Image making before Wal-Mart

FINDLAY, Ohio – With the popularity of quick and easy one-hour film drop-offs, people don’t realize how much work used to go into image making and how it has evolved.

In the late 19th century, it wasn’t quite as easy as today. People didn’t drop their film in a one-hour slot at Wal-Mart while they did their shopping and then pick it up on their way out.

The Hancock Historical Museum’s current exhibit, Image Makers: A Century of Findlay Photographers, not only shows people how far photography has come, but illustrates how to determine the time period of undated photographs.

The exhibit will be on display through Sept. 22 in Findlay, Ohio.

Good old days. The earliest images on display are ferrotype. These images were also called tin type, however the images are actually made of iron, according to Paulette Weiser, museum curator and archivist.

Ferrotypes were most popular in the 1860s and ’70s. The thin sheet of iron was thicker than other images and sturdy, but there was the possibility that it could rust.

An interesting feature with ferrotypes was that the camera could produce multiple, duplicate images on one large plate, Weiser said. The separate images were 2 inches by 3 inches and were snipped apart with cutters.

Mementos. Cartes-de-visites, another popular image on display, is from the late 19th century. These images became especially popular with soldiers in the Civil War because they could easily carry the images with them, Weiser said.

The cartes-de-visites were also called calling cards. This name originated from the calling cards left at homes when a guest visited and the owners were not present. This is similar to the size of today’s business card.

Fancy fun. Cabinet cards, which are also displayed at the exhibit, came to popularity during the 1880s and early 1890s, Weiser said. Although they were similar to the cartes-de-visites in their image processing, these images were larger and glued onto cardboard.

The photographer usually included his or her name on the bottom front of the matting. These were especially interesting, Weiser said, because on the back of the matting was elaborate artwork advertising the photographer.

The most recent photographs on exhibit are from the 1950s and 1960s.

Subjects. Most of the photographs included in the display are portraits, including families and children. Images from a flood in the late 19th century are also included.

In addition, there are yearbook pictures from the 1930s that show the popular types of image making.

Commercial and promotional photography are also part of the century’s photographs on display.

Weiser said these images are only a small fraction of what the museum has in its archives.

Lack of light. Tying into the photograph exhibit is a mock darkroom, which includes two sections. One of the sections shows the chemicals and equipment needed to develop film into negatives.

The other section displays the chemicals and equipment needed to make the actual prints. This includes the enlargers and trays. Each step is displayed with cards detailing the individual steps.

This darkroom collection is from the 1950s and ’60s and once belonged to Findlay photographers Keith Haley and Joe Thomas.

Although the equipment and process is from 50 years ago, the process has not changed much since, Weiser said. However, now mechanical photo processing takes it place.

Weiser said the exhibit is set up so people know the work that used to go into photo processing.

Inspiration. Weiser got the idea for this exhibit as she was going through the museum’s archive photo collection. Although she came across many photos that included the name of the photographer, many were undated.

She set off on a mission to determine when each of the photographers lived. She was then able to date the pictures. She said this was helpful because it put the people and events within the community into a time period.

Outside appeal. Although the photographers featured in the exhibit are from Findlay, Weiser said the exhibit will appeal to people from any geographical area because they will be able to take this information and background to their communities and date their own antique photographs.

Weiser wanted to make this as easy as possible so she wrote a book by the same name as the exhibit that explains how to catalogue photographs. It also details Findlay area photographers’ works, including illustrated images of the works.

The last section of the book chronicles a list of photographic images produced over the past 150 years. It gives descriptions of their appearance and the process by which they were made.

The booklet is available at the museum. It is $15 for museum members and $20 for nonmembers.

The museum is located at 422 W. Sandusky St., Findlay, Ohio. Admission is $3 for adults, $2 for senior citizens and free for museum members and children 15 and under. Hours are Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 12:30-4:30 p.m.; Sunday, 1-4 p.m.

For more information call 419-423-4433.

(You can contact Kristy Alger at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at


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