Photographs are primary source documents that, like manuscripts and printed documents, carry many layers of embedded information. As a result, photographs have their own unique vocabulary and require their own literacy.
Understanding photographs involves looking at several elements. Time – How the image fits into the continuum of photography – is it unique, interesting, or innovative in terms of time and aesthetics? Place – Are there unique aspects of the location where the image was made, be it scenic or portrait. Context – Is there information about the photographer and their work within which the image fits? Does this context provide any new information that can help better understand both the creator and subject?
Much of the interest in provenance or identification of daguerreotypes and other early photographs revolves around the location for scenic images, or for portraits, identification of the photographer and subject. This project to study the time, place and context of the development of early photographic businesses in America begins with research into the locations of early photographic studios in New York City using information culled from mount imprints, census records, city directories and other period sources.
Senior Research Scientist, College of Nursing