A Photo Preservationist Saved a Trove of 4,000 Glass Plate Negatives That Nearly Went Into the Trash
All images courtesy of Terri Cappucci, shared with permission
It’s estimated that people around the world will take a whopping 1.6 trillion photographs this year. With lenses built in to our digital devices, a quick snap has never been easier. In the second half of the 19th century, though, before film was even invented, taking a picture required technical skill and access to expensive equipment and supplies. Some of the earliest large- and medium-format cameras used delicate glass plates to capture black-and-white portraits and landscapes in fine detail.
In 2019, Terri Cappucci, a photographer and preservationist based in Massachusetts, stumbled upon a veritable treasure trove. A collection of 4,000 glass plates spanning the 1860s to the 1930s had been destined for the trash before Cappucci, who has experience shooting wet plates and tintypes, noticed the negatives’ high quality. She also recognized a few Massachusetts landmarks and knew she held abundance of local history in her hands.
Cappucci set out on the long and painstaking process of preserving the slides, consulting with conservation experts and enrolling in a course that taught the fundamentals of cleaning and archiving the fragile pieces. “I would clean them individually only on the glass side; I wouldn’t touch the emulsion side,” she told PetaPixel. “Definitely don’t clean them with Windex or anything you would use to clean windows, just distilled water.” Cappucci digitized each slide using scanning guidelines provided by the National Archives, then slipped each one into an acid-free envelope for storage.