The intent expression of the young woman seen (twice!) on the uncaptioned stereograph card draws one in — even more so if the photos are seen as a single three dimensional image when viewed through a stereograph viewer. But who is this woman, beautifully draped in lace, with red lips courtesy of some careful hand coloring on the photographic print? Printing on the mount (“Sarony Stereo Celebrities”) suggests that she was a celebrity in her day.
The mystery woman was one of more than twenty stereographs from the Marian S. Carson collection that came to the Prints & Photographs Division lacking key identifying information. The Carson Collection contains exceptional early American prints, drawings, and photographs, including more than 1,000 stereographs, and it’s not surprising that not all came with full captions. We recently shared on the photo-sharing site Flickr, a set of twenty-five of the least identified with the question “who” or “where” is this? Flickr members immediately dived in and supplied some answers. In the space of a weekend, five were fully identified.
We now know, from a Flickr member who picked up on the “Sarony” clue and located in another online resource a Sarony photograph of the same portrait sitting, that this is actress Clara Morris. Not only were we able to update our description and make the image retrievable by Morris’s name, but the discovery led me to read up on Morris, who appeared frequently on the New York stage during the 1870s.
The same intrepid Flickr member identified two photographs that had only the most bare-bones caption, “Rustic Arbor, Forest Hills.”
He pointed out a related stereograph at the New York Public Library’s collections that further pinned down the location: Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston, Massachusetts.
Another Flickr member did some very effective sleuthing by recognizing the similarity of a stereograph, somewhat the worse for wear, that showed an impressive structure and the road leading to it.
The member commented, “Looks somewhat like cover of The Victorian Architecture of Iowa by William Plymat,” leading to the revelation that the photo shows the Governor’s Mansion, Terrace Hill, in Des Moines, Iowa, which a P&P staff member was able to confirm by viewing historical photos on the Iowa state government’s Terrace Hill web site.
The dedication and creative searching Flickr members devote to adding to our understanding of images from the collections is evident nearly every day, as we share 20-50 images to the Library of Congress Flickr account each week. Whether it’s pinning down the who, what, where, when or why of a particular image or simply communing over the human experience conveyed in photographs, the pleasure of a well-crafted image, or a funnybone-tickling situation documented visually, our conversations about images in Flickr have helped to keep us connected to the power of images–and to each other.
- View the Mystery Stereographs album in Flickr. Flickr members can contribute information directly in Flickr (basic membership in Flickr is free). Or we’re happy to have you contact us through Prints & Photographs Ask a Librarian to tell us what you know!
- Watch the Library of Congress Flickr Photostream for our latest additions (grain elevators across the American landscape will soon be popping up!), and sample the variety of Flickr albums we’ve assembled on various themes, including some mysteries that remain to be solved.
- Are you curious about how cultural institutions share through Flickr? The participation of many libraries, archives and museums in the Flickr Commons brought many pictures, organizations, and people together starting in 2008. Read a Flickr blog post by George Oates, whose brainchild it was, about a new revitalization effort: George Oates Returns to Revitalize the Flickr Commons.
- Get some background on the Carson Collection in this Library of Congress Information Bulletin article, published when the collection was acquired in 1996. Materials from the collection are in several Library of Congress special collections, including the Prints & Photographs Division, as summarized in this catalog record, and the Rare Book & Special Collections Division, as described in their guide.