Marblehead Museum takes snapshot in time with new exhibit

Jarrett Zeman, Associate Director of Programs and Operations at the Marblehead Museum holds an 8 x 10 view camera used by Fred Litchman. The exhibition of his photos opened Thursday, August 17, 2023 at the musuem. The photos of Marblehead cover the period from the 1890s through WWI. Photo by Paula Muller

A new exhibit at the Marblehead Museum is giving the public an up-close look at the town during the Victorian Era through the lens of its most renowned photographer, literally.

Marblehead Snapshots is an exhibit recently opened by the museum featuring 55 photos taken by local photographer Fred Litchman from the 1890s to World War I. The exhibit was curated from a huge selection of 3,000 photos taken by Litchman, many of which have never been viewable to the public. 

Marblehead Museum Associate Director Jarrett Zeman, who was the curator for the exhibit, said the focus of creating the exhibit was to help redevelop an appreciation for photography in an era that is dominated by social media.

“One of the reasons why we wanted to do this exhibit was to draw contrast between photography of that era and the role that photography plays in our society today,” Zeman said. 

He added that the ability to quickly snap, upload, and post photos at will has decreased the appreciation for photography as a whole. 

“95 million photographs are uploaded by Americans to Instagram every single day,” Zeman said. “As a result, it’s pretty easy to take photography for granted.” 

The museum held an opening reception for the new exhibit last Thursday, in which Zeman gave tours and answered questions. Zeman said that photography was still relatively new when Litchman was taking these photos.

It’s safe to say that back then, taking photos wasn’t exactly done in a “flash.”

On display at the exhibit is Litchman’s large, box-shaped camera, which required a lot of work. In order to take photos, he would take a glass plate and cover it in chemicals that made the surface wet. Then placing the camera on top of a tripod, he would insert the plate into the back of the camera, get underneath a black hood, check the lighting, and then finally press a button, exposing the plate.

He then had to wait between six to 10 seconds for the photo to be taken, and rush back to a darkroom to develop the photos before the film dried.

“It was slightly harder than tapping your iPhone today,” Zeman joked. 

Marblehead Snapshots displays Litchman’s 55 photos in different categories, including one featuring pictures taken on the Marblehead oceanfront, which was Litchman’s favorite spot to photograph.

The exhibit also offers some interactive features, such as QR codes on some of the photos that link to old videos of the exact location or building depicted.

Marblehead Museum Executive Director Lauren McCormack said that with the town having so much Colonial history, featuring Litchman’s work gives the public an opportunity to see and learn about that time period.

“It documents such a fun time in Marblehead’s history,” McCormack said. “We spend so much time in Marblehead talking about the Colonial period and the Revolutionary War, understandably, but it was a very active and interesting town throughout the Victorian and Edwardian periods.”

Marblehead Snapshots will be open until Dec. 22 during the museum’s hours, Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and will reopen in spring 2024.