Recovering lost memories in John Hubbard's photos


BENNINGTON -- Residents gathered at the Bennington Museum on Sunday to attempt to identify the subjects of hundreds of photographs by former Bennington Banner sports editor John Hubbard.

Hubbard worked for the Banner from 1972-1978. He attended Colgate University, in Hamilton, N.Y., and joined the Banner soon after graduation. After Hubbard passed away after a battle with cancer in 2010, his wife Mary Jo Hubbard donated over 2,000 photos that he had taken while working for the Banner to the Bennington Museum. Some 28 of those photographs are currently on display in a special exhibit at the museum.

However, while museum curator Jamie Franklin was able to identify some of the photographs' subjects by researching through Banner microfilm at the Bennington Free Library, many remained unidentified. So, he invited the public to the Ada Parensky Education Center to help out.

Franklin began with a slideshow highlighting the artistry behind Hubbard's photos. While the purpose of this part of the presentation wasn't identification, it became clear that the audience was going to be well suited for that task. "That was the morning after the [Upstreet Boutique] burned down," said one woman, indicating a photograph of two people standing in front of a Dunkin Donuts sign, "That's me on the left!"

"There are so many associations that people make that don't directly have to do with the content of the photo," said Franklin during his presentation, speaking to the power of the photographs as historical artifacts. He also praised Hubbard, saying, "He had a real respect, and could relate to his subject matter."

After Franklin's presentation, several community members who had known Hubbard spoke, including historian Tyler Resch, who had been editor at the Banner for Hubbard's entire tenure. Resch said the Banner had previously run a weekly photo page, and he showed the audience one made up of Hubbard's photos. "The budget constraints at that time were not high," said Resch, "it was kind of a golden age for running a newspaper."

Mary Jo Hubbard also spoke about her husband, who left Bennington to be a sports photographer for Colgate University. "His heart was always in Vermont," she said, visably emotional, "it always was. He would be so honored to see you all here today."

After those who had known John Hubbard finished speaking, the true work of the afternoon began, and those in attendence began to pore over binders of photographs, writing down on identification sheets if they recognized the people in the photos, or the locations where they were shot. "Even if something appears to be identified, if you can let us know any more about them, please do, because every bit helps," said Franklin.

As those in attendence begans poring over the photos in the binders, which represented about a quarter of the total collection, Franklin said that he's planning several "identification afternoons" in the coming weeks to further the massive task, although the dates for those haven't yet been finalized. He also said that the museum may look into publishing Hubbard's work, although that would be a long-term project, and would likely require collaboration with the Bennington Historical Society.

An example of crowd-sourcing at its finest, the long-time Bennington residents were able to identify many, if not most, of the people in the photographs. Asked if he was surprised by how much success they were having, Franklin said, "Actually, I'm not. This community is such that people stick around."

One woman called over a friend as she found a picture of a child she had baby-sat for around the time the photo was taken. Another debated with her friend over the identity of two other children. One person joked that the other members of the community were doing too good of a job. "Every time I see someone I recognize," she said, "Someone's already identified them!"

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB


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