Photographs are usually instantaneous. Take one and send it off into the world in a matter of seconds.
Well, sometimes it takes a little longer.
Like 100 years.
A collection of glass negatives was recently digitally scanned at the Carver County Historical Society, producing images that haven’t seen the light of day in over a century.
For the Herald, the photos strike close to home. In fact, a few of the photos were taken just feet away from where this story was written.
“One of the coolest things of all is in some ways life changes, and in some ways it stays exactly the same,” said Wendy Petersen Biorn, CCHS executive director.
The DuToit family owned the Chaska Herald for a century, and the photographs appear to be taken by Freddie DuToit, who operated the newspaper from about 1910 to 1963. Many of the photos were of Freddie and Julia DuToit’s daughter, Julianne (or Julia Anna, as written on the negative envelopes).
“It’s a remarkably intact collection of negatives. They were pretty well preserved,” said former CCHS Interim Curator Paula DeMars.
The Scott County Historical Society gave the the negatives to CCHS, since they included Carver County scenes and residents. Likewise, CCHS recently found a cache of 1880s photos in its collection, featuring several Duluth scenes and donated them to the Minnesota Historical Society.
“So they are treasures to be shared and sent to the right home,” Petersen Biorn said.
Last month, Dave Johnson used special equipment to scan the 150 glass negatives, which are estimated to have been taken between 1909 and 1916.
For Johnson, this work is old hat. He scanned in 14,000 negatives, mostly glass, from the Gust Akerlund Studio, a remarkably intact photo studio from the early 1900s.
Petersen Biorn heard about Johnson’s work with the Akerlund studio, and hired him to scan the glass negatives.
Most of the Carver County negatives are on 4x5-inch glass plates, a popular format at the time.
Most people now use their smartphones to capture their lives and their families, and DuToit wasn’t much different. “It appeared to me that he really liked his family,” Johnson said, of the photographs.
“The DuToit family was very excited when little Julia Anna comes into the family. Most of the photographs are centered around her and, just like we do today, we take baby pictures to document how the family changes as the child grows up.”
So you’ll see little Julia Anna next to a Christmas trees with her dolls, or little Julia Anna playing with her grandfather F.E. DuToit, newspaper owner and Carver County sheriff.
Besides family, another object frequently showed up in his photographs – a car. “He really loved his car,” Johnson said.
As for Freddie, he must have taken most of the photographs, because he only appears in two of the collection, said DeMars.
There are also a few local scenes, such as the Gedney Pickles plant in Chaska. Now it's located just across the border in Chanhassen. There are also a few rare looks inside the newspaper office and the exterior of the Herald building. (The newspaper's advertising staff now works out of what was once the "Undertaking and Embalming" business.)
Luckily, the negatives were stored in envelopes that were numbered chronologically, and often labeled with the names of those pictured. A few of the envelopes are labeled "Amateur Finishing Department of “Werner Studio." W.E. Werner opened up shop in Chaska in 1909, and his family photographed generations of local residents.
In some cases, the negative emulsion is separating from glass plates. Regardless, researchers will be able to blow the images up to 11 by 14 “and get a remarkably good photograph, even after 100 years,” Johnson said.
The digitization project is costing about $500, Petersen Biorn said. The museum has also purchased special envelopes to store and protect the original glass negatives.
The images will soon be available to CCHS members on the society’s website. The society has almost 15,000 of its 20,000 images digitally available.
CCHS is currently undertaking a massive inventory project. It also plans to digitize its collection of tintypes, a type of photograph popular in the 1860s and 1870s.