The Glass Plate Collection

Images From The Illinois State Journal 1929–1936

 

The Illinois State Journal, Springfield, Ill., circa 1936.

As a photographer, editor and amateur historian, I view the photography collection of a newspaper unparalleled as a historical record. Bernice Abbott, well known for her images of New York City, said “to make a portrait of a city is a life work and no one portrait suffices because the city is always changing.”

In Springfield, Illinois in 1929, Raymond Hodde began working as the Illinois State Journal’s very first staff photographer. It had been common practice to use pictures submitted by local commercial studios, but when Col. Ira Copley purchased the Journal the previous year, he promised to modernize and update the prominent daily paper in the state’s capitol city.

Hodde, along with Earnest Pearson who joined him a later, began taking pictures using Speed Graphic cameras and glass plate film.

As Abbott went on to explain, everything in the city is part of its story. “Its physical body of brick, stone, steel, glass, wood, its lifeblood of living, breathing men and women.”

The two men began making a portrait of Springfield and as Abbott said, not one defined by a single image but the one that emerges from the scenes and moments recorded over time.

The Illinois State Journal has a collection of 1,300 glass plate negatives that remain from the work produced by Hodde and Pearson between 1929 and 1936. Digitizing them was a labor of passion and fascination, and no other historical document offers as clear a window to the past.