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Photo Flashback Week, Day 2

Yesterday we had firemen. It's only fair to have some policemen today:

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The caption on the back reads: Photo shows group of policemen on the firing line of the pistol range at Camp Simms. Star Staff Photo. Nov 1935.

I thought today I'd tell you a little about The Post photo archives. They're on the fourth floor of The Post building, behind a door accessible only to those wearing an encoded Post ID. The collection is overseen by a librarian named Eddy Palanzo (below). When I can't find something, she points me in the right direction.

eddy.jpg

The photos are in manila folders, filed by subject. The folders are on shelves like you've seen in some research libraries: You spin a triparite lever to move them back and forth. (Whenever I'm in there spinning a wheel I imagine crushing someone to death, squishing them like a grape in a wine press. This will be the opening scene in my murder mystery "From Photo Morgue to Real Morgue.")

pixshelf.jpg

The black and white prints are in various conditions. Those from the 1980s and '90s are pretty healthy. Some of those from the 1930s and '40s can be a bit crumbly. Though The Post ran photographs as early as the 1900s, I've never found any from then. I fear that there was a massive photo cull at some point in the paper's history. It's rare to find much from before the 1950s.

Caption information is usually typed on a paper label that's taped to the back of the photograph. With older photos, it's sometimes written in grease pencil. The photograph is usually stamped with when it was received in the photo library. It's also usually marked with the date it ran in the paper. The caption is often cut from the newspaper and taped to the back. Sometimes there are instructions written on the back: "32 picas by 5 inches" for example.

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There was quite a bit of photo retouching in the old days. It's not unusual to find a photo with lots of paint on it where a retoucher "improved" it: making highlights brighter, darkening hair, painting someone out completely.

We also have a small selection from the Star's photo files, about 8 feet of darker manila folders. The rest of the Star's morgue went to the Washingtoniana Division at the Martin Luther King Library in the District.

The Post photo files are a treasure trove, one that I delve into regularly when helping Answer Man with his column. It's easy to get lost in there. I'm forever coming across odd pictures of a vanished Washington that I wish I could show to someone. Now I can show them to you.

Now I can show them to you. And if you have a funny caption for today's photo, share it in the Comments section below.

pixlabel.jpg

By John Kelly  |  August 4, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Photos of Washington  
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Next: Photo Flashback Week, Day 3

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