Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Greatest Gift

No, I'm not talking about some spiritual, inspirational mumbo jumbo.

I'm not even talking about Steak & Blow Job Day.

I'm talking about the coolest present I ever got.

Well, wait, I take that back.

The absolute coolest present I ever got was my Logitech Harmony H659 Universal Remote that my girlfriend got me because she loves me so much!

Oh yeah, baby!! I want to watch TV? I just press the button that says "Watch TV", shit starts coming on and I'm watching TV. I decide I want to watch a DVD? I just push the button that says "Watch a movie" and the TV shit switches off, the DVD stuff switches on and the CD drawer glides open like my ex-wife's legs at Happy Hour.

But I digress.

I was talking about what I guess is actually the Second Greatest Gift I ever got.

Many years ago my mom gave me two really cool Christmas presents. Now normally, our exchange of Christmas gifts involves a lot of whatever was in the clearance aisle at Dollar General on Christmas Eve. We eat, we swap cheap gifts and we say goodbye till next year. Whole process takes less than two hours.

So anyway, I open these two packages and this is what they contained

Two boxes of Glass Plate Negatives.

For those of you who don't know, between 1880 and as late as WWII, glass plate negatives were pretty much state of the art in photography. The plates themselves were 4" x 5" putting them in what we would call medium format today. A much larger negative surface than the 35mm negatives. That means they can capture a LOT more detail.

My mom knew I was into photography and I have my own darkroom. She found these at some old antique store/flea market in Excelsior Springs and thought I might like them.

So without even knowing what was on them, this was really fucking cool! I couldn't wait to herd the family out the door and head for the darkroom to see what was on these bad boys.

Now, my 2nd hand Omega enlarger works just fine for 35mm. But I don't have a negative carrier big enough to handle a 4x5 glass plate. So must of these images are "contact prints". That means that I just layed the 4x5 negative flat on a piece of 5x7 photo paper and exposed it. I had to really play with the exposure, contrast, filters and do a bit of burning and dodging sometimes, but I was pretty amazed by what I had.

They all seem to date from around the turn of the last century (early 1900s) and they all seem to be taken in the general Clay County area. That was verified by a gentleman at the Clay County Historical Society when he verified my suspicion that these first three photos were taken on the grounds of the old International Order of Odd Fellow (I.O.O.F.) Home for the Aged here in Liberty. That's that big old brick mansion looking place just to the east of 291 just south of 33. See if you recognize it. (click on the photos to embiggen!)

The other evidence that these were taken in the area in the early 1900s was the next five pictures which were all taken up at Watkins Mill at one of the annual fox hunts sponsored by the Missouri Vally Foxhunters Association.

One of my favorite photos of the lot was this next one. It was taken in winter, the ground was covered in icy snow, a couple of guys are cutting blocks of ice out of the pond in the background as three women dressed in black move off to the left. There is just something eerie and haunting about this image that I really like.

But a lot of them were just pictures taken of family members around a rural home.

Now, since that last image contained a lot of sheep, I should probably step in here and just let Faith know that this next picture is NOT some primitive, rural sex swing. Sometimes, Faith, a swing is just a swing.

This next picture just proves to me that people took recreational drugs in the early 1900s. Either that, or "avant garde" meant something different back then. Take a look at this.

You have a woman holding a baby next to a man with a push mower. To the right is a mother and child standing next to a man holding a guitar. Now look at the perspective. Who ever set up this bizarre pose with the musician and the groundskeeper seemed to think that the only way to capture the mood was to lie down in the leaves and dirt to take the shot.

What. The. Fuck?!?

Of all the pictures in the collection, it is the next one that haunts me the most. This young girl standing outside her home.

I can't remember exactly how I did it, but I managed to get enough of the glass plate into my negative carrier to zoom in on this girl and make a nice enlargement. This is a good example of just how much detail was captured on these old glass plates.

Click on the photo and look at the big version. You can count her freckles. You can almost read the inscription on the locket around her neck.

Who was this girl? Did she grow up and get married? Have kids? Does she have descendants who still live in the area?

I'll probably never know.

I've been looking for more of these glass plates ever since, but haven't been able to find any. I'll keep looking.


travelingal said...

How extremely cool. My favorite though is the pic of the guys cutting ice and the women walking away, heads bowed from the cold and wind. I loved them all.

By the way, I checked Ebay and there are some for sale for a reasonable price. Keep an eye out for ones you might like.

Yeah mom!

Spyder said...

Sweet! Very cool!

Spyder in Rochester NY

Mike said...

What an awesome gift! Great post too, thank you.

Xavier Onassis said...

travel - Wow. Cool. I didn't know they could be that pricey. I know for sure mine couldn't have cost that much. Thanks for the link!

satyavati said...

These pictures ROCK!

It would be great to find out who they are. Could you check around on local genealogy webs and stuff?

I have an old picture that I got at a flea market. It's a portrait of a lady, about 18x20. From her clothes it looks like late 1800's. I have no idea who she is, so I made up a hugely elaborate story about her, and it's almost as good.

emawkc said...

For a minute there, I thought you were going to tell us that the girl in the last picture was your childhood sweetheart.

Jay Arnold said...

Those pics are cool. It would be awesome to hang those on the wall as cool art.

Stinkbait Boucher said...

So very cool. You've got quite a treasure there (and I'm not talking dollars of course).

All of these faces peering in to a lens never knowing or even imagining who might be peering back decades later.

Innocent messages in a bottle.

So very, very cool.

travelingal said...

Been thinking...might be a cool way to make some extra money. Develop these (and other) plates, frame them in some cool way, come up with a catchy marketing plan and sell them.

Everybody seems to like them ...

travelingal said...

Well, I don't mean sell these gifts from your mother. I was thinking of old plates you might get elsewhere.

smerock said...

That remote rocks too, I have had one for about a year. Was a bit of a pin to set up because of the way it wanted to use a web based engine to do it. But alas, once it was set up, it worked well.

The pictures are very nice. Those plates are unique in the fact that we can never replace them. Lock them up.

Woman with kids said...

Those are fabulous!

crse said...

You think maybe it was a boy in drag? Because it totally looks like an uncomfortable boy in drag. I hope thats what it was because otherwise i would be very sad for that girl.

frog pajamas said...

awesome photo's. love the 3 wimmens one too. excellent stuff.

Poodles Rule said...

Those are so much fun. I would definitely frame that one with the women and the fishermen, it is great.

Faith said...

Emaw: "For a minute there, I thought you were going to tell us that the girl in the last picture was your childhood sweetheart."

And they had sex once in that swing from the other picture...

You never know, XO. People were kinky during the turn of the century, too. :P

These photos are awesome. I especially like the one of the family in front of the house with the baby on the chair. He's just wearing a cardigan for clothes. Sweet family...

Iwanski said...

That is just beyond fucking awesome.

Heather said...

I'm still coveting the remote...

Nightmare said...


First I am in awe you still have a darkroom I need to borrow it sometime, second I AM AN ODD FELLOW!! I would LOVE to have copies of those pictures! I have my own paper and if need be I will make the time to come and work with you in the darkroom to make the prints ( I got mad skillz YO!) I can get you as much history on that Building as you want!! But I know my lodge would be tickled to have those prints! EMAIL ME!!

Eolaí gan Fhéile said...

I thought I commented on this moments after you posted it. Apparently not. A bit muddled these days I am.

Anyway I was only going to say that this post is wonderful in every possible way.

Lynn said...

These are incredible and - you chose the right word here - haunting.

Thank you for posting these. I'm going to go look at them again now.

Brooksider said...

XO, wow! Love photo history, especially local.

The Missouri Valley Special Collections at the downtown KC Public Library is a great place to start researching local history:

The ice cutting photo could be something from Ingmar Bergman, RIP. So powerful.