Historical Commission unearths photo negative cache

The Darlington County Historical Commission needs your help to identify some faces and places that could otherwise be lost to our community’s history.

Brian Gandy, Director of the Historical Commission, is working to develop a cache of photographic negatives – including some made of glass that date back to the 1920s – and though a few of these images are accompanied by names or places, many have no attribution at all.

Donated in the late 1980s, the glass negatives appear almost opaque to the naked eye, but when placed on a powerful light table and scanned with the Commission’s high resolution, free-standing scanner, a sharp projection of the image can be obtained. Rather than using a high cost photo service, Gandy then emails the digital photo file to his phone and uses an app (NegativeMe) to reverse the image and produce a startlingly clear and sharp photograph.

“I was absolutely mesmerized by the quality of what we got … It would take the large photographic negative file, process it through and make it into a positive image,” says Gandy, marveling at the ease of the process. “It was a two-button job.”

The first batch of photos was recently posted to the Commission’s Facebook page and several sharp-eyed citizens (often family members, co-workers, and church friends of those pictured) have contacted them with relevant information. Gandy notes that most of the families pictured are probably from the Lamar area.
“There’s about five of them we’ve been able to identify,” says Gandy. “They are mainly pictures of people, but there’s two pictures of a dog with an extremely nice collar. If somebody was taking photographs of a dog in the 1920s, you know they must have been a wealthy family.”

Some photos seem to depict community gatherings, as with one image that appears to show uniformed young men competing on an obstacle course as a large crowd watches. Others are lovely, professionally shot portraits of recognizable local natives, like the photograph of Mrs. Hilda Yates – a longtime office manager for Belk-Simpson.

“Within 48 hours of posting her photo, we knew where Mrs. Yates was buried, what she did for a living, we know who she married, all because of patron interaction,” says Gandy. “Nobody was remembering Mrs. Yates until we posted that on Facebook, and then folks were able to remember who she was and interact with her history. Now that memory of her is no longer lost to time. It’s been brought back into the present.”

Gandy says many families with old photo negatives in their possession face a quandary; they desperately want to know what images the negatives may contain, but taking them to a professional developer can be cost prohibitive. He says that donating the negatives to the Historical Commission can solve this dilemma, as he will scan in the images, provide access to digital copies of the photos they contain, and preserve the negatives in the Commission’s archives, all free of charge.

He adds that some old photographic negatives contain silver nitrate, which is highly flammable and can self-ignite when they begin to degrade. The Historical Commission keeps these negatives isolated in a fireproof steel container in a climate controlled area to minimize danger, and they are always handled with exceptional care. Gandy has begun scanning these negatives into digital files in an effort to save the images before they are lost forever.

“You don’t want to just throw the negatives away and not have a copy of it,” he says.
Anyone with old photographic negatives they would like to donate can contact the Darlington County Historical Commission at 843-398-4710, or stop by 204 Hewitt Street in Darlington. Visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/DarlingtonCHC for the latest photographs and see if there’s a person, place, or event you recognize. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Author: mrollins

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