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Dating Old Photos
Dated Imprints
Public Domain

NOTICE: A greatly expanded and PROFUSELY ILLUSTRATED version of this material is being prepared as an ebook - watch this space for availability announcements.

Identifying Photographers Studios

Studying studios is only slightly different from researching biographical details for a photographer. One goal, indeed is to find the names of the principal operator or operators of the studio, so that you can then conduct the usual biographical background search. Sometimes though, all you have to start with is the name and location of the studio.

Begin by searching city directories for the studio. Be sure to look at individual listings if you find the studio listed in the photographer section of the business directory. Often the studio name will be listed in the individual section with the names of the principals involved. Also check the list of advertisers, to see if there might be a display ad for the studio.

Local newspaper listings from the approximate time period may also be searched, both for advertisements and for mention in news stories, or photo credits. Here the wonders of modern technology come into play -- you will probably be using digital images that are searchable. The search is conducted on an OCR (optical character recognition) version of the newspaper -- that is amazing technology that can convert the visual image of the page into text, but it is fraught with errors, due to the imperfections in the image, and limitations of the software. Thus it is useful technique when searching such material, to use only parts of names. Be careful to choose something that is not too common, or you will get too many false-hits. For example, if you search for the 'New York Daguerreian Rooms', you will probably not get any hits. Try 'New York' and you will get far too many irrelevant hits. But just search 'Dag' and you will find only a few bad hits, and several interesting daguerreotype and daguerreian references.

Search online for the address of the studio, as well as the studio by name. Often there are historical articles about old buildings that mention early tenants. The photo search engine may give you other images taken at the same studio, with accompanying information that could provide further clues for your search.

Like photographer partnerships, many studio names were short-lived and provide fairly specific date ranges when you study them. Others seem to have a life well beyond that of the founder, and are of themselves of little utility in dating an image -- but even then the specific imprint style will have changed frequently, and may be used as a more specific date indicator.

Studio names themselves can sometimes provide interesting clues, as in the case of the 'San Francisco Portrait Parlors' in Melbourne. The ClassyArts collection has a photo from the late 1880s or early 1890s with that imprint which includes the photographer, 'Tuttle and Co'. I have not researched it yet, but that may be the same Tuttle and Co who were active in California in the 1870s and early 1880s, perhaps by the W N Tuttle who is listed in the 1880 census for San Francisco. Such connections are plausible, but speculative, until confirmed or refuted by research.

NOTICE: A greatly expanded and PROFUSELY ILLUSTRATED version of this material is being prepared as an ebook - watch this space for availability announcements.

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