Perhaps the best-known early Ipswich Photographer was George Dexter (1862-1927). His photographs along with those of Edward Lee Darling (1874-1962) provide a wonderful visual history of the town. The late Robert Cronin, an Ipswich native, shared with me his collection of George Dexter glass plate negatives that had been in storage for almost 100 years, These digital images were created from the glass plates.
Cronin told how he came to have the glass plate negatives and why he shared them with me:
“I’ve been looking at a folder of old photos I had printed from some glass negatives I acquired a long time ago. It brought to mind my father saying many years ago, that if I did not “get on the ball and print the rest of the negatives, no one would be around to tell what they are” (or even care). Originally those negatives, made on glass, numbered into the hundreds. The photographer’s name was George Dexter. It seems that anything in Ipswich was subject to his lens.
“My uncle George Matherson worked for Mr. Dexter and somehow ended up with boxes of these glass negatives. My introduction to them was not good. As young kids, the value of these pieces of glass were not a priority. It was only later, when I was out of the service, and took up photography as a vocation that I found out what went into making these glass plates. The photographer in those days had to go through many pieces of glass to get glass without bubbles. He had to mix his own chemicals and coat his glass plates.Exposures could be loner than 60 seconds. Developing time was quite long as well. So those who use instant cameras can’t possibly appreciate what went into producing the finished product.
“The sad part is that I loaned the prints to a prominent party in town, who became ill and eventually succumbed. I felt I should ask for my prints, and after a period of time approached the offsprings and was told that they had no knowledge of the alleged prints. (This episode is one of the reasons that I am not enamored with lawyers.)
“I eventually realized that the prints were lost to me, but still owning the negatives, history was still within my grasp. This is where Murphy’s law enters the picture again. I decided to spend on evening in the dark room and replace my missing prints, but could not continue without something I had left with a friend. I had no sooner arrived at Charlies house and his phone rang. He hollered that it was Jen, and we better scramble. My dark room was on fire, and she had called the fire department. Among the debris lay most of the glass negatives. Only a few that were in the house survived.“
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