Under Construction | Glass Plate Negatives of A.V. Rabenau

April 30 - September 12, 2021

Custom House Museum | Bumpus Gallery

One of the newest and most valuable collections belonging to the Key West Art & Historical Society is a series of over 50 early 20th-century glass plate negatives taken by photographer A.V. Rabenau.  Little is known of Rabenau, but his striking work suggests he was an experienced professional.  He visited the Florida Keys during a pivotal time in its history – the construction of the Overseas Railway.  The ‘dry plate’ negatives are not dated, but it is probable that he visited the island chain sometime between 1908 and 1910.

Rabenau was not alone in using glass plate negatives to capture images of the railroad construction workers.  From about 1870 to 1920, many photographers used fragile glass negatives to capture images of daily life.  Plates were sold in boxes, factory-coated with a gelatin emulsion of silver bromide, available through mail order or at stores in large villages such as Key West.  The photographer loaded one negative at a time into their camera, made the exposure, and stored the negative until he or she developed it in a home darkroom.

This exhibition will display prints of the staged photographs taken by Rabenau.  Images range from the diverse corps of construction workers, their cutting-edge equipment and their meager living conditions.  He also photographed several residents of Key West and his temporary studio on the island.

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