REGION — Cal State San Marcos is asking longtime North County residents to help identify people, places and events featured in a collection of local historical images from the 1970s and 80s.
The photos are part of a treasure trove of around one million images taken from 1968-2001 by former Escondido Times-Advocate photographer Dan Rios. Referred to as the Dan Rios Papers, this collection was donated to the university library’s Special Collections Department in 2018, along with the rights to all the images.
Most of the photos are of happenings Rios documented in Escondido, San Marcos and other North County cities, as well as San Diego and Mexico. However, around half of them lack context and critical details to make them identifiable.
That’s where the community comes in, said Head of Special Collections Sean Visintainer. Until the end of June, community members can view around 5,000 photos needing identification on Flickr.com at bit.ly/DanRiosPhotos and leave comments directly on any of the images they recognize.
“One of the things we were really hoping to get out of this project is to find those community members interested to do that detective work. This is a great way to include the community and draw on some of that shared knowledge,” Visintainer said. “Relying on local knowledge is incredibly helpful, because it allows more people to use the collection over time.”
When Rios donated the negatives to the library, they were stored in over 40,000 envelopes and 200 boxes, measuring around 200 linear feet of material. Since 2017, personnel has been working to inventory and digitize the negatives.
Much of this effort has been completed by librarian Laura Nelson and later by student Ryan Eble, whose work was paid for via a university grant.
The photos include everything from images day to day scenes to significant events like former prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s 1991 visit to Camp Pendleton.
“It’s really, really rich in terms of the amount of material that is covered,” said Visintainer. “It’s really thrilling to be able to start making some progress to make it available to folks.”
The identification project is a partnership between the university and the Escondido History Center. According to center volunteer Alexa Clausen, most of the photos in the collection could be identified because the envelope featured the name of the corresponding Times-Advocate newspaper story.
However, negatives from the mid-80s and earlier were stored in sleeves that only stated the month they were taken. While Clausen has been able to match some of the negatives to newspaper archives from that time, many were never printed or featured few clues to go off of.
“They have about 10 years that need identifying,” Clausen said. “In the evening, I’ll go through Newspapers.com and so I’ll just try to match stuff.”
By identifying these photos, the hope is to work toward a more complete collection that can be used for community research purposes for years to come.
To participate in the photo identification project, residents only need to create a free Flickr account, which allows them to make and publish comments.
While all identified photos will be removed from Flickr at the end of June, those that still need context will remain online so community members can continue to look through them.
Visintainer said the next steps regarding the physical collection are to rehouse the negatives into “archivally safe materials” and create a catalog record for the collection’s contents. He also hopes to hire another student who can digitize even more images with the help of another grant.
“In the future, folks will be able to go and search through our finding aid and our digitized images,” he said.