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Developing the Past

Alumna shares trove of 150-year-old images

In February 2020, a former coworker asked Terri Sevene Cappucci ’00, ’03MFA if she’d be interested in rescuing 4,000 antique glass negatives that were headed for the garbage. Cappucci, who began her career as a photojournalist for The Boston Globe before becoming a teacher and photo documentarian, was hesitant at first.

“I wasn’t going to take them, because I was thinking there was already too much stuff in my studio, and I had just cleaned it out,” Cappucci says. “But then COVID started, and I needed a project, so I accepted them.”


Landscape shows railroad tracks heading toward two buildings, with mountains just beyond.

The Troy & Greenfield Freighthouse, North Adams, Massachusetts. Hoosac Tunnel Historians estimate this photograph was taken between 1875-1880.

Most of the negatives are undated, but those with dates range from the 1860s to the 1930s. Based on landmarks and some written indications, Cappucci says many appear to have been taken in western Massachusetts towns including Montague, Bernardston, Northfield, and Buckland. Many show glimpses of daily life in the area at a time when UMass had just been founded as Massachusetts Agricultural College.


A couple stand in front of what is likely their humble hand-built cabin. Black and white photo and period dress date the photo to the 1800s.

Found in an envelope that said “Wood Clearing, Northfield, Connecticut River”.

As she made her way through the trove of negatives, Cappucci developed what she thought were the most interesting ones: A young boy on an oversized tricycle; a dressed-up woman with a fancy hat holding a goat; a couple proudly standing before their dilapidated shack in the woods.

One photo in particular fascinated Cappucci: “I love that photo of the old woman sitting in a chair,” Cappucci says. “There are so many questions I have about the person standing next to her. Is he holding an umbrella? Did he work for her? He’s wearing a suit, so he could be the photographer’s assistant holding a flash that would go off.”

Cappucci has titled her project Somebody Photographed This. At the moment, she’s unsure what she’ll do with the final product. She might share the images in a public exhibition or in the form of a book, but she hopes they’ll eventually find a permanent home in a museum.


Terri Cappucci at work on the project.

Terri Cappucci at work on the project.
Photo: Laurie Gardner White

Here we’ve presented some of Cappucci’s favorites, but you can see everything she’s developed so far at Somebody Photographed This, her site for the project.

All photos: TS Cappucci Archives