Sunday, February 05, 2012

Chicago Streetscene: Ghosts, 1911

click for larger view
The Library of Congress is one of the great resources for historical photographs.  Within its American Memory collection are 25,000 glass plate negatives, transparencies and color photolithograph prints taken by the Detroit Publishing Company from a forty year period from 1880 to 1920.  Several hundred of these are of Chicago scenes, including a number documenting, when new, the University of Chicago, and the 1911 Chicago and Northwestern station by Frost and Granger.

What's especially remarkable about these photos is their high resolution.  As opposed to most architectural photographs, which are, understandably, designed to showcase a building, the Detroit Publishing set can be blown up to shown the actual life of those buildings reflecting people, not as the usual specs, but as clearly identifiable individuals, down to the expressions on their face as look into camera, or, camera unseen, go about their daily lives oblivious to being observed.

Another common effect in the Detroit Publishing photographs is that the prolonged exposures often provide the kind of artifacts you see in the above photograph, of the Northwestern terminal, ghostly images of people long dead, beside shiny-new building long demolished, in a cityscape as vanished as the hanging gardens of Babylon.

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