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Scenes from a Time Gone By

A vintage photography exhibit at the Cahoon Museum of American Art showcases Cape Cod in days past.

A vintage photography exhibit at the Cahoon Museum of American Art showcases Cape Cod in days past

Photo Courtesy of the Woods Hole Historical Museum

A lot can change over the course of a century, and nowhere is this truer than in the realm of photography. The clunky and rudimentary equipment of yesteryear has given way to once unimaginable technology available to the masses. But the basics that comprise a quality photograph remain the same: an interesting angle, an artful arrangement, and a perfect pose can capture a moment in time.

Take a long look at the images in “Revisiting the Past: Photographs of Old Cape Cod” at the Cahoon Museum of American Art in Cotuit for insight into a different era. The exhibit, which opens on July 9, features more than 50 photos shot in communities throughout the Cape, from Falmouth to Provincetown, between 1850 and 1930. When viewed together, the photos tell a story of Cape Cod as it once was, before the Sagamore and Bourne Bridges brought vacationers in droves. “The main reason we came up with this idea is to show how important photography has been to the Cape,” says Richard Waterhouse, director of the Cahoon Museum, “and to show how much the Cape has changed in 100 years.”

To create the exhibit, Waterhouse asked the Osterville Historical Museum, the Santuit/Cotuit Historical Society, the Sandwich Glass Museum, Harwich Historical Society, the Orleans Historical Society, and other museums and organizations around the Cape to comb through photography archives to find gems. The criteria were few, but important: age—whether an original print or a recent print developed from the original negative, the photos are all well over 50 years old—and quality. The organizations submitted their recommendations and the Cahoon selected the pieces for the final lineup. “We’re trying to include everything,” Waterhouse says. “We have some portraits in the show. We have some landscapes.”

Some of the images in the exhibit are original prints made from glass plate negatives—a standard photographic practice at the turn of the century—while others are contemporary prints made from those original glass plates. “Everybody loves to see those old photos,” says Jennifer Morgan Williams, director of the Osterville Historical Museum. “It’s really about exploring the history that’s all around us.”

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