N&W photos

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Mon Mar 2 14:02:23 EST 2020

Ken This is a topic well worth documenting. The photo lab was a remarkable combination of photographic and artistic talent as you well know.      John Garner

-----Original Message-----
From: NW Mailing List [mailto:nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org] 
Sent: Saturday, February 29, 2020 8:31 PM
To: NW Mailing List <nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org>
Subject: Re: N&W photos


I’ve been studying the N&W photos since I interned in the Photo Lab in college. I have been writing what can become a book of that history of the photographers (who mostly remain unsung or unknown) and the work they did.

The photo work began in the latter half of 1916 as part of the Motive Power Department. The original photographer, who’s name is now lost to history, was apparently charged with recording property and the condition of it prior to the takeover of the railroads by the federal government. It was also deemed necessary towards the valuation study of the railroad’s property that the government had decreed a few years prior. 

One of the results of that were the valuation maps as we know them, with a “V” section and number, most of those originally dated to 1916 if you study them, this also applies to the Virginian.

The original photographer went out with his view camera and a number of glass plate 8x10 film, and recorded locations. I believe initially it was thought to record every depot and other important buildings. Negatives were processed and labeled with india ink directly on the plate with the negative number, and in some cases with the V section and name of the place. Those negative numbers began with 1000. At some point, perhaps about a year or so in, someone higher up in the company decided that not every depot was to be recorded on film. It is a bit of a puzzle, coverage of some places (the Shenandoah Division north of Roanoke) has a large number of images of virtually every important company structure (and some others). Some other locations, such as branch lines, got no coverage, even with depots in place. 

The N&W was unusual in this coverage, as they probably did the broadest job of coverage of the railroad that I have seen. Like the Virginian, virtually nothing for valuation other than standard forms, sketches, etc. But coverage on some locations was poorer than others. Most tended to made on one or two trips, so they tended to be in the same year.

So probably about 2,000 or so glass plates later, the railroad had decided that some of the work could also be advertising work, documentation of equipment or conditions. Somewhere about this time, the glass plates truly became more cumbersome, and sheet film became accepted. That number series of 8x10 negatives (and some 5x7) continued on. About this time, with the staff expanded, they also began shooting some other material on smaller format negatives, mostly for the Magazine which began in June 1923, those tended to be numbered from 1-999, with lots of sub letters or numbers with multiple pieces of film under the same file number.

Then in June of 1939, they began to standardize on either 4x5 film or 8x10 film, the 4x5 film began to be numbered in the 500000 series, again, some with sub letters or numbers. The 8x10 film continued to be used for more important things, numbered sequentially eventually reaching the 35000 series. It was later that anything shot, be it 35mm, 120 film or 4x5 film hit the 500000 series. The color transparencies, which began about 1940 with the advent of Kodachrome, was almost exclusively 4x5 film, but I have never managed (or spent the time) to understand the numbering system.

So, to sum up, yes, it is possible to come up with a date, sometimes very specific, sometimes a year or year and month, if you have enough detailed data to work with (i.e. enough dated prints or negatives).

Sorry for the overlong and detailed answer. If there is enough interest, I’ll continue with the book.


> On Feb 29, 2020, at 4:25 PM, NW Mailing List <nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org> wrote:
> Many of the N&W corporate photographs have numbers on them.  Are these some form of serialization?  Is there any way to relate these numbers to the date that the photo was taken?  Also, some have a notation "V.S.- # VA".  Does this indicate that the photo was made for a "valuation survey"?  If so, were all photos from a particular survey made in the same year and further are the years known for particular surveys?
> Thanks,
> Jim Cochran
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