographs were created by Dayton photographer Andy Snow, who created more than 5,000 digital files for this project.

Andy Snow

Photographer Andy Snow giving us insights to help us more fully appreciate his photos.

Mr. Snow was present on the tour to share his insights about the photos and the project. He shared lots of interesting stories and pointed out details that helped us more fully appreciate what we were seeing. He told us that he manipulated some of the photos slightly in order to make them “pop and sing,” saying, “I like singing photographs.” 🙂  He also gave us some historical context, including a lesson in historical photography equipment (examples of which is included in the exhibit) and the reasons why in old photos, the sky looks gray. He also referred to Dayton as “the Silicon Valley of the time,” in explaining why its destruction was such major nationwide news.

Angela Manuszak of the Miami Conservancy District, who was integral to the project, was also present on the tour and also gave us great historical context to help us better understand and appreciate what we were seeing.

Angela Manuszak

Angela Manuszak of Miami Conservancy District sharing snipptes of the flood story to help give us context.

For instance, she pointed out that there are no known photographs of the river’s cresting in Dayton because it happened in the middle of the night. She also said that the Miami Conservancy District was the largest privately-funded infrastructure project in the world at the time; it was designed to protect against a flood equivalent to 140% of what the 191 3 flood was! (And it has worked!)

Here are a few pictures to give you a taste of the Watershed exhibit. (And I apologize that these are not the greatest — I’m no professional photographer, and my little pocket camera can’t even begin to do these things justice anyway. That’s why it’s really just a taste, even of these very photos, because the real ones look so much more amazing. Oh and also – Mr. Snow said it was OK for us to take pictures! Plus, I like to think I’ll make you want to visit and see the rest, if I show you a few ideas of what you’ll find.)

Dayton Before and After the Flood

Before and After view from the hill where Dayton Art Institute is today. (Yes, it’s blurry; it’s not your eyes.) This pair was just awesome. You’ve got to see it!

lantern slides

Some of the 72 original hand-tinted lantern slides on exhibit from the Miami Conservancy District’s collection.

Everett Neukom's Beaver Power Building photo

Everett Neukom’s Beaver Power Building photo (This was one of my favorite pairs, too, because I recognized the photo on the right immediately as one taken by Everett Neukom- it came from our Neukom collection at WSU.)

Near the end of the Watershed exhibit, there was a sitting area with the chairs pointed at a large flat-screen TV that was showing the Before/After photos fading into one another. I almost walked right by it, thinking, “Oh, I’ve seen this,” but after my brief conversation with Mr. Snow, he encouraged me to check it out, that it gave a little different perspective on the photos. And it really did: in some cases the photos were framed so perfectly that when the Before faded into the After, certain details that existed in both photos (like a church steeple, for instance) were lined up perfectly. It was almost like that part of the photo was simply turning color and having its surroundings changed, while it remained the same. VERY COOL. Thanks, Mr. Snow, for encouraging me to take a second look at that– it really was worth it. Plus, hey, it gave me an excuse to sit for a minute.

Also in talking to Mr. Snow, I asked if these were the same photos that will be featured in the 1913 Flood before/after book that I’ve been hearing about — the real title of which I couldn’t remember at the time, but which is, for your information A Flood of Memories–One Hundred Years After the Flood: Images from 1913 and Today. The answer was, yes, but only about 1/2 the images in the book were featured in the exhibit. So there’s MORE. Yay!  He said the book should soon be available for sale in the book stores at Dayton Art Institute and Carillon Park (which incidentally also has a new permanent exhibit on the 1913 Flood opening March 23).

The third part of the exhibition, Riverbank: Exploring Our River-Centered Development, had maps and sketches and sallelite images showing the development of the Great Miami River corridor over the years. The giant satellite map was pretty awesome. And I also enjoyed seeing a publication from the 1960s of proposed development of the river area near where Sinclair currently is– apparently, they wanted to put some kind of stadium or theater there at one point. (It’s always fun to see those architects’ or city planners’ renderings of proposed building projects from Back in the Day that never quite came to pass, knowing what’s there now.) There was also an interactive component with a big map of downtown Dayton and an invitation to answer the question “What would entice you to spend the day on the river?” on a Post-It Note and stick it to the map. (I admit I didn’t do this part; I was already late for a reception I was supposed to be attending upstairs, because I just couldn’t tear myself away from the photos…)

The Storm, Watershed, & Riverbank exhibition runs February 23 through May 5, 2013, and museum admission is $12. If you are interested in a visual history of the 1913 Flood, you don’t want to miss this. It was absolutely amazing.

[In addition to the official exhibition info on the Dayton Art Institute site, you might also be interested in this article from the Dayton Daily News: “Dayton Art Museum to Commemorate Historic Flood in New Exhibit,” 17 Feb. 2013.]