This week we have a real treat. I will introduce you to the Museum's newest acquisition, the W.F. Laraway Collection. You may recall a few years ago I shared some lower resolution digital images with you, but now we have access to the actual negatives shot by W.F. Laraway himself. Today I'll tell you what's in the collection, and tomorrow you'll hear the story of how the collection survived all these years and wound up in our custody.
William Fouts Laraway was an orchardist, jeweler, watch maker, and optician-- first in Iowa, then in Oregon. He was an accomplished photographer by the time he moved from Glenwood, Iowa to Hood River in 1905. The collection appears to date from about 1895 until his passing in 1928. It includes over 600 glass negatives, mostly 5"x7" plates.
This particular image is catalog #A-277, described as "Percy B. Laraway and a big one." Percy was W.F. and Adah Laraway's son. I believe that's a steelhead, but I'm sure someone will let us know for sure. You can see here the remarkable quality and detail captured in such a large negative. Based on my experience I've chosen to scan it at 1600dpi, making for a 90 megapixel image.
Laraway started shooting 5" x 7" glass plate negatives about 1900. Sensitized glass plates had to be loaded into carriers, one at a time, in a dark room or closet. The camera was a large wooden box on a tripod with a fixed focal length lens. He would focus the lens on a ground glass backing plate, set the exposure, then attach the carrier to the camera and trigger the shutter for the appropriate length exposure. Some of his images were self portraits, so he had to be clever using a string to trigger the shutter.
Laraway apparently developed the negatives himself. A large negative like this was perfect for making a contact print. The negative was placed on photographic paper, exposed to light, and you could make as many copies of the negative as you wanted at the size of the original plate. This was a major advance over tintypes and daguerreotypes, which only made one copy. It was ideal for working in a photo studio, but field work was challenging. You needed to transport a heavy camera and tripod, along with plenty of heavy glass plates and carriers.
Much of Laraway's photography was in the field, which makes it especially fun for us. I have no idea how many plates Laraway exposed in his life, but more than 600 have survived to present day. They show everyday life in Iowa and Oregon from about 1895 until he passed away in 1928. Almost all of these negatives are well-exposed and focused, which makes me think we're only seeing the "keepers."
Glass negatives are both fragile and surprisingly durable. If the glass wasn't broken and the emulsion was reasonably protected, the image has no problem surviving the century. Compare this to film negatives of the era, where the backing chemically decays, or many color negatives of the 1950s or 1960s, that fade badly in normal storage. The other surprise is how much a 5x7 negative can capture. Plates like Laraway used had a very fine grain (physical structure) so they captured imagery at a very high resolution. A 5x7 plate is 35 square inches, while a 35mm camera captured an image a little larger than 1 square inch. If the photographer used a tripod to eliminate camera movement, had a good quality lens and knew how to focus it, the detail captured was far more than anyone would have enjoyed with a contact print. From this scan I can see individual scales on the fish's back, which happens to be the best focus in this image. This means that every scan in this collection may have hidden detail which even Laraway never saw.
This amazing collection is now safely stored in the Museum's "Photo Cave" awaiting scanning. This process can't be rushed-- I can't risk breaking any negatives, and I have to carefully clean each negative and the scanner before each scan. The individual scans are painfully slow, but I'll admit it is thrilling to see the image appear a line at a time on the computer screen. This process won't be complete any time soon, but you'll get to enjoy it alongside me through these posts.
Tomorrow-- how the collection got from a camera to a barn to our Museum.
Yes, it's a Steelhead, maybe 7 pounds!
Dale Nicol on 1st March 2021 @ 7:03am
Such a resemblance to the grown up Percy I knew. Percy. Percy's father had been married prior to Percy's mother. The first wife was Olive "Ollie" Stockwell. She had one daughter Adah and then died in 1914. He later married Grace Turney, a local school teacher and they had Percy.
The original Laraway farm was at the corner of Eastside Road and Glass Road in Pine Grove. Then later they relocated to on the west side of Eastside Road across from the farm of Vic and Daisy Thompson. Percy would also buy the orchard of Andrew Stricker and Molly (Paisley) Wells , his wife. This land is on the otherside side of Eastside where Whiskey Creek goes down west to link up with Hwy 35. These orchards would eventually be taken over by Percy's son Bill.
Charlott on 1st March 2021 @ 7:17am
Thank you and the Laraway family for this collection. I hope to see one of his watches.
Jeffrey Bryant on 1st March 2021 @ 7:18am
What a treasure and a big thank you to the Laraway family. And thank you Arthur for the interesting explanation about glass negatives.
cg on 1st March 2021 @ 7:40am
That is a better photo than what my i-phone takes. Of course....it might have something to do with the photographer.
L.E. on 1st March 2021 @ 8:01am
I'll only add that the larger the negative (5x7 is big, imagine 8x10!), the harder it is to actually get much in focus. The bigger the negative is, the narrower the slice of distance that's in focus when all else is equal. All of which to say, it's even more impressive that he managed to do it well over 600 times. That's a lot of work.
Kyle on 1st March 2021 @ 8:23am
The fishing reel is a real puzzle. It doesn't appear to have a handle-shank and knob to reel it in with. Additionally, it appears to be mounted on its side.
Rawhyde on 1st March 2021 @ 8:29am
Amazing details! What caught my eye was the Douglas maple whip he used the string his catch. Wonderfully simple!
Tom Kloster on 1st March 2021 @ 8:30am
You can see his depth of field is pretty narrow. Mr. Laraway was a man of much care and detail and precision. Thank you to him and to you. Marvelous pictures.
nels on 1st March 2021 @ 9:00am
Good point about the reel Rawhyde. I had assume there was a knob on the other side, but the other side is mounted to the rod so that can't be. There is a nub sticking out at the middle of the reel, so I wonder if the handle has just gotten too loose to stay on? Maybe he keeps it in his pocket and slips it on when he needs it?
ArthurB on 1st March 2021 @ 9:49am
Interesting clothing details such as fabric, band at neck of shirt and button holes all the way up the lapel. Is that a common way to carry a large fish--flexible maple branch?
cg on 1st March 2021 @ 10:05am
I think that's a spring operated fly fishing reel. One fights the fish with the rod when fly fishing, so the reel is merely a storage device.
starboard on 1st March 2021 @ 11:53am
Notice the pocket watch in his chest pocket with the leather strap to a hole in the top of his bib pants.
Gordon Cook on 1st March 2021 @ 12:56pm
This picture goes into the file of top pictures. Thanks Arthur. And Mr. Laraway.
nels on 1st March 2021 @ 8:41pm
Looks like Percy is up against the tree stump to keep him from moving around.
LMH on 1st March 2021 @ 10:45pm
I have carried many fish from the river on a branch such as that. What a fine clear photo. The reel is in fact a self wind reel. You can see a small lever at the top of the reel against the rod. I have one of these reels in storage in my collection.
rkupe on 2nd March 2021 @ 1:50am
Wow, what a gift those negatives are. Thank you so very much Arthur for the time and work it takes to give us this opportunity of seeing our past. The Hood River Valley is rich in history for sure!
Alley on 2nd March 2021 @ 6:30am
Charlotte I am Percy's great granddaughter. Your info is one generation off. Percy was first married to Olive Stockwell who died in 1914 when my grandmother, Adah, was about 11. Percy then married Grace and they had Bill. I knew Percy well as he died in 1965 when I was 18. Grace was the only great grandmother I knew, a lovely soul who died in 1977. I lived with my grandmother Adah and we spent many a weekend and holidays in Hood River where she kept a bedroom in her father's house. I, along with my cousin Janet, were instrumental in getting this collection to the museum.
Stephanie Fincher on 10th March 2021 @ 5:42pm