A title page for a catalogue that accompanied a photography exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in 2009.

More on Robert Frank

I decided to dive deeper into the photography of Robert Frank. Looking In: Robert Frank’s “The Americans” is the catalogue that accompanied an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in early 2009. The catalogue is organized into chapters of Frank’s life and examines how these various time periods impacted his art.

I wrote about my first experience with Robert Frank’s The Americans after being inspired by a podcast. Having spent several weeks with the 370-page catalogue, I am now able to appreciate his evolution as a photographer (and, later, beyond photography).

I was fascinated by advice from Brodovitch (a photographer who Frank studied with in the 1940s):

He urged them [his students] to use blur, imprecise focus, and large foreground forms; to bleach their negatives; to radically crop and distort their prints; to print two photographs on top of each other; and even to put gauze over the lens of their enlargers — to do anything, in short, to capture not the facts of a scene or event but their experience of it.

Greenough, Sarah. “Resisting Intelligence: Zurich to New York.” Looking In: Robert Frank’s “The Americans”, edited by Sarah Greenough, National Gallery of Art, Washington, in association with Steidl, 2009, p. 18.

As Frank travelled America on his Guggenheim Fellowship, and especially after a worrisome experience in Arkansas, his approach changed:

No longer striving for poetic effect or even beautiful photographs, he now openly sought to express his opinions about what he saw — his anger at the abuse of power, his suspicion of wealth and its privileges, his support for those less fortunate, and, most of all, his fears about the kind of culture he saw emerging in this country.

Greenough, Sarah. “Disordering the Senses: Guggenheim Fellowship.” Looking In: Robert Frank’s “The Americans”, edited by Sarah Greenough, National Gallery of Art, Washington, in association with Steidl, 2009, p. 128.

I was also intrigued by the approach of Storylines, which opened in London in 2006. Philip Brookman writes that it

began with a complete set of enlarged proof sheets detailing every strip of film containing a negative that was published in The Americans. Here one could study Frank’s work frame by frame with a sense of continuity to see what came before and what came after the iconic images that are known.

Brookman, Philip. “The Silence of Recognition: Exhibiting Robert Frank’s Americans.” Looking In: Robert Frank’s “The Americans”, edited by Sarah Greenough, National Gallery of Art, Washington, in association with Steidl, 2009, p. 331.

I wish I could have seen that exhibit. 

Over 60 years have passed since Robert Frank travelled America, responding to what he saw and experienced. His images continue to demonstrate the work that we human beings who call ourselves Americans have in front of us as we enter the third decade of the 21st century.

An empty cardboard photo frame appears in the center. It is surrounded by seven images that were stored in the frame.

Hidden Images

A cardboard folder had additional images behind the two on display. Always remove images from frames or folders and check to see what else is there!

Five hidden prints

This cardboard picture folder had seen better days. I often scan photos while in their folders, then I remove the prints for a second scan with no folder present. I enjoy having a record of the old cardboard folder frames.

An off-white cardboard frame with two sides. A girl with a red bow in her hair is on the left, and a girl with a white bow in her hair is on the right. The girls are sisters.
My grandmother certainly got a lot of use out of this cardboard frame! It is not clean, but the photos inside are in good shape. Amazingly, the cardboard is not torn.

When I removed the 1960s pictures of my sisters from the frame, to my surprise, I found five additional images. The frame did not look like it could hold so many photos.

The lower right image is my mother, probably in high school. The lower left image is her younger brother. The middle image on the right read, “To Aunt Esther,” on the rear (probably cousin Sam) – so now I know this frame came from my grandparents’ home. I’ll keep that in mind as I consider who the other two individuals might be – relatives, I expect.

An empty cardboard photo frame appears in the center. It is surrounded by seven images that were stored in the frame.
Two of these folks are unknown; I hope other family photos will help me identify them and confirm my suspicions for a third.

Slow down

As we were reviewing and consolidating items from my father’s apartment after his death, I was removing 8×10 prints from old frames (some of which were broken and at risk of damaging the prints). I was working fast and talking to my two sisters while doing this. A day or so later, sister Sandi discovered that I missed an 8×10 picture of sister Sue. It would have been thrown away!

A one-year-old girl is seated on a leather stool for a formal portrait. She is holding a stffed animal. The bottoms of her shoes are showing, and her hands are raised at waist height.
Susan, circa 1953, about one year old.

My mother displayed recent photos in 8×10 frames, and her way of storing older photos was to keep them in the frame, behind the photo on display. Sometimes cardboard and other paper got mixed in with these collections. I obviously wasn’t careful enough while going through this material. My advice – slow down and look at both sides of everything you touch.

A 7-year-old girl sits at a dining room table with a cake and candles in front of her. A buffet with birthday cards is behind her.

Clothing Helps and Hinders

I rely on clothing to help date photographs relative to each other. Sometimes this reliance is helpful, other times it sends me down the wrong path. I usually find my way back, but only after considering additional features of the images.

Formal family portrait

My focus on dresses began with a family portrait. There are many variations from that day (different poses & backgrounds, mother & father only, daughters only). Each time I discovered another of the ten images from this series, I eagerly turned it over, hoping for definitive labeling on the rear.

A 1976 formal family portrait taken by Olan Mills. A family of five is pictured: parents, two older daughters, and a younger daughter.
Ten images in this series, with little guidance on the date.

Finally, I happened upon a single 3×4 image that my mother took the time to label.

The rear of a 1976 family portrait; a mother recorded the date and who is pictured.
The detail lends credibility to the date recorded.

Unfortunately, I later came across two others from the series where she had written “73-74” on the rear. Since Mom was very specific with the June 1976 labeling, I am going to discount the “73-74” labels. (Was it 1973, or 1974? Or neither? Obviously she wasn’t sure when she recorded the information). The 1976 documentation is much more specific and thus reliable.

Two dresses repeat

It appears that two of us in the family portrait were wearing the same dresses in 1974 pictures. I know from the development date on the back that this photo dates to 1974, although my sisters and I are unable to determine the event. My oldest sister is wearing the same pink dress and scarf as in the family portrait, taken two years later.

A father poses with his three daughters in a living room. The two adult daughters are on either side of him. The youngest daughter is in front of him. He is wearing a suit and tie with a pipe in his mouth.
The pink scarf is tied differently in 1974, but it’s the same outfit as 1976.

This 1974 Christmas image shows me wearing the same dress I wore in the 1976 family portrait. I remember the pink ribbon around my waist. I find it hard to believe that I hadn’t outgrown this dress 18 months later; I do have a vague recollection of it being a tight fit for the family portrait.

A 4-year-old girl is seated on a floor with a blue balloon on her left and a Fisher Price castle toy on her right. There are two horses in front of the castle.
The dress was acquired in 1974; perfect for playing with the Fisher Price castle.

I find it surprising that two of us wore the same dresses for events in both 1974 and 1976. I kept trying to make all of these photos fit into the same year because of the dresses. I finally realized that the images were from two different time periods, two years apart.

Dating a childhood portrait

I wore the same floral dress with a pink ribbon in this formal portrait, which was not dated by my mother. Comparing it to the holiday photos from 1974, I believe my age in this portrait is more reflective of 1974 than 1976.

A black & white portrait, but the same dress as the color photos above.

Significant events in 1974

As noted above, my sisters and I don’t know what event prompted these particular photos. I am puzzled, because everyone seems to be dressed up except for me (the short one). I have a timeline of significant events in my family; I refer to it when I encounter images like these with no obvious story.

There were two significant events in June 1974 that might explain these photographs. My oldest sister (pink dress) graduated from college, and my parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. We expect that the adults in the family were going out to dinner to celebrate one or both events, while the youngest member of the family (age 3.5 years) probably stayed home (or maybe I just wouldn’t wear a dress).

25th anniversary portraits

My parents are wearing the same outfits in these formal portraits. Although not dated, we surmise they were also taken in 1974.

Formal portraits of a man and woman, in a paper frame supplied by the photography studio, Olan Mills. The man is holding a pipe and wears a plaid suit. The woman wears a pink and white vest over a white top and wears a silver necklace.
These formal portraits likely commemorate a 25th wedding anniversary.

It’s not the same day as the family snapshots above – my mother’s necklace is different, as are my father’s tie, pipe, and shirt. These portraits were probably taken to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, as there are no accompanying pictures that include the three daughters.

The long quilted dress

I don’t have fond memories of this dress; the bottom half was quilted and itchy. It was long and too warm. Although I remember the dress, I went round in circles trying to figure out what birthday these pictures are from. Some of the candles on the cake are partially obscured, so I cannot count them (a technique I used successfully for other images). The development date of January 1978 on one would imply my 7th birthday in December 1977.

A 7-year-old girl sits at a dining room table with a cake and candles in front of her. A buffet with birthday cards is behind her.
The development date in the lower right corner helps to date this photo.

However, a previous review of these images led me to believe it was my 6th birthday. I finally realized that my hair is different – in the image below, I have bangs. In the image with the birthday cake, I don’t.

I evidently wore this dress for two birthdays: 1976 and 1977. I was trying to force these photos into a single occasion, but they actually represent two different birthdays.

The red jumpsuit

One other clothing detail helped me solidify dates for these pictures. In the photo below, my sister is folding a red jumpsuit as I move on to the next gift.

A 6-year-old girl opens her birthday gifts in a living room. An older friend is on her right, then the girl's mother, older sister, brother-in-law, middle sister, and another adult male.

I wore that same red jumpsuit in my kindergarten class portrait, dated 1976-77. I don’t know if the portrait was taken before the end of the calendar year or the next year.

A kindergarten class picture with 26 students, taken in Ohio between fall 1976 and spring 1977.
The red jumpsuit: third from left, front row.

The most likely explanation is that I received the jumpsuit as a gift in December 1976 and then wore it for my kindergarten portrait in winter or spring 1977. I see two other jumpsuits in the class photo (girl in brown and gold, second row; girl in blue, far right, first row). Mine was a red knit with colorful trim. I think it also had a hood.

Stripes correct errors

I have written previously about incorrect labeling of family photos. Be prepared to question everything in writing! Below is another formal portrait from my childhood. My father labeled it on the front in his block capitals, and my mother labeled it on the rear. Both claim that I am three years old in this portrait. Looking at this photo in relation to all of the others from the 1970s, I am clearly older.

Here’s a reliable image of me at age 3, with my grandparents’ dog (whose name we don’t remember).

A photo of a 3-year-old girl seated on the floor with a black dog next to her. A sofa and magazine rack are behind them.
A three-year-old me; definitely younger than the portrait with the bouquet.

I was able to date the formal portrait by comparing it to a single image in which I appear from December 1976. Although faded, I am certain that this dress is the same as the formal portrait; the stripes on the arms and bodice are the same. Now I know the portrait dates to 1976, not 1973!

A 6-year-old girl playing with toys on a living room floor. She is wearing a turquoise jumper with a striped top underneath.
My birthday or Christmas, both in December 1976 (developed April 1977).

In summary

As one attempts to date photographs, clothing is only one factor to consider. I’ve noticed that my grandmother wore the same attire at holiday events repeatedly over the years. Based on my review of the photos in this post, so did sisters, mothers, and fathers. Even for children who may quickly outgrow things, clothing isn’t a reliable method for dating photographs. Important events called for our best attire, and quality clothing was worn by everyone in my family for various occasions over multiple years.

Comparing different types of photos – formal portraits, family snapshots, and class photos – can help determine whether documented dates are accurate and solidify dates you have already deduced. Assess all images in your family collection, regardless of format (e.g., videos and slides may offer insight beyond prints).

Although the events that prompted particular photographs may never be known for certain, referring to a list of key family events and dates may help narrow down the potential occasions for a select photograph.

Seven adults are seated around a dining room table. A holiday centerpiece appears in the center of the table. They are likely eating dessert, as there are no serving dishes on the table.

Looking Within Photographs

In reviewing 1974 Christmas photographs, I remembered some fun details to include in the Caption field in Lightroom. I also realized that these images preserve my maternal grandfather’s last Christmas.

Fruit for Christmas

At first glance, this image captures my father explaining a new toy train to me. Then, the round red object in my right hand caught my eye. Is it a ball? Next, I noticed a round orange object on the new toy train – an edible orange! The object in my right hand must be an apple.

A father is on the right, pointing to a toy train. On the left, a 4-year-old girl is listening intently to what he is saying about her new toy. The train has an orange on it, and the young girl is holding an apple inner right hand.
I am listening intently about this train hauling fruit.

My parents were children of the Depression. They always received fruit for Christmas when they were young (a real treat in the 1920s and 1930s). Tradition required that me and my sisters would receive several pieces of fruit in the very bottoms of our Christmas stockings. This particular year, my fruit gifts served a dual purpose.

Fortunately, the Caption field in Lightroom has sufficient space for me to document the fruit memories as well as other details about this photograph.

Pictures within pictures

At least half a dozen times so far, I have used pictures displayed on a piece of furniture or hung on a wall to help date the picture in which they appear. In this photo of my grandmother, the bride in the wedding photo on the bottom shelf of the table was the daughter of close family friends.

A grandmother is seated on a living room chair. There are presents on the floor on both sides of her chair. She is wearing a green and white dress and has her legs crossed.
The wedding photo on the bottom shelf offers clues.

The friends’ daughter was married in 1974, so it must be Christmas 1974 or a subsequent Christmas. The back of the above photo indicates it was developed in January 1975, reinforcing that this picture is from Christmas Day 1974.

If you know the date of a picture within a picture, then the image you are attempting to date must have been taken after the known date.

A last Christmas

My paternal grandparents died more than a decade before I was born. I have limited memories of my maternal grandparents. As I come across photos of my mother’s parents, I find myself wondering when the images were taken relative to their deaths. I realized that these Christmas 1974 photos represent my maternal grandfather’s last Christmas.

Compared to photos from just a year or two earlier, my grandfather appears more frail.

Final time with relatives

My sisters and I know that the individuals around this dining table are relatives of my grandfather’s, who is seated with his back to the camera.

Seven adults are seated around a dining room table. A holiday centerpiece appears in the center of the table. They are likely eating dessert, as there are no serving dishes on the table.
A final holiday season.

This picture is also from 1974; from the centerpiece on the table, I know it is still the holiday season. My grandfather’s shirt is not the same one worn on Christmas (photos above), although my grandmother’s dress is the same (she is to his right). It must be a different day in late December. How heartwarming to see that my mother hosted these relatives of her father’s during the busy holiday season. We did not see these relatives often and cannot identify all of them. It seems likely this was the last time they saw my grandfather before his death in the first quarter of 1975.

I find that I have a broader appreciation for images when I consider them relative to other major events.

A father is holding a two-year-old daughter so that she can blow out candles on her birthday cake, which her mother is holding.

Two Candles; It Must Be 1972

Dating photographs and identifying the events in them is a continuous process with my family’s collection of images. Photos have been removed from albums, reorganized into new albums, or left loose. Some pictures have writing on the rear, but many don’t. Most don’t have a development date stamp on the front, either. I find myself assessing images multiple times, learning to observe hairstyles, clothing, and the number of candles on a birthday cake. My powers of observation are growing stronger.

The original assessment

I’ve written previously on the mistakes I’ve found with my mother’s dating of photographs (descriptions and dates on the rear). Such mistakes were made even when the writing of the dates occurred close to the time the pictures were taken. Of course, errors also occurred when we attempted to date pictures decades later.

When I originally reviewed the series of photos in this post with my mother (~30 years ago), she guessed they were from 1973 or 1974. So, that is what I wrote on the rear of each one of them at that time. I have now determined we were off by a year or two.

Reviewing never stops

As I digitize our family photos years later, I am learning to look within each image for clues. I know not to trust the assessments from three decades ago – useful information, but not always accurate. I realized that the key to dating these particular images was the number of candles on the birthday cake in one of the pictures. There are two candles, so it must have been my second birthday. Now I know this group of photos dates to 1972, not 1973 or 1974.

A father is holding a two-year-old daughter so that she can blow out candles on her birthday cake, which her mother is holding.
Mom, Dad, me, and a birthday cake with 2 candles.

Compare photographs

I loved the Peg Set in the lower right of this photo. It had a lot of small pieces, so I expect it wouldn’t be recommended for a two-year-old in today’s world. I remember it wasn’t large – about the dimensions of a legal-size piece of paper. It was colorful, easy to play with, and easy to disassemble. There were boats, vehicles, trees, blocks for buildings, and round pieces that I always thought of as globes for light poles.

A two-year-old girl is on the left, with a box of Finger Paint on her lap. Her mother is on the right. They are seated on a living room floor, and a Peg Set is on the far right of the picture.
Playskool Peg Set in lower right corner.

I reached out to my older sisters to ask them what they remembered about this toy. I wondered if it had belonged to them first, eventually being handed down to me. Perhaps it was something our mother picked up for me at a garage sale. They remembered the toy, but not anything else.

A two-year-old girl is seated on the left, her mother on the right. The girl has a Finger Paint box on her lap. To the mother's left is a toy Landscape Peg Set.
The text message reply from one of two sisters.

A week or so later, while digitizing these birthday pictures, I noticed the Playskool Landscape Peg Set box in these images. The box looked too big for the toy I remembered, but an online search indicated that, sure enough, it was the box for the toy that I recall so fondly. Comparing the series of photos yielded an answer to my question – the Peg Set was a gift for my second birthday.

I wonder who was brave enough to give a two-year-old Play-Doh and Finger Paint (photo on right)?

The big box is a mystery

None of these photos indicate what was in the large box, wrapped in brown paper and decorated by hand with stickers. For now, that remains an unknown.

Comparing photo formats

There are six images from my second birthday (all shown above), three with rounded corners and three with white borders. I deduce that two different cameras were used for the occasion. I can tell it is the same event because of my clothing, and the gifts. My mother’s clothing actually changed at some point during the day (white blouse and black skirt became a green sweater and plaid pants).

We do have three other photos with white borders that are not birthday related. All six of the border photos are unlike any others in our collection, so I think it is safe to assume (for now) that all six are from the same timeframe. Comparing photo formats (or development formats) can help determine (or at least narrow down) what time period photos are from. I feel fairly certain that these three photos are also from late 1972 or early 1973.

Summary

As I scan images for my family’s digital collection, I file the prints in a box, loosely organized by decade. I have repeatedly gone to the box when I come across an image that reminds me of something I scanned previously. As you work on digitizing, make it easy to refer back to the original hard copies of what you have already scanned. By comparing images in the ways described above, you can deduce a lot more than would be possible by assessing each image independently. Evaluating groups of images (even if the subject matter is unrelated, the image format may not be) may help you piece together a story. I love the detective work!

A photography book by Robert Frank, titled "The Americans." It is propped up on a wood floor with a black background.

Robert Frank and The Americans

I had never heard of Robert Frank, although I was familiar with his Trolley – New Orleans image (on the cover of the 50th anniversary Steidl edition).  He died in 2019.  I really enjoyed this reading of a 2015 article about him – it was featured on The Daily (a podcast from The New York Times). 

Listening to the hour-long podcast inspired me to borrow The Americans from the Denver Public Library.  The Introduction by Jack Kerouac is under six pages, and the rest of the book features photographs taken by Robert Frank as he traveled across America in 1955 and 1956.

The most memorable parts of the podcast/article:

  • Bruce Springsteen talking about The Americans
  • Frank’s experience in an Arkansas jail and his “missed photograph” 
  • The photographer’s realization that he liked black people much more than white people
  • There is an unwillingness to accept that some artists contribute significantly to the evolution of more than one art form (in Frank’s case, Indie films and photography)

Photos from The Americans that I found myself thinking about, hours or days after putting the book down:

  • the rodeo images:  Rodeo – Detroit and Rodeo – New York City (I don’t think of rodeos in these locations)
  • Hotel lobby – Miami Beach (it’s as ostentatious as it sounds)
  • Bank – Houston, Texas (it left me feeling empty)

For many photographers, single images are memorable.  I guess that is the case with Frank’s Trolley – New Orleans photo, too.  However, as I perused this book on several occasions, it occurred to me how so many of these images wouldn’t be exceptional by themselves – it was his commitment to driving throughout America in a certain time period and then presenting us with a select number of images that makes his photography impactful.  

I’ve always thought of famous photographers as individuals who repeatedly produce single images that become popular.  Frank is the first photographer I have encountered who made me realize that sometimes the magic of photography as an art form is in the collections (and the presentation as a collection), not the individual images.  

Some may wonder if a book that was first published over half a century ago is still relevant.  I was surprised how much.  

A young girl (~ age 3) celebrating her candy on the floor; she has returned from trick-or-treating.

Livingston’s in Youngstown

The questions and stories associated with a photograph may lead you someplace unexpected. A pink and black plastic bag used for trick-or-treating in the early 1970s prompted me and my sisters to reminisce about Livingston’s, a women’s department store in Youngstown, Ohio, in the mid-twentieth century. And that led me to our mother and her hats.

Launch point: 1970s Halloween photos

I went trick-or-treating ca 1973 dressed as a clown. I knew these two photos were from the same Halloween because of the red and white checkered shirt visible in both pictures. I was obviously happy with my candy haul; check out the old Nestle Crunch wrapper near the bottom of the candy photo. I was never a fan of Sugar Daddy’s, but one can’t go wrong with Hershey’s or M&M’s; I think I see Snickers and Milky Way in the mix as well. After assessing the 1970s candy collection, the pink and black bag tossed off to the side caught my attention.

Pink and black mystery bag

My mother always saved paper and plastic bags for re-use. There was a small wooden box at the top of our basement stairs, attached to the wall by my father. That’s where we stored the bags for a future need. I’m not sure why I didn’t carry a plastic pumpkin for trick-or-treating, or a pillowcase (which I remember lots of neighborhood kids using). I was young, so maybe this small bag was deemed sufficient for what I expect was my first trick-or-treat outing.

The bag’s colors were soooo 1970s: pink and black. The first letter looked like an “H,” and I remembered hearing about Higbee’s department store. I texted my sisters, 15 and 18 years older, to see what they might recall.

Three sisters exchanging text messages regarding which department store a pink and black plastic bag was from in the 1970s.
I decided to pursue the Livingston’s theory.

Youngstown department stores

Wikipedia was helpful in terms of Higbee’s and Strouss department stores, but not for Livingston’s. I came across articles about a Livingston’s in Illinois, but it wasn’t the same store. Then I came across this Classic Youngstown: Livingston’s Comforter, and that confirmed the logo (not the colors, but pink and black comforters probably wouldn’t sell). There are over 43 products with the Livingston’s logo at Redbubble.

There was also a 1950s picture of Federal Street in Youngstown, mentioning Livingston’s. At some point, Livingston’s moved to the Boardman Plaza; my sister Sue shared this memory of a sophisticated aunt who worked at Livingston’s:

Hats

My research also turned up three vintage round hat boxes from Livingston’s. Our mother loved hats, so I have to wonder if she purchased any of hers at Livingston’s over the years. Her daughters and grandchildren were often embarrassed when she wore hats to church, but now the individuality she expressed is a fond memory. It occurs to me that we only have a few pictures of her wearing hats; I wish we had some from the late twentieth century.

My niece remembers that when she and her brother would enter the sanctuary of Boardman United Methodist Church, Aimee would always tell Justin to look for a hat; it was the easiest way to locate Grandma. Our mother always sat in the same pew, but two young grandchildren would not have known that.

Viewing by appointment only

Richard S. Scarsella’s book: Memories and Melancholy: Reflections on the Mahoning Valley and Youngstown, Ohio, yields the most information I could find about Livingston’s (see the “Affairs of the Heart” chapter):

“Youngstown’s ‘ladies department store’ was named Livingston’s. This New York inspired downtown firm catered to an upscale clientele. Its bridal boutique was unrivaled in the valley. Within it [sic] velvet draped walls one could find exquisite garments tailored from French chiffon, Italian satin, Flemish lace, and Asian rainbow sequins. Fifth Avenue creations by Milady, Bianchi, Dior, Givenchy, and Chanel all were stocked for viewing by appointment only. These exclusive dresses were all featured in national publications and supplies were limited. Until it closed, Livingston’s was considered a trendsetter.”

I gotta say, I had no idea that the Mahoning Valley had ever had a store that stocked anything for “viewing by appointment only” – definitely before my time.

Livingston’s final decades

I came across an April 21, 2020, obituary for George F. Livingston, Jr. It shed a bit more light on the history of Livingston’s in the Mahoning Valley:

“In late spring of 1946, he returned home and attended Washington University in St. Louis where he studied retail management. He then joined the family business at the store in downtown Youngstown. After the store was sold, he owned and operated a children’s store in Warren and Juniorsville in the Boardman Plaza. Later he took back the family name with the opening of Livingston’s in the Eastwood Mall, where he worked for 20 years before retiring.”

A 1955 baby book with a blue cover. A white lamb appears in a field of flowers.

Combining Multi-TIFF Files

When digitizing my family’s memorabilia, I have elected to use the TIFF file format for all photographs. I am using the multi-TIFF format for documents like brochures, wedding certificates, and baby books. Sometimes the scanner freezes before I am finished scanning an item, which means I have to save my multi-TIFF file before it is complete. Rather than scan everything again, I have discovered I can finish the scanning, save a second multi-TIFF file, and then use the Preview app on my iMac to combine the two multi-TIFF files.

Why multi-TIFF?

Both of my scanners, an Epson V600 and a Canon MX922, supposedly enable me to scan documents as multi-TIFF files. But, I run into various problems, including error messages before I have finished scanning the entire document and scanning as multi-TIFF but the output files end up being separate TIFF files (instead of a single multi-TIFF file). I know multi-TIFF files are not common (I have had multiple folks tell me they have never heard of such files), but they are lossless. As I archive family memorabilia, I want my archive files to be lossless, knowing I can always create a copy in other file formats for various purposes. So, I am attempting to proceed with multi-TIFF files for select memorabilia. I didn’t find much help regarding manipulation of multi-TIFF files. I’m documenting my experience in case it helps others.

Multi-TIFF problems with the Epson V600 and Epson Scan 2

I made the following selections in Epson Scan 2:

On the left, a scanning application window shows scan settings selected; on the right, the cover of a baby book appears, ready to be scanned.
I checked the box to add or edit pages, and I selected Multi-TIFF as my image format.

I hit Preview, set my marquee (the dotted lines around the baby book cover), and then hit Scan. After the scan pass, the Add Page window appears:

A window from a scanning application. It reads, "Add Page" at the top. There are four options to select, each with a very brief descritpion.
None of these options yield the desired result.

Add seemed to be the obvious choice here, since I had only scanned one page and I had 18 more to go. But wait! Do not select Add before placing page 2 of the document – when one selects Add from this window, the scanner proceeds to scan. Unfortunately, this means you cannot set the marquee for any subsequent images. That’s a problem, because I don’t place my images in the upper right corner (where the scanner has an arrow directing placement). If you place an item into this corner, some of the item is cut off during the scan. So, I always place my items on the scanner bed, about 1/2” distant from any scanner edges. But that means I always need to adjust the marquee a bit, because I never place subsequent items in exactly the same position as the first item.

I tried selecting Edit instead:

A window from a scanning application is titled, "Editing Page." The image of a baby book cover appears and is selected; there are options to reorder and to rotate. A user can also choose to Add, Cancel, or Save.
An improvement over the Add Page window, but still not the flexibility I desire.

This was marginally better. Remember after your first scan, you won’t have a preview option for any subsequent pages in your document. But, you can view each page from this window, and if you don’t like the results (crooked, partially cut off), you can delete a particular page, reset the document as best as possible (remember, no preview available), and continue in this manner until you get acceptable results for each and every page. If that sounds tedious, it is! And, the results still weren’t as good as I desired for archival purposes (I wanted to be able to adjust a marquee before each and every scan).

I decided this was a good time to switch scanners.

Multi-TIFF problems with the Canon MX922 and Image Capture

I made the following selections in Image Capture:

A window for the Image Capture application shows the first page of a baby book on the left side and selected settings on the right side.
I selected Format: TIFF and checked the box for combining into a single document.

Placing the document and then selecting the Overview button allowed me to draw the marquee appropriately. The scanning took longer with this device and software, but I plugged along. At least, until I received an error message. The Scan button disappeared, so the only option was to close the application and save whatever pages I had scanned into a single file. This has happened to me multiple times when scanning with this device and Image Capture – before I finished with a long (10 or more pages) document, the scanner and/or Image Capture stopped working.

I elected to save the multi-TIFF file (with the first 11 pages of the baby book) and do some research.

Combining two multi-TIFF files using Preview on a Mac

I had 11 pages scanned, with 8 more to go. I started scanning again, with page 12, and finished. At this point I had two multi-TIFF files that I wanted to combine into a single multi-TIFF file. I thought that I found some assistance online, but none of the links I reviewed helped me to resolve my issue. Here’s what I figured out:

  1. Select both multi-TIFF files in Finder.
  2. Right click and open in Preview (mine opened in two different windows).
  3. Select one of the files as the “base” file, and drag pages from the second file into the base file.
  4. Save the base file once all pages have been added from the second file (the pages will still be present in the second file, they are being duplicated in the base file).

Once you have all pages in the base file, Preview’s Contact Sheet view makes it easy to arrange the pages as you wish:

A window from the Preview app on a Mac; it shows 19 baby book pages and a drop-down list in the upper left. This window allows the user to view all 19 pages at a single time, making it easier to reorder them.
Use the Contact Sheet view in Preview to reorder pages.

This workflow only worked for me if the files were both multi-TIFF files. I tried this workflow with a series of TIFF files (each with one image). If selected in Finder at one time, when opened in Preview, they appeared as shown below:

A Preview window showing a series of images on the left, in a single column. On the right is the top image, which is the cover of a baby book.
This is how single TIFF images appear in Preview; no way to combine them.

I was unable to save a single multi-TIFF file from this window.

When I opened two TIFF files (each with a single image) in separate windows, I was unable to combine them (dragging didn’t work) to build a multi-TIFF file.

Summary

I don’t have a solution for building a multi-TIFF file from a series of single TIFF files, but I did figure out how to combine two multi-TIFF files; I assume this process would work for more than two multi-TIFF files.

What if you want to undo your multi-TIFF file? That’s easy, and there are plenty of articles on how to do so. To create multiple TIFF files from a multi-TIFF file, just drag each page from the multi-TIFF to the Desktop using Preview.

For archival purposes, I am saving the multi-TIFF files to my hard drive (which has multiple backups). For sharing with family, I separate the multi-TIFF files into single TIFF files and upload them to Lightroom. I am not aware of any photo managing software that handles multi-TIFF files. Once the individual images are loaded into Lightroom, I elect to stack them.

A young girl (less than one) in a 1950s-era stroller. She has a cool-weather one-piece suit on with a hood up. Behind her is the handle for the stroller. She is outside with the side of a house in the background.

It’s a Taylor Tot!

I was happily scanning and filing 1950s-era photographs and began to wonder what this thing was that my sister was on…or in…or walking in…or being pushed in. Turns out, it’s not just a walker or just a stroller – but a combination. Made in Ohio and later Kentucky, per my brief research. Taylor Tot’s were popular for several decades in the U.S.

It’s a walker…

I scanned this photo and quickly moved on. It’s just my sister (born 1952) in a walker, right? She’s outside, probably at my parents’ first home. Propped in front of a shrub for a photo op, and happy to comply based on the hands in the air. There are no toys or snacks on the metal tray in front of her, but I guess the outdoors was enough entertainment.

A young girl in 1952 or '53, in a walker. She is in front of a bush, wearing a hat and sweater. Her hands are raised and bent 90 degrees at the elbows.
Susan posed for a photo op in her Taylor Tot.

…no, it’s a stroller

I paused briefly when I arrived at this image, and then I continued scanning. A while later, I returned to it – what is behind her head? I finally figured out – it’s a handle for the same contraption as the first photo. Since the handle doesn’t appear in the other photo, I guess it was removable or collapsible.

A young girl (less than one) in a 1950s-era stroller. She has a cool-weather one-piece suit on with a hood up. Behind her is the handle for the stroller. She is outside with the side of a house in the background.
Can you pick the baby up by the handle?

Mystery solved

I am not spending a lot of time researching each and every photo I scan, but I am tossing questions to both of my sisters when something strikes me. If I continue scanning and hold off on the questions, they might never get asked. I asked one sister if I was bothering her with too many photo questions; she responded that she is enjoying the connection. So I’ll keep ’em coming!

Vintage Taylor Tots are widely available on eBay (conditions vary). I’m not in the market for one, but mystery solved.

More about Taylor Tots

https://nationalheritagemuseum.typepad.com/library_and_archives/taylor-tot/

https://www.collectorsweekly.com/stories/187377-1940s-taylor-tot-stroller

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.