Carl V. Hartman and the Costa Rica Collections

Hartman and Photography


A photograph by Hartman showing part of a glass plate with double exposure, 1903

The use of photography in documenting excavations has become an archaeological staple over the past 75 years. Lightweight and durable, cameras are able to capture moments of the dig process that are lost once artifacts have been removed from their surrounding soils. However, photography was not always so convenient, or so readily used by archaeologists.

Although Hartman was using a recently developed process of dry plate negatives, the photographic process was still far from convenient. He was one of the few during his time to document thoroughly an expedition with this technology.

Large, expensive, wood and brass cameras coupled with fragile and heavy glass plates kept photography out of most field research. (Hartman's own camera and supplies cost $209.36 in 1903 - more than his salary for one month!)

Transporting approximately 200 pounds of camera equipment and supplies overseas and within Costa Rica was, without a doubt, fraught with difficulty. Once on location, safeguarding the glass plates from breakage and the heat, rain, and humidity of Costa Rica was a constant concern.

Finally, the involved process of exposing each glass plate allowed for errors such as double exposures, damaged plates, and either over- or under-exposed plates.

Despite all of these setbacks and hardships, Hartman achieved excellent results with his photographs. Most are well focused and well exposed even when taken in less than ideal lighting and climate.

Because of their excellent quality, Hartman's negatives reveal a great deal of information about the cemetery sites. The location and progression of the digging as well as the specifics of individual burials, can be gleaned from his series of panoramic and detail shots. Although much of Hartman's work in Costa Rica went unpublished, more than 125 field shots remain one hundred years later to help archaeologists piece together the story of his excavations.

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