NAME: Joan Hostetler
TITLE: Owner OF: Heritage Photo & Research Services
SINCE? 1998
ORIGINALLY FROM? Pierceton, a small town in Kosciusko County, Ind.
YOUR JOB DUTIES INCLUDE?
My husband, John Harris, and I own a two-person company. Our work is broken into two parts:
1) Historic Photographs: This includes preservation, digital imaging, archives/collection management, cataloging, appraisals, interpretation and dating, photograph research (for books, web sites, movies, and exhibits), and educational workshops. We work with libraries, archives, museums, historical societies, family historians, and collectors.
2) Research: We specialize in house, building, and neighborhood research.
YOU WORK HOW MANY HOURS WEEKLY?
It varies greatly from 20 to 50 (one of the joys and curses of having your own business).
PROJECT/S YOU ARE MOST PROUD TO HAVE BEEN PART OF?
I enjoy teaching groups about the basics of caring for their collections and then seeing the photographs in online databases (such as projects in Kokomo, Madison, Marion, South Whitley, Pierceton).
OTHER PROJECTS WE MIGHT RECOGNIZE?
I was the photograph researcher, along with photographer Garry Chilluffo and author Nelson Price, for the highly popular Indianapolis Then and Now book published in 2005. Another fun project involved finding historic photographs and escorting the director and set-designer around Indianapolis for the Magnificent Ambersons mini-series.
WHAT YOU LOVE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO?
I love the variety of jobs that come our way, from testifying in court about the authenticity of a John Dillinger snapshot, to scanning glass negatives that haven’t been viewed in decades, to repairing tintype cases, to locating images for textbooks. I learn something new about photography and history every time I give a workshop or meet a client. Although it sounds a bit corny, I also love the serendipity that often happens. Someone places a photo request and a client walks in the next week with the perfect image. Once I sold an 1890s Iowa house photo to a collector. A year later he sent a photo and note explaining that he had walked around the town until he located the house, gave the photo to the couple who had just bought the house, and the photo inspired them to restore the porch and uncover the hidden gingerbread trim.
WORST PART OF WHAT YOU DO?
Having to say “no” to people wanting free help finding a photograph or research their house’s history. As much as I’d love to help, this is a job (but it is easy to get sucked into volunteer projects). Not having a weekly paycheck is challenging, but I supplement my income with an antique booth at Midland Arts & Antiques Market.
HOW YOU DEFINE PERSONAL SUCCESS?
Enjoying your life and work and surrounding yourself with loving people. For me, learning new things is a big part of staying happy.
ADVICE TO SOMEONE ELSE WHO WOULD LIKE TO DO WHAT YOU DO?
I think proper training with leaders in your field is critical. Ask to intern, volunteer at museums and archives, create a niche, and take classes to make yourself an expert.
IF YOU WERE GRANTED ONE WISH RELATING TO YOUR JOB/CAREER/ORGANIZATION, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Finding a business sugar daddy! I have two long-term projects that are important to me, but hard to fund since I am not a non-profit organization. They are:
1) Indiana Album: Since there are so many cool family and business photographs in private hands, we’ve been making and cataloging digital copies for a online stock photo business. Once posted (hopefully by the end of the year), the photos will be free to all students and available at a reasonable cost for personal and commercial use. We’ll be focusing on Indianapolis very soon and will host “scan-a-thons” all over the city.
2) Indiana Photographers Database: Since about 1993 I’ve kept a database of Indiana photographers, 1841-1940. I record biographical information as well as the dates and addresses of their studios. This is helpful to genealogists and archivists and is a good way to pinpoint the date of a photograph. So far I’ve found over 8,000 photographers throughout the state.
WOULDN’T HAVE MADE IT TO WHERE YOU ARE WITHOUT?
A passion for the subject matter, the independence to work on my own, and the wonderful training from the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film where I received a certificate in photographic preservation and archives management.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU?
In my field, rescuing information that can easily be lost is a great motivator. Although conservators teach that archival storage and proper environment is key to saving old photographs, I believe that writing names on the back of photographs is even more important. Unmarked photographs eventually get tossed in the dumpster, so I feel an urgency to work with people to identify and catalog photographs so they will have meaning to future generations.
WHO WERE/ARE YOUR MENTORS AND HOW DID THEY HELP?
Grant Romer at the George Eastman House and James Reilly at the Image Permanence Institute (at the Rochester Institute of Technology) for letting me create my own program and follow my blended interest of old photographs and history.
WHAT SPARKED YOUR INTEREST IN HISTORY?
I have no doubt that I was born with an interest in history. My grandparents told me family stories and showed me old photographs. The book Roots, mentioned griots, who are trained in African culture to become walking encyclopedias of community history. They pass down ancient tales and family history through oral tradition. I already knew when I read the book in high school that this was my role in life, but my mania is to document everything on paper (oral history is too unreliable…have you ever played the game telephone?).
MOST INTERESTING BIT OF INDIANAPOLIS HISTORY YOU’VE ENCOUNTERED?
I’m fascinated with an early 20th-century grave robber named Rufus Cantrell. This African-American entrepreneur had a gang who stole corpses from graves and sold the bodies to medical colleges in Indianapolis and as far away as St. Louis. This was at a time when medical schools had no easy way to procure cadavers for dissection and the “resurrectionists” made up to $25 per body. Cantrell was well educated, a snazzy dresser, impersonated Abraham Lincoln in burlesque shows, was a bartender and a minister, and was cold-hearted enough to preach at his niece’s funeral then rob her grave the same night.
YOU CAN HAVE DINNER WITH ANYONE FROM INDIANAPOLIS PAST? WHO & WHY?
Sampson Rea, a daguerreotypist with Rea & Bailey’s Metropolitan Gallery in Indianapolis from 1850-54. He was the best early photographer in Indianapolis and his studio was on the corner of E. Washington and Pennsylvania Streets (currently the site of the Indianapolis Business Journal). I would love to tour his gallery, watch him make daguerreotypes (an early, one-of-a-kind photographic process on silvered copper plates), and talk to him about Indianapolis during this era.
YOUR CAREER IN AN ALTERNATE LIFE?
reference librarian or architect
ANY INTERESTING FAMILY CONNECTIONS TO INDIANAPOLIS PAST?
My great-uncle, Dr. Russell Hippensteel, was a doctor in the Hume-Mansur Building.
FAVORITE VIEW IN THE CITY?
Looking onto the Circle from the Eagle’s Nest, especially when it is snowing.
FAVORITE RESTAURANT IN INDIANAPOLIS?
Black Market, La Parada, Duos food truck, and the Rathskeller for ambiance.
FAVORITE CITY BESIDES INDIANAPOLIS?
Savannah, Georgia (but Galena, Illinois is a close second)
FAVORITE HISTORY RELATED BOOK OR MOVIE?
I’m not into fiction, so my favorite reference books are old newspapers, city directories, the Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, and the diaries of Calvin Fletcher
ULTIMATE BEVERAGE?
Brewed ginger beer
COLLECT ANYTHING?
Lots of paper items: Indianapolis-related books and city directories, interesting older photographs, postcards, and anything to do with Indiana photographers (advertising, photos, etc.).
FAVORITE QUOTE?
“Every time an old person dies, it’s like a library burning down.” –Alex Haley