Ever since photography came into being in the early 1800’s, it has become an important part of history reference. We can go back in time and actually see the event that took place or the site of a building or important area. It places things in prospective, and gives us a sense of being there, so to speak. I can totally place myself at the site of the photograph and actually see what the site the picture taken perhaps 100 years ago looks like today. It gives you a greater understanding of the event or the building or the people involved in a certain event.
The Louisiana History Museum has built up a collection of almost 2,000 photographs over the years. The pictures are taken from large collections and from families that have helped build Central Louisiana in the past. I can spend hours looking at the photograph database the museum has put together. I know it will play an important role in preserving the past for our future. I am very proud of that fact.
The process of preserving and restoring photographs from our past is a slow and precise routine. I take the photo and scan it into a computer at high resolution. Then, I label it, including a name and a location. The next step is to restore it by removing scratches and spots that have impaired it over time. Then I balance the brightness and contrast, all utilizing specialized computer software. Hopefully the end results is a much better and clearer image than it was before.
Subject matter is very important. A large group of people is useless unless the event and names of the subject’s in the photo are recorded. Buildings are most of the time easy to pinpoint and classify. Events are fantastic, if you have the details. Most of the time, you find the event described on the back of the photo or, sometimes even on the front. A photograph of a person is not so important unless that person is one that has left his or her mark on Central Louisiana. But do not get me wrong, each photo has a history of some type. We just have to find it and label it correctly. Sadly sometime that cannot be done.
So, what kind of photo is the museum looking for? All kinds—places, homes, events and celebrations. Photographs of either of our two fair cities—Alexandria or Pineville—historic logging camps, industries, parks and attractions all make for good records. We also need photos of the railroad yards, round house and engines that helped build the industry of Central Louisiana. The museum has very little on that subject. Old auto dealer’s showrooms and lots and buildings are of great interest. Early photos of the City Park and the first zoo, as well as of homes that are no longer standing give great insight into Alexandria’s past—the older, the better. Great finds could also include photos from either of the World Wars and accompanying military installations from around the Central Louisiana area, or the old city halls and government buildings. Our want list is seemingly endless.
The museum has released a two DVD set of photographs of Central Louisiana over the past 100 years, and we have not even scratched the surface. The DVD set runs an hour and a half with photos never before published. We sell it for forty dollars, with proceeds benefitting the museum upkeep fund. Photographs are a small niche of a large collection of artifacts on display at the museum. They are an art form important to our past and future. If you have photos of Central Louisiana tucked away in a trunk or your attic or an old album, please consider sharing them with us. You can donate them to the museum or let us scan them in to our computer and return them to you. The important thing is we need these snapshots of history for those who come after us. Artifacts are also important, including old calendars of long gone businesses, utensils and machines of the past. They all come into play. Anything out of the past can be donated to the museum or placed on loan.
So, before you through away that old box of photos or materials, think about the museum. Please give consideration to us if you have anything that might be of interest. We are located at 503 Washington Street. You can contact the Museum at (318) 487-8556 or at [email protected]. I hope you and your family have a happy and peaceful New Year.