DATING PHOTOS BY COSTUME

MEMOIR AND NOTES ON THE CURIOUS ART OF DATING BY COSTUME


As many of you already know, trying to date a family picture and/or confirm the identity of the subject/s can be difficult. As always with Family History Research, it is best to start with "what you know" and then make sure that "what you know" is quite correct. There is very often a grain of truth/fact in all family tales and legends, but it can often get jumbled up in the telling and in getting all sorts of opinions from family and outsiders. This proved to be the case when Jan Hanslow asked for help to date a group photo she was very doubtful about. Her research was already comprehensive but there were many details which simply didn't fit.

Now, I love a challenge and although my real field of expertise is in Costume and Textiles, I didn't draw a line at just that. After individual investigation of the costumes ( with magnifying glass in hand ), I decided to view the photo as a whole, i.e. check out the background features. As it was a picture of very unusual grouping taken outdoors, there was plenty more to puzzle over. The group was in a 'paddock' or un-made garden in front of a very grand house. This sent me down the Architectural History trail and my local library again proved itself an information goldmine. I was able to date the design of the house fairly accurately, then, with Jan's research in hand, out came the magnifying glass again to re-scan the photo, which showed that the house appeared unfinished.

These facts enabled me to tighten up the date range and including the costume details, start to form some conclusions. I pulled all the collected information together and sent it off to Jan. The opinions I gave her have posed new lines of research for her, but also confirmed some of her feelings, particularly regarding the date of the house.

I have penned this article as an example to members that it is the 'whole' of a picture or photo that needs to be investigated when trying to set a date. It is also necessary to understand that allowances need to be made for personal style and perhaps eccentricities of the pictures' subject as well as the background details.

I am extremely fortunate in having my own extensive collection of costume and textile reference books, but as these have been collected over many years and are mostly limited, specialist editions, there is no point in listing titles. However, as a general research tool, I highly recommend the book "Dating Family Photos 1850 - 1920" by Lenore Frost. The book is no longer in print but is present in many local libraries and I think there is a copy in the Port Phillip Pioneers Group's own collection. Local libraries are a fabulous source and I recommend you cast your net wide and look up general and local histories also. These ofter have very good, well researched pictures and can again be a great help. Also remember, that if all else fails, you are most welcome to write to me with queries, enclosing a good copy of the picture, relevant details and a stamped addressed envelope for return. Please do not send originals.

Contributed by Jacki "Sherlock?" Mitchell ( PPPG Member No. 1207 )


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