New ‘look dater’ tool to help decode historic photos

7 Posted by - 19 May 2016 - Events, Feature stories

A unique photo-dating tool – the first of its kind in Australia – is set to transform the way genealogists and family historians trace their ancestors.

Inside History magazine is partnering with State Library of NSW to create a dynamic and freely accessible website, built on the expertise of Library staff and its rich collections, to assist users to date family photographs based on how we dress!

“Our readers commonly request help with identifying when family pictures were made,” says Inside History editor Cassie Mercer. “With funding support from Arts NSW, we’re thrilled to be working with the State Library on this pioneering online tool that will provide vital information in piecing together a family history.”

Women on Sydney Street, c.1900, glass negative by Frederick Danvers Power. Courtesy State Library NSW.

Women on Sydney Street, c.1900, glass negative by Frederick Danvers Power. Courtesy State Library NSW.

Up to 200 images from the State Library’s diverse collections (including paintings, drawings, miniatures, silhouettes, engraving and photographs,) dating from 1788 to 1955, will be arranged in a chronological timeline and form the visual centrepiece for the website.

This core set of downloadable images will be supported by an impeccably researched reference guide, developed by the State Library’s dress and cultural historian Margot Riley.

“Users will be guided through a step-by-step process of accurately dating and interpreting images through Australia’s dress history (eg. style of clothing and accessories worn, hairstyles, etc), and also by studying the detail within the portrait image (eg. backdrop used and photographic studio details) and other key factors,” says Ms Riley.

Summer Social activities, Woman's day and home Magazine, December 1950. Courtesy State Library NSW.

Summer Social activities, Woman’s day and home Magazine, December 1950. Courtesy State Library NSW.

Our creative team here at Inside History magazine will lead the project. To our excitement, the History Council of NSW is auspicing this project.

“The History Council of NSW is always keen to support the creation of diverse, innovative and accessible historical works,” says Nicole Cama, Executive Officer, History Council NSW. “Digital history is an exciting area and Inside History’s dynamic ‘look-dater’ tool will be a welcome and colourful addition to this space with its use of the State Library of NSW’s rich collections.”

“Historians, researchers and history enthusiasts all over have demonstrated what can be achieved with free access to Australia’s cultural collections online, who knows what amazing stories will be unearthed using Inside History’s unique research tool?”

“This will be a highly anticipated resource not only for family and local historians, especially those in regional and remote areas, but also the film industry, designers, collectors, vintage clothing enthusiasts and students,” says Ms Riley, who was consulted for costume accuracy for productions like The Great Gatsby and A Place to Call Home.

According to Cassie Mercer, this much-needed public resource will hopefully encourage information exchanges between libraries, historical societies, community groups and individuals which will ultimately enhance our collective heritage.

“We have received incredible support from history societies and public libraries across the state who plan to use the new website to date photographs in their own collections and thereby increase their value to local users,” says Ms Mercer.

The new website is expected to be launched early next year. The community will be invited to help us pick the perfect name for the website. Stay tuned for further updates on this exciting project.

Portrait of an unidentified man, April 1842, watercolour by Edmund Edgar. Courtesy State Library NSW.

Portrait of an unidentified man, April 1842, watercolour by Edmund Edgar. Courtesy State Library NSW.

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