A treasure trove of glass plate images was found in a storage room, netting over 500 pictures of life in our city in 1912. Most of the photos were taken by entrepreneurial out-of-town photographers, seeking to earn 35 cents from the businesses which were documented in the shoots.

The glass plates were castaways, abandoned for lack of sales. They were not labeled or in order, necessitating copious hours of research to match architectural elements with known buildings, scouring city directories to align office numbers with tenants and researching history through zooming in on the most minute of details to provide clues as to the identity of the subjects. The result provided a fascinating overview of commercial life at the start of the new century.

The Atlantic reports that 1.8 billion photos are uploaded every day, but I wonder about the historical intentionality from any of these shutterbugs. People take pictures of food and silliness, but who is documenting an overview of business as we know it today? Things we take for granted in our organizations – the people, the layout, the equipment, the norms – often fade into oblivion because they were too obvious to capture at the time. We memorialize our friends and family in photos, but allow organizational history to disappear, or, at best, be captured only on our phones and not in an archival way.

Today, instead of taking pictures just to post on Instagram, be intentional about capturing a snapshot of your organization for future generations. The ordinary will someday become fascinating.

A City at Work Dubuque 1912 – Tim Olson & Mike Gibson    

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