Surrogate access to the unknown

Like most archives, we have a few collections with materials in them that are starting to age, and age badly. One example of that is the Frederick John Date papers: most of what is in the collection is in great shape, but the photograph albums, not so much. Some of the prints are oxidizing, some may not have been all that great in the first place, which is probably no huge surprise since we’re estimating the albums date from about 1899 to 1905. The albums are now getting to the point, however, that we’re having to be fairly nervous about access: we need to limit the handling. Not only are the photos aging, but so are the pages on which they were glued.

So with some Consortium Library student labor for scanning, and time in Adobe Photoshop for me, we finally had digital surrogate copies of the first album. (Albums 2 and 3 are in progress.) Honestly, we don’t know all that much about the contents of the albums. In fact, we’re not entirely certain of that date span. Mr. Date didn’t caption anything, unfortunately and the photos aren’t the clearest.  But we think a lot of it may be from the Valdez area and the great thing about it is that much of it is more personal content: things the photographer saw or was a part of.

Frederick Date papers, album 1, party.

In the albums are photos of parties, and quite a few, shall we say, behind-the-scenes shots. A woman reclining on the bed in her bedroom with her hair down. A group of women doing laundry in a fenced-in yard. One photo of a group of men aboard a ship and the man in the middle of the group portrait has a bag over his head: an execution, perhaps? We simply don’t know. There’s nothing there to tell us.

Typically when we’ve placed digital images online in the Alaska’s Digital Archives, we’ve tried to give users as much information about the images as possible. Not just for help in identification, but also so those that are keyword searching can find relevant images.  But we can’t do that in the case of these albums. We don’t have the information to give you, aside from what I’ve already said.

So we’re bringing it to you anyhow, without the extensive information. We’ve given each image in album one an identifier and made sure that each image has our contact information. Maybe, if you have some time, you’d be willing to do some of our metadata work for us. Spot something you recognize in the album? Can you positively identify a place and time in an image? Do you recognize those mountains, those bodies of water, those buildings, those people? Please, let us know. You can use the email link at the bottom of each image.  We’ll update the information for the image which can only make it easier for others to find what they’re seeking. Album One has a total of 169 photographs. They’re grouped together so you can pull the first one up and just keep clicking “next” at the top right of the image to page through the whole album.

Or if you spot an image that is the perfect jumping-off point or illustration for your novel, your paper, your book, your article, your website, feel free to contact us with the identifier of the image to ask about use of it. We’ll work with you to provide a high resolution copy, if that’s what you need, or to figure out how you’ll need to cite the image.

For quick reference: here’s links to the online versions of the albums.