Historical and current panoramic photographs, on display at the Atwood Museum, illustrate both striking differences and how little has changed in town from 100 years ago.
Written by Lisa Cavanaugh
Historical photographs courtesy of the Chatham Historical Society
Current photographs courtesy of Andy Young
“People are really in awe,” says Danielle Jeanloz, executive director of the Atwood Museum.
“They love the idea that there are photos of this area from 100 years ago.” Jeanloz is referring to the Atwood’s ongoing exhibit “Double Take: Historical & Current Panoramic Photographs of Chatham,” which pairs century-old photos with contemporary versions of the same image—painstakingly recreated and photographed by Andy Young, husband of the late Jean Young, former Chatham Historical Society (CHS) archivist.
Nearly 100 glass and acetate negatives discovered by William and Jacqueline Cotter in the attic of their Mayflower Shop were donated to the CHS in 2016 by the Cotters’ granddaughter Christine Padgett. They were most likely artifacts from the old Mayflower Studio, a former photography shop once housed in the same location. Mayflower Studio owners Charles Smallhoff and Harold Sawyer were both known for photographing local scenes for use on postcards in the early 1900s.
“The glass-plate negatives were interesting all by themselves,” says Andy Young, “and I quickly concluded that the acetate ones were panoramic. There were some very inventive panoramic cameras in that era, as people figured out how to take wide-angle photos on film with mechanical devices.”
After digitally scanning the acetate negatives to turn them into a photographic positive, Young realized that they had a high level of detail. “They were amazing and extremely interesting.” Young relates that his wife, the dedicated archivist, wanted to launch a show of the historical photos. But when they got one image blown up to a high-resolution print, with help from the experts at Orleans Camera, he lobbied for a different kind of exhibit. “It was the twin lighthouse image and it knocked our socks off!” he says. “I thought if I could find the original photographer’s point of view and replicate the same shot in a contemporary color photo, it would be incredible.”
While the work proved to be challenging in terms of location, angles, focal lengths and points of reference, Young succeeded in recreating the exact images for more than a dozen panoramic photos of Chatham, from approximately 1910 to 1923. “This project was a lot of fun for me and hopefully instructive for others,” he says.
“Andy did a marvelous job, “says Jeanloz. “He is very passionate about this collection and it is a real tribute to his late wife, Jean, who was able to see the show open before her death.” The exhibit includes additional historic panoramic prints that do not have a contemporary match and the collection is now large enough to merit a switchover to new images halfway through each season.
Visitors to the museum are captivated by the exhibit, says Jeanloz. “The Cape in the early 1900s was rapidly changing from a more sleepy farming and fishing region to what we are today, which is primarily a land of tourism, and our museum visitors are amazed by the wide open landscapes, cows grazing on hills and numerous fish shanties.”
While some differences in location are striking—especially in the images where you can see people and vehicles—other panoramics in the collection show that things haven’t changed much at all. “I think that is the part that people enjoy the most,” says Jeanloz, “to see what is still here and is still pristine. I think people come to the Cape to sort of step back in time.”
Young, who has lived in Chatham full-time since 1981 and whose family goes back generations on Cape Cod, hopes that viewers will enjoy seeing the contrast and detail in the images—and get to know different parts of Chatham than they have known in the past. “History doesn’t start with us. There was so much happening a century ago, and these photos help share that story.” Young credits his late wife for all her hard work to bring it all to life. “Jean really loved Chatham and she really loved the history of this town.”
The Atwood Museum, home of the Chatham Historical Society, is located at 347 Stage Harbor Road. For details on the exhibit, visit chathamhistoricalsociety.org