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New Goodridge center photo exhibit is the first of its kind

Rebecca Klar
York Dispatch

The Goodridge Freedom Center became the first spot in the world to have a re-creation of a daguerreotype photography studio in the same place as the original on Friday, Oct. 5, as officials cut the ribbon on the new exhibit.

The second-floor studio is a replica of one from the 1840s owned by Glenalvin Goodridge, son of William C. Goodridge, the biracial businessman and abolitionist recognized throughout the museum that was once his family home. 

The addition "doubles the importance" of the center, York City Mayor Michael Helfrich said. 

York Mayor Michael Helfrich joins officials in cutting the ribbon on a new exhibit at the Goodridge Freedom Center on Friday, Oct. 5.

Helfrich said he knew about William C. Goodridge and the work he did, but he was unaware of Glenalvin's photography.

Beyond its ties to York history, the exhibit is also important in its role of celebrating the daguerreotype style, exhibit designer Grant Romer said. 

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Romer is a former staff member at the George Eastman Museum, a photography museum located in Rochester, New York. He got involved with the Goodridge center exhibit through his longtime friend Larry West. 

West donated African-American photography that fills the walls of the exhibit in addition to the studio replica. 

Grant Romer, a photography historian and museum director, shows off the replication studio on the opening day.

As much as the exhibit is about the history of photography, it also about African-American history and a story about a "man of color who could enter this profession easily," Romer said. 

When daguerreotype photography was introduced to the world in 1839, there wasn't artificial light; telephones and telegraphs had not yet been invented, Romer said. 

Although the world has since moved on from the popular steam engine technology of the 1830s, photography is still alive and thriving, Romer said. 

"It's the cusp of one of the great technologies still alive today," Romer said.

He said there are still about 100 studios practicing daguerreotype photography. 

Other exhibits in museums have re-creations of studios, but nowhere else is there a replica studio where it once stood, Romer said. 

The replica studio is said to be likely in the same place as the original owned by Glenalvin Goodridge.

It is uncertain whether Glenalvin Goodridge's studio was on the second-floor of the house or the one above, but there are several clues that let historians know where the studio might have been, Romer said. 

Daguerreotype studios would have been north facing, Romer said.

The exhibit also located up a staircase that is accessible without going through the rest of the rooms in the home, an indication of where the studio might have been to allow customers to enter without disturbing residents, Romer said. 

Daguerreotype photography, which Romer calls the first practical form of photography, not only led the way for future forms, it also shaped the way people relate to history, Romer said. 

 "If George Washington was standing on the street, you wouldn't recognize him," Romer said. "If Lincoln was in a baseball uniform, you'd recognize him." 

The difference lies in the hands of daguerreotype, according to Romer. 

"Photos let us experience the past in a believable way," Romer said. 

Editor's note: This article has been updated to correctly identify Grant Romer's former position at the George Eastman Museum.