The back of a photograph with a date of November 1952. The "2" is crossed out and replaced with a "3."

Front and Rear

Consider the rear of your images as you are digitizing. Perhaps you want to preserve the handwriting of a deceased loved one, or your own childhood handwriting.  Maybe whatever was written there made you chuckle. You might want a record of the stamped photographer information or numbering from the development process.  Obviously, names and dates recorded on the rear can help you to organize your scanned images.  A note of caution:  based on my own experience, the information on the rear isn’t always correct; don’t get so deep into digitization mode that you fail to identify inconsistencies.  And what’s up with my use of the term “rear” instead of “back?”  

I miss their handwriting

My mother and father passed away in 2017 and 2018, respectively.  I did a so-so job of keeping cards and notes in their handwriting.  If I had known my mother would be diagnosed with Alzheimers in my early 30s, I would have kept more!  As her disease progressed, I did commit to preserving more items my father wrote to me.  When I find their handwriting on family photos that I am digitizing, I feel an urge to preserve it.  

Infrequently, the writing appears on the front.  I am not sure why my father chose green marking pen and the front of this photograph instead of the rear.  I could crop this out, or use a brushing tool to paint over it, but I plan to keep it just as I found it. 

A picture of an infant girl in a yellow dress. SUSAN is written in block capitals in the lower left corner of the photo. The photo has a light pink background.
My father’s block capitals in green marking pen.

Susy & Kenn

My eldest sister is 18 years older than me.  She left home in 1974, and she was married in 1975.  We don’t know the exact year of this photo, but she believes it was shortly after her marriage, so mid-1970s.  The family archive has several copies of this photo:  8 x 10”, 3.5 x 4.75”, and two wallet-size images.  On the back of one wallet image, someone wrote, “Susy & Kenn.”  It’s a child’s writing, so I am pretty sure it is mine.  This brought a grin to my face when I saw it, for several reasons.  I don’t remember calling her Susy.  I also think the spelling is interesting – I would have expected Suzie or Susie.  I also imagine the excitement of a newly-married couple having a photo taken together:  paying for copies in various sizes, wanting to share with family, and carefully monitoring the expense.  Even a wallet image would have been precious.  This was the 1970s, remember. Six-year-old me was probably pretty excited to receive this wallet photo.

A man on the left and a woman on the right pose for a formal portrait. The woman is wearing a pink sweater and has shoulder-length brown hair. The man is wearing a white button-down shirt and has a mustache.
My newly-married sister and her husband, ca mid-1970s.
The back of a wallet-sized photograph. In a child's handwriting is written: "Susy & Kenn."
Pretty neat printing for six years old.

A young mother, one year behind

I have only scanned about 30 images, but I have already encountered two errors on the part of my mother.  This image of Susan says 17 months old, with a date of November 1952.  But Sue was born in 1952, mid-year.  This is clearly November 1953, not 1952.

A 17-month old girl is standing in a driveway. A 1950s car is behind her in the garage. She is wearing pants, a coat, and a hat tied under her chin.
All bundled up for November in Ohio.
The back of a 1950s photo. A woman has written her daughter's full name, age, and the date taken (month, year).
I trust the number of months over the year.

For this series of formal portraits, most had both Sue’s age and the year on the rear.  One was completely blank; fortunately, my sister’s changing appearance over the years makes it clear where that particular photo belongs.  Another had only the age on the back (6), but then I noticed that the copyright stamp included a year with an “8” at the end.  It read, “19 8” – but I know it was the 1950s, so 1958. That would be the correct year for age 6.  One photo had a year and date, but they didn’t agree.  The age was 5, but the year was 1956 (age 5 would have been 1957).  By comparing the photos across the years, I was able to deduce that the age was correct, and the year was wrong.  Plus, my mother had the year wrong on that other photo (above), so she probably made the same mistake here. I am not judging my mother for getting the years wrong on two photos of her young daughter.  Time was probably moving very fast!

A screen shot of four images of a young girl. From left to right, she is age 3, 4, 5, and 6.
The second image had no date or age; the third image had the incorrect year; the last image only had the year in the photographer’s stamp.

Storing the rear image

I wanted to scan front and rear as multi-TIFF images, which my Epson scanner will do.  A multi-TIFF file has both images (front and rear) in a single TIFF file (just as you can have multiple pages in a PDF file).  However, I was only able to create multi-TIFF files successfully in the scanner’s Document mode; in Photo mode, the output was two separate TIFF files, not a single TIFF file.  Document mode is not acceptable to me for scanning photographs (the quality is insufficient), so I settled on scanning the front and rear as single TIFF files.  Below is an example of my file naming convention.

A screen shot of six filenames demonstrating the use of "front" and "rear" at the end of the filenames.
I want the front image to always appear before the rear image, so I avoided using the term “back.”

If I had used the term “back,” those images would have sorted before the corresponding “front” images (“b” comes before “f”).

Stacking images in Lr

I am using Lightroom (Lr) for managing my photos, and there is an ability to stack images.  Using this feature, I can associate the front and rear images in Lightroom and only display the front. 

Two 1950s photographs appear. A young girl on the left and a man and daughter on the right. Both have a small "2" in the upper right corner.
Both of these photographs have a single stacked image beneath them.

Simply click on the number in the upper right corner to display whatever is stacked:

An image appears on the left with a "2" beneath it. To the right, two other images appear. One is the front of a photograph, the other is the rear of the photograph.
Unstacking the images on the left shows the front and rear of the actual photograph.

Stacking is also useful when you have digitized a variety of related images.  These formal portraits and proofs from my sister’s senior year of high school are also stacked in Lightroom.

On the left, an image with an "8" under it appears. To its right are eight other images, each a bit different. They are of a female high school senior.
The eight senior portraits are unstacked in this screenshot.

Summation

I do not have an overwhelming number of photos with information on the rear.  Certainly, scanning the rear of photographs makes for a longer digitization process.  I intend to be selective.  I am not scanning the rear just because something appears there.  I consider whether the content has meaning to me or to others in my family and scan accordingly.

5 thoughts on “Front and Rear

  1. scanyourentirelife says:

    I very much enjoyed your post Sharyn. I love how deeply you incorporate your love for preserving and acknowledging the unique personalities of your family members found in the photographs under your care.

    It makes me wonder if there should be a process created for when an error is determined to have been found written on an original. In the example you gave where your Mother accidentally wrote the wrong year, I can see how it’s best to scan the rear of the photo as is to preserve what she wrote. But, a year from now if you or someone else pulled up that scan, you could be enticed to go back into a similar (time consuming) investigative process of trying to figure out why your Mom’s handwriting says one date, but your revised metadata for the “capture time” says another.

    We may all think we will remember discovering the error and to which photos the captures were mis-recorded — but will we years from now? Will the heirs of our collections magically know some day as well?

    Like

    • Sharyn Campbell says:

      Yes, I always wonder how to record additional insights about an image. The file name field isn’t the appropriate place for such detail. I make use of the caption field in Lightroom, although I mostly want to record what the image represents in that field. What to do with the other details that may be of use to someone, but are part of the deeper story of the image, not the cursory information? My oldest sister always has a one-paragraph summary about images when I ask her about them. I love these stories and want to preserve them, but they are a level deeper than most applications seem designed to handle. I haven’t explored SmugMug yet, but I hear positive comments about it; perhaps it is a place to capture some of the depth.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s