Each photo has a life story. Who took it, why was it taken, and if it’s in this column, who is it. This picture from Maureen Ballantine’s collection has an additional issue—how did it get so damaged?
The scan she sent me was so faded that I enhanced it using Adobe Photoshop Elements.
The portrait of this unidentified woman has experienced the passage of time: The cardboard mount is broken and the right edge is missing part of the picture. The area around her face is rippled—that bit of damage suggests that at one point this part of the image was wet and the photographic paper became separated from the cardboard. This image is in fragile condition.
According to Ballantine, the portrait wasn’t taken in the United States; this mystery woman posed for her picture on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. Over the years, the tropical heat and humidity took its toll on this lovely image.
Maureen’s cousin thinks that it is her great-great-grandmother Anne Philibert, and that the picture was taken between 1870 and 1880.
I don’t have Anne’s life dates, but the photo evidence suggests a date earlier than the 1870s.
The woman wears her hair pulled back in soft curls. Her dress features full sleeves and a hoop skirt. The dress suggests a date in the early 1860s.
While there are slight stylistic differences in clothing worn in different countries, this woman’s attire also suggests that she’s aware of the current fashion. Dresses in the 1870s have more-elaborate trim, long bodices and different sleeves from this one. In the background of the larger image, you see the standard tasseled drapery used in studios in the 1860s.
It’s time for Maureen and her cousin to double-check their genealogy to see if Anne is still a possibility for a woman living in the 1860s.
A damaged photo requires special care. An acid- and lignin-free folder would protect it from further abrasion. Scanning it at 600 dpi as a TIF file provides a backup copy. Maureen might want to consider having a professional photographic conservator provide an estimate to stabilize the image. She can find one through the American Institute for Conservation of Artistic and Historic Works. This image will continue to deteriorate.
Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor: