With over 200,000 photographic negatives donated, the monetary value of Mumme’s donation is difficult to figure, but the historical value for the community is priceless.
For decades, from the 1970s until 2012, David Mumme’s photography was a standard in downtown Redwood Falls. Mumme started out associated with Williams Studio, then bought out Williams and branched out on his own with Photography by David. Mumme recorded thousands of Redwood area family, senior, and baby photos, as well as hundreds of weddings over the years. Until 2012, all the negatives he shot were stored in the basement of Mumme’s E. 2nd Street location. When he decided to close up shop in 2012, he needed to do something with all those old negatives. Just tossing them into the garbage was one option. Mumme said that for many large-scale portrait companies, the old images are considered worthless after a few years, and are discarded. “I felt kind of a moral obligation to preserve these,” he said. “I talked to (local historian) Gary Revier about donating them to the Redwood County Historical Society, and he jumped at them.” Revier used to browse through the Williams’ and Mumme’s old negatives stored in Mumme’s E. Second Street basement. When the opportunity presented itself, Revier and Mumme supervised moving the boxes of old negatives a few buildings down, to Gilwood Haven. Scott Larson, of the Redwood County Historical Society, said after the negatives were moved to Gilwood Haven, Revier spent many hours looking through the old negatives, scanning as many of them as he could for his collection. When Larson showed the Gazette Mumme’s collection, currently stored in the basement of Gilwood Haven, there was a box labeled by Revier, “To Be Scanned” still sitting out on a table. Mumme said there are over 200 file drawers worth of old negatives, “with probably a thousand negatives in each drawer. “It’s all very well cataloged,” Mumme said. “If someone came in asking for a specific picture, I could usually go straight to it and have the negative for it in a few minutes. If I took a wedding photo in 1975, it was still there. “If your old wedding photos are destroyed in a house fire, they can still be replaced (if the photographer has the negatives).” Looking through the negatives, you can trace photographic technology from the decades. The oldest images, from Williams’s studio, are black and white negatives measuring up to 5 x 7 inches. “I remember shooting a lot of black and white when I was starting out,” Mumme said. “We always used medium format cameras because the quality was much better for wall-sized prints.” In around 2000, Mumme switched from film to digital cameras. The latest images Mumme donated to the historical society are digital files he shot in 2012, saved on disks. But nothing is forever, and Larson said the society has to find a better place to save the negatives before they deteriorate. “My experience over the years is that color negatives and digital photographs aren’t going to last forever,” Mumme said. “Photos from the 1970s have already faded sort of greenish. It’s hard to know what you’re going to find today. “But old black and white negative is as good as it was the day it was processed.” The monetary value of Mumme’s donation is difficult to figure, but the historical value for the community is priceless.