This is the story of discovering of the Howard D. Beach Photographic Studio Collection through the course MST 623 Digital Collections. Made possible through generous donations and the joint efforts of Dr. Conides and Noelle Wiedemer at Buffalo State College and The Buffalo History Museum.
Figure 1 & 2: Welcome to The Buffalo History Museum, the home to the Howard D. Beach photography studio collection of glass negative plates.
Figure 3: Here is where the collection is currently being housed. Our class consists of 13 Graduate students, who are unearthing images that have yet to be viewed by anyone in almost 100 years. We are the first class to have our hands in this collection under the guidance of our professor Noelle Wiedemer. It is truly an exciting time!
The collection was found in the basement of the Howard D. Beach home and photographic studio when it was sold. Negatives, Paintings, Prints, Records, and Receipts were found in various states. From pristine condition to varying degrees of decay.
Figure 5: These boxes represent a small smattering of the “other” items found among his collection besides the glass negatives. Some of the materials have been destroyed by time and weather, while other items are in almost pristine condition.
Figure 6: A yellowed image, clearly a very old print. Just one of many treasures waiting for their history to be revealed.
Figure 7: Some images, apparently from first glance the images seem to be charcoal or pastel on paper, approximately, 16” X 20”. At this point, there are more questions than answers.
What are these? What were they used for? Did he use them somehow as back grounds that he super imposed in his photographs? Only time and looking further will tell.
Figure 8: Walking into one of the rooms that store the Beach collection, classmates are looking through a box of 6 ½” X 8” glass negatives box and showed me this; Figure 9: Excited to see H.D.B. (Howard D. Beach) showing women utilizing books in his photographs has set my mind in motion. I can’t help but wonder what year this photograph was taken nor what else might be uncovered with each box that is opened. It is hard to imagine 60,000 glass negatives. To help give the reader perspective, consider that each box in the background of Figure 9, contains 6-8 boxes containing approximately 12-16 negatives each.
Figure 10: Today I opened the bankers box marked 42400-42700. As I had randomly selected a box of the 8” X 10” negatives, I had no idea what I would find inside! My mind raced about the possibilities of the hidden treasures that lay within; Gloves applied, equipped with pen, paper, camera and a light box, I gingerly pulled the first box of negatives out and laid them on the table. The box is numbered, it is unclear at this time, what it belongs to, however, I must be patient, as there are many steps to uncover the history of these negatives
Figure 11: Looking in the Banker’s Box marked 42400-42700, reveals five Hammer 8“ X 10” Photographic Dry Plate negative boxes in varying degrees of decay. Forgetting for a while to write any observations down at all, engrossed in the details of the glass, fascinated by the images of countless faces that have no significance to me, and yet, the negatives state with dignity that they lived. I find myself drawn to the details that accompanied each image and in Beach’s own handwriting, the name of the subject(s), delivery due date, Reference number(s) that correlated to the customer’s details stored in a meticulously kept card catalog.
Figure 12: Manufacturer Hammer Dry Plate Company, Negative Box top. The image reveals the number 42400, which correlates to the numbers of the negatives found inside, or did presumably sometime in the past.
Figure 13: The above image is marked as the N Literary Society. The negative is shown with the emulsion side up, with the name of the customer, date (print was due for delivery to customer and a corresponding number that relates to the card catalog of Howard D. Beach’s customers.
Figure 15: My curiosity continues to be peeked when I found this image of an older woman with her reading glasses holding a book open seemingly to a specific page. I can’t help but wonder if I will be able to read the poem when the negative is digitally inverted.
After several hours of looking through the five boxes I came away with a few images that struck a chord. I still have more images to select before I begin my research on the individuals of the images I have selected to research.
– Danielle Delia
Museum Studies student at Buffalo State