Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Labeling and Labeling Systems

In wandering the web this week I stopped at one of my favorite spots, the Photo-Detective with Maureen Taylor at Family Tree Magazine. Maureen's most recent entry, Loopy Labels, made me smile. I'm sure we've all experienced a few Loopy Labels and Labeling Methods in our family photographs and our photograph collections. The photograph Maureen discusses will cause you to nod your head in recognition. Yes, we've all had them.

I have a photograph that is a similar situation; a photograph of the pages of the North Carolina House of Representatives, 1903. The photograph was not in good condition. There appeared to be a great deal of foxing on the entire surface, including the boys' faces. When I scanned it I found a problem similar to Maureen's post.

Pages of The House of Representatives
North Carolina - 1903

Key On Reverse
of photograph

The numbered key on the back of the photograph had left me scratching my head as to what it meant with regard to the image. As you can see, the labels themselves aren't loopy. They are very straight forward. So does loopy deal with the key indicators on the photograph itself? Ah, yes.

Key Numbers Placed
On Each Face

When I scanned the photograph the corresponding key number appeared on the forehead of each of the pages. Not foxing as originally thought. Loopy Labeling! Historically, I thank the person who provided the key. As someone who would like to display a copy of the photograph, I would have liked the key number placed somewhere other than smack dab in the middle of the sitters forehead.

Yes, with Adobe Photoshop and a lot of work you can achieve a near perfect image. That's today. Originally, that wouldn't have been possible. The owner of the photograph would have had a photograph with a number written in ink on the forehead of each person in the photograph. Not very attractive.

Pages With Restoration

While this was a very well intentioned attempt at labeling a photograph for posterity it could have used some thought, some planning.

The following is another example of a photograph that was labeled, but didn't work.

The Birthday Club
September 2, 1911

The Key

In this example a beautiful professionally designed key has been placed on the photograph. It lists the occasion (The Birthday Club), the date (September 2, 1911), the place (Lamoure, N.D.), compliments of (Chief John Freyberger), and the names of all the people in the photograph.

The problem with the key stems from the listing of the people in the photograph. We have no way of knowing what row is indicated, whether the listing moves left to right, or if it is nothing more than a list with no relationship to the photograph itself. The key would have been of benefit if it had used an identification similar to this: Back row L-R.

I spent a great deal of time working on the story of this photograph which was published as "Finding That Two Hundredth Edwardian Woman In A White Dress" on footnoteMaven. I tried to establish a pattern to the key to determine the proper identification of each person in the photograph. The result of my work is shown below.

In the method of identification I used, it is very easy to see who's who in the photograph on a key copy. So what lessons should we take from the mistakes of the past? Don't write directly on the photograph. Identify the date and the purpose of the taking of the photograph. Use a logical method of identification (Row - L-R). Maureen has identified many of them in her Loopy Labels post.

We have a real advantage today for identifying photographs for posterity. Many software programs have a tagging system for photographs. But tagging is a keyword or category label used for searching through our many photographs and isn't for identifying the position of people in a photograph. I wrote an article, Get Organized :: Store Information Directly In Your Photographs, for footnoteMaven. It explains the method used in Adobe Photoshop for storing information and for keyword searches for each photograph. But tagging has its limitations.

As tags do not identify the individuals by their position in a photograph, for group or multiple people photos, I go low tech. Let me show you. Below is a photograph of my husband and his sisters at his father's 90th birthday celebration.

Tags would identify each person by name in the photograph, but there are three women who would be identified. Which is which? I know who they are, my children know, but will my grandchildren and their children know which is which? If history has taught us anything, the answer is probably not. So tagging with names is not sufficient.

For my group photographs I create a key. I took the birthday photograph and made a copy. I reduced the size of the copy and identified each person (shown below). I used nothing more than the line and type tools in Photoshop (would work in any photo editing program). I added the event, the date, and the place.

I learned a long time ago that I could not continue to come up with a naming system for photographs that was relevant and that I could remember. I now number all my photographs sequentially based on their acquisition. Tags have been added to each original photograph for the purposes of keyword searches.

In the numbering system there are as few as two, or as many as three, photographs for each one taken or scanned. The number of the birthday photograph above is 000679A. The "A" means this is the front of the photograph. 000679B would be the reverse of the photograph if something had been written on the back (normally photographs that are scanned). 000679K is the key to the photograph shown above. I am betting there will always be a program that can display a TIFF or JPEG format photograph and my key is nothing more than another TIFF or JPEG photograph. Should we see the end of programs that can display these formats, my key can be printed and retained along with the original photograph, before the demise of such programs.

I also employ a similar system for photographic gifts. When I give a gift of a framed photograph I print information that is attached to the dust cover on the back of the frame. Below is the information I included with a gift of a framed photograph of my husband's grandmother for one of our children.

The picture of the little girl with her dolls is the photograph that has been framed. The information relates to the little girl. Trust me, this takes almost no time at all, and will be appreciated for generations to come.

So devise a key system for group photographs that works for you. Got a great idea for identifying group photographs? Tell us about it in the comments section of this article. I'm always looking!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neat post-something to think about for anyone who collects and loves photos. I've seen a key like the NC before-where they wrote the numbers on their faces.

June 26, 2008 at 5:54 AM  
Blogger Sally J. said...

Attaching a key (with reference photo, to boot!) to the back of framed photos is super clever. I also love your "K" naming convention for the digital key.


June 26, 2008 at 7:48 AM  
Blogger Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

I had to laugh when I read this. I recently found a group picture of most of the ladies that lived on the street I grew up on. I scanned it, enlarged it and printed it. I took it to work to show a coworker that had grown up down the street. Her memory being better than mine she started rattling off names and gasped as I started writing names right on the print. She thought I was writing on the original. I wonder what my descendants will think if they come across that print and it is no longer with the original.

I still have to make a key for the original so I found your suggestions very timely.

July 1, 2008 at 4:57 PM  
Blogger Judith Richards Shubert said...

Wonderful suggestions! In my work as Historian of the 50 Year Club, this method will be VERY helpful in identifying and labeling classmates from 1913 through today. Thanks so much! I can already see confusion in my choice of naming digital files of the scanned pictures. Your method should make things much easier.

April 19, 2010 at 5:52 PM  

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