Photography exhibit shows early ‘pop’ culture


Museum owner and curator Bruce Klein stands in front of the Pop Photographica exhibit, which runs until mid-October. (Photo/Margaret Singer)

Encased in a piece of ivory or bone, the image is nearly impossible to see with the naked eye.

Once you hold this item up to the light, its secret is revealed and a beautiful photograph can be seen.

The items, called Stanhopes, are one type of the many exciting photographic pieces of history at the Pop Photographica exhibit currently running at the Museum of Photo Antiquities on East Ohio Street.

Stanhopes, along with the rest of the items in the Pop Photographica exhibit, showcase some of the many early practical applications of photography.

Museum founder and owner Bruce Klein notes that the Stanhopes on display are among his favorite in this new exhibit.

“The Stanhope puts a microscopic image into…a pendant or charm and uses a convex glass so that it is visible to the eye”, he explained. “They are very unique pieces.”

Stanhopes are miniature photographs that were embedded in gift items such as letter openers, souvenirs and even the heads of sewing needles. Their popularity peaked in the late 1800s and waned by the 1920s.

The exhibit shows how photographs taken as early as 1850 were placed in an array of everyday objects such as lockets, cuff links and grave markers. These kinds of items have maintained their popularity well into the 21st century.

Even today items such as photo lockets and grave markers can be found and hold the same meaning for today’s society as they did in the 1800s.

Early on, photographers recognized the potential commercial value in placing photographs in commonplace things. The artistic applications for photographs seemed nearly limitless to the pioneers of film, said Klein.

The Photo Antiquities Museum, located in a quaint Victorian style building next to Bernie’s Photo Center, also maintains a number of permanent exhibits, including Civil War photography, Shantytown Pittsburgh and Victorian-era owners with their beloved pets.

All of the photographs, some from photography’s advent in the 1840s, are originals and are protected by ultra-violet reflecting glass cases. The museum is also kept at a regular temperature and humidity throughout the year to help maintain the integrity of the photos.

The photographs displayed in the museum come from many sources. Some are donated and others were purchased directly. At times, the museum lends pieces of their collection to other museums across the country.

This museum takes pride in its involvement with the Northside community. It is affiliated with the Charm Bracelet Project offered by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, and teaches local youth how to develop their own photographs and how to preserve their photographic memories.

Klein said that these children get an otherwise unattainable “educational experience learning the history of photography and they learn the value of preservation.”

The museum also works with Tickets for Kids, a nonprofit based in Aspinwall that provides underprivileged children an opportunity to experience the arts. The organization sometimes brings in local Girl and Boy Scouts to earn their photography badges.

The Photo Antiquities Museum provides guided tours almost every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and is closed on Sundays and Tuesdays. To schedule a tour, call 412-231-7881.

The Pop Photographica exhibit runs until mid-October.

Margaret Singer currently studies journalism at Point Park University, and hopes to receive her master’s degree next summer. Although she doesn’t know what she’ll be doing after graduation, she hopes to continue writing.

Northside Chronicle Town Hall Subscription