When photographer and photo preservationist Terri Cappucci was gifted a trove of antique photo negatives that were in danger of being thrown away, she combed through 4,000 glass plates and developed the photographs that she found interesting.
The resulting black and white images provide a glimpse into what life was like in western Massachusetts during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Because many of the photographers and subjects remain unknown, Cappucci decided to call the project “Somebody Photographed This.”
She joined Zydalis Bauer to share more about the project and what she discovered in the photos.
Terri Cappucci talk about the ethics of sharing vintage funeral photos in a digital exclusive clip. (Warning: 𝙏𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙞𝙣𝙩𝙚𝙧𝙫𝙞𝙚𝙬 𝙘𝙤𝙣𝙩𝙖𝙞𝙣𝙨 𝙖 𝙛𝙪𝙣𝙚𝙧𝙖𝙡 𝙥𝙝𝙤𝙩𝙤 𝙤𝙛 𝙖 𝙘𝙝𝙞𝙡𝙙 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙢𝙖𝙮 𝙗𝙚 𝙙𝙞𝙨𝙩𝙪𝙧𝙗𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙩𝙤 𝙨𝙤𝙢𝙚 𝙫𝙞𝙚𝙬𝙚𝙧𝙨.)
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: When photographer and photo preservationist, Terri Cappucci was gifted a trove of antique photo negatives that would have been thrown away, she combed through 4,000 glass plates and developed the photographs that she found interesting.
The resulting black and white images provide a glimpse into what life was like in western Massachusetts during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Because many of the photographers and subjects remain unknown, Cappucci decided to call the project “Somebody Photographed This.” She joined me for a conversation to share more about the project and what she discovered in the photos.
Terri Cappucci, Documentary Photographer: I started photography back when, you know, we were using film, and I was part of the generation that was using film and merged as soon as digital came out. And I did a lot of work with digital and I love it, but there was something missing for me and I always liked the tangible feeling of having something in my hands.
So, I started doing alternative process photography, which was, I was making my own glass plate negatives and making my own tintype photos that were, you know, made back in 1860 to, you know, early 1920s. I was doing it myself. And as an artist, I was like, I don’t know if I really want to see anybody else’s work and, you know, start collecting it. But then I remembered how I had lost a very large collection of my own work, because I hadn’t properly archived it.
And I looked at them and I was like, “I’ll take them all.” And I just went and loaded the car up and brought them home.
Zydalis Bauer: And so, these negatives include late 19th century and early 20th century photographs.
As you began to uncover them, was there anything surprising that popped out to you?
Terri Cappucci: I had seen a lot of older photos, but there was something about the composition in some of these photographs that was really strong, and this is the one that told me, “Take them.”
I’m not sure exactly what it was about this photo that spoke to me, but there was something about the history, the composition, the person holding something that I believe might have been an umbrella — it was just beautiful. And the whole composition stood out so strongly that I thought, “I’ve got to move forward with this.”
And, you know, and then I started getting photographs like this and I thought, “This is like a treasure trove of history.”
Unfortunately, I don’t have the name of the photographer. They came from multiple photographers. And I know that because I can see a difference in the quality of composition as well as some of the technique, like some of them are really overexposed or underexposed. And then some of these other ones were just precise. And so, somebody was paying attention.
And I still don’t know who they were from, but I’ve got them out there on the internet. People are following my Somebody Photographed This page on Facebook, and people comment on them, and sometimes I can get some information on there, you know, and do some digging.
Zydalis Bauer: And that’s what I was going to say, when I’m looking at these photos, it’s really hard for me to imagine that this is what life was like here in this region. You know, it’s when you see them, you’re kind of transported into a different location.
Terri Cappucci: Yes.
Zydalis Bauer: So, what can we begin to learn and understand about what life was like in western Massachusetts over a hundred years ago when we view these photos?
Terri Cappucci: When I look at the photographs myself, I mean, I see a lot of clean land, a lot of natural trees, and untouched communities. And to me, you know, it brings back what we were, and what we are now is very different. There’s a lot of waste now, and it’s really hard because I don’t see a lot of waste in these photographs.
Zydalis Bauer: Another thing that stood out to me in these photos was their dress. And so, as I’m going through them, I’m even seeing, like, the children, there’s little girls with their bicycles, but they’re dressed in, like, a beautiful dress that I would never imagine going out riding in, and there was another one of a woman holding a little baby sheep, I think it was a lamb –
Terri Cappucci: Yep!
Zydalis Bauer: —and I was just struck by the clothes and how put together they were and the different times, the styles, and the evolution that we can see in these photos.
Terri Cappucci: Yeah, I was thinking the same thing when I looked at them. Some of them, you know, some of these women had hats on that I didn’t know were hats.
And that woman that was holding the sheep, I really had to look at that and ask people online I’m like, “What — what could this be?” This was one — that was one of the first photos. You know, what is on her head? And it was discovered that it was a style of a hat. There were all sorts of hat styles back then.
And, you know, we did see a lot of photographs of children that were dressed in these pristine and beautiful outfits. But, from what I’m finding, you know, back in those days, we didn’t have 40, you know, dresses in the house that you could go pick from.
Zydalis Bauer: Right.
Terri Cappucci: You probably had one. And it probably, you know, it was probably bought for the purpose of the photograph and then worn on special occasions after that.
Zydalis Bauer: So, you’ve done work as a freelancer, a photojournalist with The Boston Globe and the Boston Globe magazine, and you’ve also continued to become a teacher, and you’re a photo documentarian.
What is it about this work that really speaks to you and interests you?
Terri Cappucci: As a photojournalist, looking at some of these photographs, they tell a story, and that’s what photojournalism is. It’s really important to be able to tell a story in a photograph.
So, this photograph here was taken in Northfield, and I look at this photograph and I see so much: I see a child’s toy; I see a woman that may very well be pregnant, I can’t tell the way her apron is; a sharpening wheel for an axe; you know, I see a man standing out in front of this place holding an axe over his shoulder, like he may be logging or cutting wood or something. So, to me, you know, there’s a story formed in that.
And so, what I saw when I looked at this collection, were stories being told in an image and it was very striking. I wish I could…I wish I had the information of who they are, just to know whether I’m right or not about what I’m formulating as a, as a story in the photograph.
Zydalis Bauer: And this has really become a passion project for you. In an article with The Boston Globe that was talking about this project, you mentioned what it’s done for your soul, especially through the pandemic.
Can you share more about how this work, this project, has impacted you?
Terri Cappucci: Well, it’s made me think about my own mortality a lot more. Part of that also has to do with getting older, but also, during that pandemic, we were seeing so many people that we knew die. And I did know people that died from the pandemic, as I think most people did.
And then looking at some of these photographs and seeing, you know, the post-mortem images, it just made me start appreciating being alive a bit more and appreciating what I have and appreciating, you know, not…actually, I wouldn’t say appreciating, but I’ve — I’ve become much more aware of waste, much more aware of simplicity of life that was very, you know, uncomplicated. And I think today we have a very complicated world. And it just made me step back a bit for my own self and my family.
Zydalis Bauer: So, from the beginning, when you started going through all of the photos and restoring them, you knew immediately that they should be an exhibition of some sort.
So, what is your end goal for this collection?
Terri Cappucci: Well, I am printing some of these and I would like to get a couple of shows going in different places. There’s different themes here, I’ve got one local theme from just Franklin County. These are mostly from Western Mass, there are a few from other areas.
There’s also a book idea that could happen. And, you know, I don’t know –I’ve considered starting a nonprofit of my own, I do have the background for it, so it’s not like it would be as hard for me to start. But I do know that eventually, they will probably be in an archive somewhere that is a permanent home for them, because I don’t want to see this — these things destroyed.
There’s real history here, that almost made it to a trash can.