The Historical Society of Greater Lansing opened a photography exhibit on Sept. 18, at the State of Michigan Library. “From Sepia to Selfies: 150 Years of Lansing Photography,” showcases 150 years of Lansing and East Lansing history—including the history of Michigan State University.
Vice President of the Historical Society of Greater Lansing Bill Castanier said that the idea for the exhibit came from three different sources.
The first inspiration came from the amateur photographer Clara Heldemeyer.
“She was a very advanced amateur photographer, and (the Historical Society of Greater Lansing) was given three photo albums full of her works,” Castanier said.
Heldemeyer was born in 1891, and she lived in the Lansing area until her death in 1982. She had photographs in the World Fair of 1939, and she won a national photography award.
According to Castanier, Heldemeyer specialized in salon portraits and you can see her work at the exhibit.
“(The Historical Society of Greater Lansing) was thinking the state capital has always been a gathering place for all types of groups: from the Klu Klux Klan to the Girl Scouts. Debates, protests, and meetings happen here, and we wanted to show that,” Castanier said.
This was another source of inspiration for the display.
According to Castanier, the final reason that the Historical Society of Greater Lansing decided to open the exhibit was because one of the members had over 100 cabinet cards. Cabinet cards are 3-inch by 5-inch photographs mounted on a board that is then attached to cabinets.
Photographs were submitted from Lansing area residents, as well as from private collectors. The Clarke Historical Library from Central Michigan University loaned an exhibit that shows the evolution of photography from the time it was created to modern day.
There are also photographs from Ginger Sharp, who worked in Lansing, and was the first full-time female photographer to work at a newspaper in the United States.
“(There are) over 300 photographs on exhibit, as well as 14 display cases that have artifacts and tools. The first digital camera is on display,” Castanier said.
According to Castanier, the photos portray moments in history that people tend to forget. There are pictures of a co-ed wedding from 1915. A co-ed wedding was a mock wedding when people of the same sex would dress up and form a whole wedding party.
The majority of the photos are vernacular, or taken by amateurs, but Castanier believes that adds a rare, unique and unusual aspect to the display.
“I think there’s some photos that will startle people, and some that will make them smile,” Castanier said.
The exhibit is on the fourth floor of the library and runs until Dec. 31. The library is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the second Saturday of every month.