Liliana Shortridge, a senior at Minnetonka High School outside of Minneapolis-St. Paul, began collecting 19th-century photographs a little over a year ago. She started with cabinet cards and soon homed in on daguerreotypes. In a year’s time, she has amassed more than 60 dags and roughly 50 other cased images. At last month’s Daguerreian Society Symposium in Chicago, she gave a well-received presentation on how she became hooked on collecting early portraits.
How did you get interested in early photography?
My first photos were cabinet cards. I went to an antique store in Minneapolis and they had boxes full of cabinet cards, probably 400 of them. I went through all the boxes and bought 30 that I really loved. After that, I decided I would go to as many antique stores as I could to look for old pictures. I went to two others that same day and got some more. After that, I just kept going to more antique stores. At one of them, they had daguerreotypes. I didn't know what daguerreotypes were, but they were really cheap and nice, so I bought them and my collection kept going from there.
Liliana Shortridge with some of her cased images at the Photo Fair in Chicago. At left, Jessica Brokaw, a family friend (photo credit: Carlos Vertanessian)
What was it about the early photographs that intrigued you?
When I first saw the old pictures, it was just cool to me that they were real people. I really liked being able to see exactly what a person looked like 170 years ago. I tried to imagine how they were as a person. You just don't get that kind of feeling when you look at a painting.
What led you to join The Daguerreian Society and how did you hear about it?
I joined after I learned about the Daguerreian Society Facebook group. I was posting on there to learn more about pictures and ask questions. Then Michael Lehr offered to sponsor me if I was interested in joining…and I was!
Do you remember how you came across the Society’s Facebook group in the first place?
I stumbled upon the group from another Facebook group. I was in the “Genealogy CLUES – Dating Old Photographs” group trying to figure out the dates of some of my old daguerreotypes and cabinet cards. Somebody said that I could go to the Daguerreian Society’s Facebook group and they would know more about pictures and how to date them.
Are there certain themes or subject matter that you like to focus on in your collection?
I like fancy dresses and fancy hair a lot. I’m also trying to find more European daguerreotypes. Their dresses are just way fancier than normal and they have cool hair. I'm also looking for Kilburn daguerreotypes with the clouds painted in the background. I think those are really, really nice. I would love to have some daguerreotypes of dogs and outdoor scenes, but I don't have any of those yet.
As a new member who just attended your first Symposium, what were your impressions?
When I first got there, I was really nervous. I arrived an hour before I had to give my presentation. But after it was done, I calmed down and I was really excited because we got to go room hopping and see everybody's pictures in their rooms. That was really, really fun. Everybody was really welcoming, so that was my first impression. Everybody was really nice to me.
What were some of the highlights for you?
A highlight was when I got to go around and see all the pictures at the Photo Fair. I had never seen outdoor daguerreotypes in person or a full-plate daguerreotype. They were really cool to look at. I saw some gold miner ones, too. Oh, and the live auction, when we watched a daguerreotype go for $32,000, that was really fun.
How can we make the Society more appealing to young people?
I think a lot of young people would go to the Symposium if they knew about it. I have about 600 followers on Instagram, where I post pictures from my collection. Most of my followers are younger people. Many of them reached out to me when I posted from the Symposium wanting to know where it was. They didn't know it was going on. I follow some people on Instagram who have tens of thousands of followers just from posting 1800s photos. Young people like old photos, so being more active on Instagram and getting noticed by people with large followings will help.
How has being a member of the Daguerreian Society helped you advance your collecting interest?
Being a member lets me see pictures that other people have. There are so many different types of daguerreotypes you can collect, and seeing what’s out there helps me learn new kinds that I may want to collect in the future. Also, being a member has put me in contact with a lot of people who collect and sell pictures. I've been getting pictures from some of them, which is really cool because their collections seem to be better than what’s available on eBay.