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The Guillermo Thorn Photograph Collection

Born just two years before the invention of photography, Guillermo Thorn would have been too young to recall the ‘revolution of sight’ brought by the photograph and witnessed by his parents. Instead, Thorn belongs to the first generation to have been raised possessing an inherent understanding of the innovative potential of photography and its capacity to impact each facet of society. Like the digital economy of the today, emerging photographic technology infiltrated every aspect of nineteenth-century life; the fixed image creating new economies and new expectations, while supplanting many older industries.

Thorn’s post-1870 images reveal Plainfield at a time of enormous economic expansion as a thriving suburban metropolis and picturesque vacation spot. Vestiges of the city’s rural past confront modernity as monumental architecture is juxtaposed against tennis matches played in full-length skirts and where horses await their riders on densely built downtown streets. While still firmly rooted in the past, these images document Plainfield just at the moment that the city begins to resemble itself. Whether it is the cupola of city hall rising from behind a long-gone single-story structure, or the original Plainfield Trust still visible despite its now expanded façade, Thorn’s images capture the city as it begins to assume a recognizable shape to the twenty-first-century viewer.

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