Adirondack Portraits: The Photography of Osmond D. Putnam About the Collection

About the images

The Osmond D. Putnam photographs (ARL-081) contains 132 images taken between 1885 and 1887 near Johnsburg, New York. Glass plate negatives are composite objects, consisting of a glass support, a binder, and an image-forming substance. During the 1870s, gelatin dry plate negatives became commercially available in pre-cut packs. This is what Putnam used to create the images you see in this exhibit.


Osmond David Putnam (1861-1926) was the grandson of Enos Putnam (1810-1865), a Methodist minister and abolitionist who preached at the Mill Creek Wesleyan Methodist Church in Johnsburg, New York. Osmond began training to become a minister in the 1880s. To pay for his education, he began taking photographs with a five by eight inch camera. The geographic scope of his work was limited to Warren, Essex, and Saratoga Counties due to the range of early stage wagons in the area. He eventually left the ministry and became a farmer and carpenter in Wilton, New York. Shortly before his passing, he entrusted his brother Elliot with the negatives who in turn passed them on to Jeanne Robert Foster (1879-1970), a second cousin of the Putnams whose immediate family is featured in the collection. All of his other photographs and equipment were lost in a fire in the 1920s.

Getting the collection to the Adirondack Research Library

At the death of Foster, her Adirondack materials were willed to the Riedinger family in Schenectady, New York. In 1986, Noel Riedinger-Johnson edited Adirondack Portraits: A Piece of Time, published by Syracuse University Press. The book collected Jeanne’s unpublished poems and prose about the people she knew in her early years in the Adirondacks, supplemented by Putnam’s photographs. In fall 2019, Johnson graciously donated the collection to the Adirondack Research Library. After two Union College librarians travelled to South Carolina to transport the collection, a grant to digitize the negatives was awarded by the Capital District Library Council in early 2020. Each negative was then scanned by the Northeast Document Conservation Center. We are indebted to all the stewards of this collection so it may finally be seen by the wider world. Harmful Language Statement The nature of historical materials is such that some material may represent positions or terminology that are not consistent with current values. This language originates from the people and organizations that created the material. The original title of each negative was preserved when possible as it provides important historical context. Some of these titles use ableist language. We acknowledge this harmful language and hope that by providing additional contemporary description that it can foster a meaningful historical dialogue around disability.