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Using shadows to date photographs

This is a guest post from William Oates, University Archivist, Heritage Centre University of New England.

The team at the University of New England (UNE) and Regional Archives has been trialling dating some of the photographs in their collection using the shadows cast by the sun. The two photos in this post are from a series of 29 photograph albums created by the White sisters of ‘Saumarez’ Homestead near Armidale. Donated by the family to the regional archives at UNE, these images capture aspects of the late Victorian and Edwardian rural lifestyle enjoyed by the White family.

Military Rally - Imperial Hotel, Armidale

Military Rally - Imperial Hotel, Armidale

The photographs in question portray scenes from a recruitment rally in the streets of Armidale during World War One. One precise method for dating of the event could have been obtained by reviewing newspaper articles during the war years. Instead, dating methodology using the shadows cast by the sun on a given map reference was tested by a volunteer at the UNE & Regional Archives.

Military Rally - Imperial Hotel Armidale. Click for larger size

Military Rally - Imperial Hotel Armidale

The location of the photo was easily identified from the hotel in the background. A shadow of identifiable length was found in one picture and from this a number of possible dates generated from the available algorithm. Once this date was calculated, we then searched the newspapers to locate the story.

On the 11th August 1917, a recruiting team for the Australian Imperial Forces was invited to a series of functions in Armidale according to the Armidale Chronicle. This team included Victoria Cross winner Billy Jackson who lost his hand in action in France in 1916. The moment captured by one of the White girls clearly shows the recruiting team with Jackson in attendance.

Using shadows to date photographs (part 2)

William Oates

(Photographs  courtesy of:  University of New England and Regional Archives – (A1473) White Family Photographs – Album 4.  Please contact for further information)