Indiana Photo Studios Looked Beyond the Portrait
Until Kodak offered simple cameras with an economical system of film processing and printing, local studio photographers recorded community life in addition to taking portraits. The Indiana Historical Society has many collections of these bodies of work from around the state.
Small-town life is preserved in the collections of photographers such as Oliver Frank Kelly, who set up his business as a hobby in South Whitley in the 1890s and continued to photograph the community until the 1940s. Ben Winans worked in Brookville. Though his body of work spans a shorter time period, the images he captured tell many stories of life in Franklin County in the early 20th century. Cephas Huddleston recorded life in the Spiceland area.
Of course, larger cities are well represented in the Martin Collection, Bretzman Collection and Bass Photo Co. Collection. Each studio approached its work differently making the collections quite distinctive.
The images left by these photographers make Indiana history come alive. Academics, preservationists, biographers and genealogists all use these materials in different ways. Oliver Frank Kelly photographed a series of scenes as streets in South Whitley were paved around 1910. The Martins of Terre Haute photographed a hospital during the 1918 influenza epidemic. Charles and Noble Bretzman’s portraits are goldmines for genealogists.
These photographs captured scenes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that could have been lost. They provide tools for understanding how our towns evolved and how Hoosiers lived. These collections also remind us that as digital photography continues to expand our ability to capture a moment, we must look forward to preserving those images for future generations.