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Beauty, Underwater

 

With Autumn upon us in the more seasonal regions of the United States, a remembrance, particularly if we are young, of the joys of cooling off in the lakes, ponds, and rivers of our youth.

 

4-gulick-mermaid-studyDetail: Gelatin silver print: "Mermaid Study : Ki-lo-des-ka": ca. 1914 or before: by Charlotte Vetter Gulick: image: 7.1 x 9.2 cm: mount: 16.7 x 22.7 cm. Subject shows Katharine "Kitty" Gulick swimming underwater at Camp Wohelo in Maine. from: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Memories made all the more indelible if we ever had the opportunity to attend summer camp.

 

So lets go further and think about taking a photograph of someone underwater. Not a photo taken with a camera underwater, a remarkable feat in itself accomplished beginning in 1893 by the Frenchman Louis Boutan, (1.) but from the outside looking in.

 

Before researching a series of photographs recently acquired for this archive showing a young woman swimming underwater, I would have thought no big deal- perhaps they were rare but could the subject matter actually be unique? After all, they were first published for a mass audience in Everybody’s Magazine in the U.S. in August of 1914, with the author exclaiming them to be “remarkable photographs…taken under conditions not easily duplicated, and have aroused great interest among artists and others who have seen the originals.” (2.)

 

No doubt other examples of this activity exist in the form of vintage photographs. Snapshots perhaps-but ones where actual intent existed  in order to show the beauty of the human figure swimming underwater? Before or perhaps a decade or two after 1914?  Somehow I doubt it.  ✻

 

3-everybodys-magazine-guliThree individual halftone and letterpress page spreads showing mermaid "Ki-lo-des-ka" (Katharine "Kitty" Gulick) swimming and lying submerged underwater: from: Everybody’s Magazine: New York: August, 1914: pp. 225-232

 

With a bit of research, I not only discovered the subject of the “mermaid” doing the swimming in the photos: Katharine “Kitty” Gulick, (1895-1968) but the remarkable story behind the amateur photographer who took them: her mother Charlotte Vetter Gulick. (1865-1928) Taken at Wohelo girls summer camp on the shore of Sebago Lake in Raymond, Maine, a camp founded in 1907 by Gulick and husband Luther Halsey Gulick (1865-1918) that is still going strong today, the following article from Everybody’s explains how these remarkable photos were taken and provides guiding principals behind the Camp Fire Girl movement founded by the photographer herself.

 

1-ki-lo-des-ka-water-bird-inset: detail: Gelatin silver print: "Mermaid Study : Ki-lo-des-ka" ca. 1914 or before: by Charlotte Vetter Gulick: image: 8.1 x 10.5 cm: mount: 16.8 x 23.2 cm: This was an early effort showing "Kitty" wearing a dark-colored bathing-suit "which was too nearly the tone of the rocks to give definition" before the garment was substituted for "a flowing garment of cheese-cloth" which showed up much better against the darkness of the water.: from: PhotoSeed Archive. Background: Camp Wohelo Indian symbol for "Ki-lo-des-ka" aka: "Water-bird": from 1915 volume by Ethel Rogers: "Sebago-Wohelo Camp Fire Girls"

 

Illustrating the article were eight photographs of Wohelo camper “Ki-lo-des-ka”, or “Water-bird”, the aforementioned “Kitty” Gulick, with several of the originals formerly owned by her appearing with this post:

 

The Mermaid

A SERIES OF PHOTOGRAPHS BY MRS. LUTHER HALSEY GULICK


THESE remarkable photographs are instantaneous pictures of a young girl swimming under water. They were taken under conditions not easily duplicated, and have aroused great interest among artists and others who have seen the originals. The photographs were taken by Mrs. Luther Halsey Gulick at her private summer camp for girls on Sebago Lake, Maine. The subject was a girl who possessed the unique accomplishment of being able to swim under water as far as one hundred feet. By a long under-water swim the ripples caused by her plunge had plenty of time to die out before she passed the rock on which Mrs. Gulick stood with the camera.


The experiments were made on a brilliantly clear day. The water also was extraordinarily clear and the swimmer passed the camera’s field two or three feet below the surface. The final clue to success was found when a flowing garment of cheese-cloth was substituted for the dark-colored bathing-suit, which was too nearly the tone of the rocks to give definition. Both the figure and the draperies, under the equalizing buoyancy of the water, give a rare representation of poise, as they are entirely unaffected by the force of gravity.

 

How far short this description fails of conveying the art value of the photographs, their rhythm of line and beauty of form and tone, is significantly obvious; for in this margin of appeal to the imagination lies the motive that produced the pictures. They were taken at the birthplace of the Camp-Fire idea of which Mrs. Gulick is one of the chief sponsors.

 

2-mermaid-studyDetail: Gelatin silver or Bromide print: "Mermaid Swimming" ("Ki-lo-des-ka") ca. 1914 or before: by Charlotte Vetter Gulick: image: 8.7 x 11.2 cm: mount: 16.5 x 22.9 cm: reproduced as opening photo for article "The Mermaid" A SERIES OF PHOTOGRAPHS BY MRS. LUTHER HALSEY GULICK: in Everybody’s Magazine: New York: August, 1914: p. 225: note: hair at center of frame result of negligence from contact-printing from original negative. from: PhotoSeed Archive

 

The photographs are a suggestive interpretation of the first law of the Camp-Fire, “Seek beauty;” a revelation of the poetic side of one of the simple, wholesome, normal acts of life. This is the principle, full of possibilities yet undeveloped, upon which the Camp-Fire ceremonial and symbolism are based.


The first ideal of the Camp-Fire girl is the development of a well proportioned physique; a body under perfect control and responsive to every call of the spirit within. Her other ideals include an all-around training in the art of home-keeping in the modern sense, which involves a knowledge of community conditions as well as of the simple processes of home activity. This points to the further ideal of patriotism in the sense of loyalty to country, to church, to humanity, and of service in its broadest meaning.


But to hold forth these aims and say “These are the Camp-Fire” would be as inadequate as to inscribe beneath these rarely beautiful photographs the legend, “A Girl Swimming,” and consider the story told. The Camp-Fire girl makes an art of living. She finds in the mystic glow of the Camp-Fire the joy that burns at the heart of simple things, and life for her is never without beauty and romance.

 

5-diptych-mermaidLeft: example of Camp Wohelo water-related challenge symbol badges from 1920 Wohelo camp yearbook: courtesy: Gulick Family. Right: detail: full-page halftone: "Ki-lo-des-ka swimming under water" : from 1915 volume by Ethel Rogers: "Sebago-Wohelo Camp Fire Girls"

 

A girl swimming can not always be a creature of mystic beauty, any more than speech can always be lyric or motion be always grace. But when once the beauty in a simple act has been revealed, even in a single poetic moment, a reflected glory is thrown over the commoner moments of which this is but the type. This is the poetry that the Camp-Fire girls all over America are writing into life.  (3.)

 

Camp Fire Girls, Basket Ball and More

Born Emma L. Vetter on Dec. 12, 1865 in Oberlin, Ohio to missionary parents, (4.) Charlotte “Lottie” Gulick was educated in Kansas public schools and undertook her secondary education at Washburn College (now Washburn University) in Topeka, Kansas doing college preparatory work. She then matriculated and earned a bachelor of arts degree from Drury College in Springfield, MO. (5.) It was at Drury that she met Luther Halsey Gulick , (1865-1918) whom she married in 1887.

 

6-family-diptych-charlotteLeft: photographer Charlotte Vetter Gulick is at center surrounded by her four daughters. Photograph by Alice Boughton ca. 1900. Katharine (Ki-lo-des-ka) is believed to be at right holding a flower. Reproduced later as an engraving in a New York Times article profiling the new Campfire Girls of America organization: "Girls take up the Boy Scout Idea and Band Together" (March 17, 1912) (private collection) Right: detail: members of the Gulick family from a photograph most likely taken by Charlotte Gulick around 1911. From left to right: Katharine "Kitty" Gulick (Curtis) (1895-1968); Frances "Franta" Gulick(1891-1936); Halsey Gulick; Dr. Luther Halsey Gulick (Timanous-1865-1918); Louise Gulick. (1888-1941): courtesy: Gulick Family

 

A strong advocate in the promotion of physical eduction as well as an organizer and author in his professional life, Dr. Luther Halsey Gulick also came from a missionary family, his father being missionary physician Luther Halsey Gulick Sr. (1828–1891) Receiving his medical degree from New York University in 1889, Dr. Gulick is perhaps best remembered today for his role in the development of the game of basketball, although this is but an interesting side story of a remarkable life.  In 1891, while superintendent of the physical education department at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, MA., (now Springfield College) he became the catalyst and inspiration for colleague James Naismith to first draw up rules for the new game of “Basket Ball”, with a peach basket nailed above the inside of a gymnasium playing court serving as the goal. His beliefs, as embodied in a poster issued after his death, were in the

unity of body, mind and spirit, and in an education which includes all three. He devoted his life to establishing this ideal, by emphasizing the social and ethical values of physical exercise, especially through play and recreation.”

 

While at the YMCA, he was also responsible for designing the triangular logo which represented the YMCA philosophy of Mind, Body and Spirit. (6.)

 

Summer camp was an activity the Gulicks thrived on and made a lifestyle out of. Beginning in 1887, a year before their first child Louise was born, they established a camp on the shores of the Thames River in Gales Ferry CT. Co-educational, with the couples friends as well as extended Gulick family members acting as counselors to their own children and others, (7.) it operated for 20 years. In order to share what was learned to a larger audience of girls, the couple then established Camp Wohelo on Sebago Lake in 1907. An acronym comprised of the three virtues of work, health, and love, Wohelo was embodied from the start as outlined in 1915 by Charlotte Vetter Gulick:

 

I believe deeply and earnestly that spiritual health and development is a direct corollary of bodily vigor and control; that the joy that comes from the exercise of efficient muscles has its counterpart in the soul; that to exercise the one is to exercise the other.

Upon that rock has Wohelo been built, and its use of symbols is, perhaps, more than anything else, a working and ever-present declaration of the spiritual values inherent in all the humblest phases of our everyday life in the world. (8.)

 

7-gulick-mermaid-submergedDetail: "Mermaid Study : Submerged": Gelatin silver print: ca. 1914 or before: by Charlotte Vetter Gulick: image: 8.4 x 10.8 cm: mount: 16.7 x 22.7 cm. : reproduced as final photo for article "The Mermaid" A SERIES OF PHOTOGRAPHS BY MRS. LUTHER HALSEY GULICK: in Everybody’s Magazine: New York: August, 1914: p. 232: from: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Five years before this philosophy was written, in 1910, Charlotte Gulick, known by her symbolic Indian name at the Wohelo camp as Hiiteni, which translated to  “Life, more life”, came up with the idea for the Camp Fire Girls movement. An organization for girls much as the Boy Scouts of America was structured for boys, and coincidentally founded the same year, Camp Fire Girls promoted all the values she and her husband had already been teaching at their earlier camp at Gales Ferry and at Wohelo:

 

The idea originated in the mind of Mrs. Gulick, and was at once indorsed by Dr. Gulick, who believes it to be logical and necessary to proper development of girls amid the changing conditions of our National life.” (9.)

 

8-undearwater-old-and-new-Left: detail: photo by "David": title: "Portrait Instantané D'un Plongeur" ("Instant Portrait of a Diver") : photogravure plate XI by Paul Dujardin showing French underwater photography pioneer Louis Marie-Auguste Boutan (1859-1934) holding himself steady underwater: from: 1900 volume "La Photographie Sous-Marine et Les Progres de La Photographie" (The Progress of Underwater Photography) (between pp. 210-211) : Gallica: National Library of France online resource. Right: a modern-day mermaid: Nicole Marino plays the starring role in "The Little Mermaid" at Florida's Weeki Wachee Springs Waterpark. In 1947, former Navy frogman Newton Perry conceived of the idea of using an air hose and perfected "hose breathing" here. Culturally, mermaids are a tourist attraction, and have entered the popular imagination through films like "The Incredible Mr. Limpet" starring Don Knotts. (1964): 1999 photo by David Spencer/The Palm Beach Post

 

Today, the history of the Gulick’s shared virtues of work, health and love continue on in the summer operation of their Maine camps. In a promotional 1919 silent film on Wohelo released a year before women in the United States had the Constitutional protection of the right to vote, these changing conditions of America’s National life for young women were on display. Seated in teams of coordinated paddlers in three large over-sized canoes on Lake Sebago, the ideals of resourcefulness in working together shown in the film remains an ideal for young women still valued today.

 

9-katharine-gulick-mermaiDetail: "Mermaid Sunbathing " ("Kitty" Gulick) : Gelatin silver print: ca. 1914 or before: by Charlotte Vetter Gulick: image: 7.3 x 10.8 cm: mount: 17.0 x 22.5 cm. : In this photo, a figure study of Katharine "Kitty" Gulick by her mother, "Ki-lo-des-ka" sunbathes next to granite boulders on the Sebago Lake shoreline in Maine.: from: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Much like these photos of Ki-lo-des-ka the mermaid, “her yellow hair glinting golden in the sunshine” (10.) reveal beauty to us in the physical form, lines from a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson cited by the amateur photographer Charlotte Gulick after she mastered the art of water diving at the age of 35 brings forth a desire in the human spirit to symbolically enter the depths as well:

To vision profounder
Man’s spirit must dive.“  (11.)

 

Notes:

1. Louis Marie-Auguste Boutan. (1859-1934) Boutan used specially-designed underwater camera housings, publishing his research conducted from 1892-1900 for a large audience in the 1900 volume “La Photographie Sous-Marine et Les Progres de La Photographie”. (The Progress of Underwater Photography)
2. from: The Mermaid: in: Everybody’s Magazine: New York: The Ridgway Company Publishers: August, 1914:  p. 225
3. Ibid: pp. 225-232
4. 1870 U.S. Census. Gulick changed her name to Charlotte sometime after 1900 but was known as “Lottie”
5. Gulick background: Margaret R. and Dennis S. O’Leary:  Adventures at Wohelo Camp - Summer of 1928: 2011: iUniverse: p. 24
6. 1921 poster of Luther Halsey Gulick: Makers of American Ideals poster issued by the National Child Welfare Association: Springfield College Digital online resource accessed Oct., 2014
7. background: Camp Timanous website accessed Oct., 2014. Owned by the Suitor family since the 1930’s, the camp was originally founded by Luther Halsey Gulick in 1917, whose symbolic Indian name Timanous- was “Guiding Spirit”. In the introduction to the 1915 Sebago-Wohelo Camp Fire Girls volume, Charlotte Gulick states as many as 75 people camped together at Gales Ferry before Wohelo was established.
8. excerpt: Introduction: Mrs. Luther Halsey Gulick: Ethel Rogers: Sebago-Wohelo Camp Fire Girls: Battle Creek, MI: Good Health Publishing Company: 1915: pp. 22-23
9. excerpt: Girls Take up the Boy Scout Idea and Band Together: Edward Marshall: in: The New York Times: March 17, 1912
10. Sebago-Wohelo Camp Fire Girls: p. 94
11. Ibid: p. 22

✻  : and of course I’m happy to be corrected

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What the Heck?

Sometimes, scratching your head does make sense. Especially when encountering a photograph such as this. I wish I could elaborate beyond my first instinct, which is that the subject resembles some kind of shrunken head with an extremely bad hair day.

 

blog1-asian-mask-"Asian Mask?": cropped to image margins: (19.6 x 14.4 cm | 27.0 x 19.6 cm) Japanese tissue gravure: 1900-1920: from: PhotoSeed Archive

 

However, on close inspection, it might actually appear to be some kind of Asian mask, dressed in what appear to be elaborate silk garments.  But these are only guesses. This very fine tissue gravure printed on a thin sheet of Japan laid paper was purchased for this archive from a dealer based in Warwickshire, England in the Fall of 2012.  It was purchased at the same time by a lovely pictorialist study that I’ve titled Agnes, which can be seen here.

Does anyone have clues as to the actual subject matter and or author responsible for this mysterious photograph?

 

 

Performance, not Results

 

Besides the obvious: a permanent, for the most part, result in the form of a photograph; the act of taking said photograph could be argued as being just as important. For some, it really is the point.

 

1-blog-pierrot-photographe-felicia-malletLeft: Pantomime clown Pierrot played by French actress Félicia Mallet (1863-1928) introduces himself to subject in the Photography studio. Right: Pierrot steps underneath the dark cloth while focusing the camera. Details-both: (5.7 x 4.3 cm & 5.7 x 5.4 cm) Arthur da Cunha: "Pierrot Photographe": vintage hand-pulled photogravure from March, 1896 issue of the Bulletin du Photo-Club de Paris: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Can I take your picture? Why sure. Why would you be interested may I ask? Because…

I find you: insert adjective here. Or don’t ask permission.

Because. No real reason at all, other than it sorta confirms your existence for posterity. So not a bad tradeoff, especially for those who might want to look back, far off in the future, or five minutes from now.

 

2-blog-pierrot-photographe-felicia-malletPantomime clown Pierrot played by French actress Félicia Mallet (1863-1928) places the film back into the rear of the studio camera. Detail: (5.7 x 4.3 cm) Arthur da Cunha: "Pierrot Photographe": vintage hand-pulled photogravure from March, 1896 issue of the Bulletin du Photo-Club de Paris: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Going back well over a century, this series of photographs is confirmation act has always been wrapped up in art. For proof, observe the capable body language of voiceless French actress Félicia Mallet, (1863–1928) published in 1896 and recently posted. As Pierrot, she was taking on the role modern scholars consider the essence of the artist’s alter-ego. Especially as some might consider: “the famously alienated artist of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.” (1.)

 

3-blog-pierrot-photographe-felicia-malletPantomime clown Pierrot played by French actress Félicia Mallet (1863-1928) instructs subject to be still while preparing to release bulb shutter on studio camera. Detail: (5.7 x 4.3 cm) Arthur da Cunha: "Pierrot Photographe": vintage hand-pulled photogravure from March, 1896 issue of the Bulletin du Photo-Club de Paris: PhotoSeed Archive

 

But the inherently silent results recorded by French photographer Arthur da Cunha here are besides the point. A live performance will always elicit a critic, particularly one on the public stage.

 

4-blog-pierrot-photographe-felicia-malletPantomime clown Pierrot played by French actress Félicia Mallet (1863-1928) holds out hand to receive payment from subject for taking photograph. Detail: (5.7 x 5.4 cm) Arthur da Cunha: "Pierrot Photographe": vintage hand-pulled photogravure from March, 1896 issue of the Bulletin du Photo-Club de Paris: PhotoSeed Archive

 

In a fortunate coincidence, no less an observer than George Bernard Shaw weighed in a year later, his take on Mallet’s performance during the London stage production of A Pierrot’s Life giving readers the opinion her Pierrot was far more believable than one played by (Mrs.) Signora Litini:

 

The recasting of “A Pierrot’s Life” at the matinees at the Prince of Wales’ Theatre greatly increases and solidifies the attraction of the piece. Felicia Mallet now plays Pierrot; but we can still hang on the upturned nose of the irresistible Litini, who reappears as Fifine. Litini was certainly a charming Pierrot; but the delicate, subtle charm was an intensely feminine one, and only incorporated itself dreamily with the drama in the tender shyness of the first act and the pathos of the last. Litini as a vulgar drunkard and gambler was as fantastically impossible as an angel at a horse-race. Felicia Mallet is much more credible, much more realistic, and therefore much more intelligible — also much less slim, and not quite so youthful. Litini was like a dissolute “La Sylphide”: Mallet is frankly and heartily like a scion of the very smallest bourgeoisie sowing his wild oats. She is a good observer, a smart executant, and a vigorous and sympathetic actress, apparently quite indifferent to romantic charm, and intent only on the dramatic interest, realistic illusion, and comic force of her work. And she avoids the conventional gesture-code of academic Italian pantomime, depending on popularly graphic methods throughout. The result is that the piece is now much fuller of incident, much more exciting in the second act (hitherto the weak point) and much more vivid than before.  (2.)

 

5-blog-pierrot-photographe-felicia-malletPerformance complete. Pantomime clown Pierrot played by French actress Félicia Mallet (1863-1928) acknowledges applause for taking photograph. Detail: (5.7 x 4.3 cm) Arthur da Cunha: "Pierrot Photographe": vintage hand-pulled photogravure from March, 1896 issue of the Bulletin du Photo-Club de Paris: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Notes:

1. Pierrot: see: Wikipedia overview: accessed, March, 2014
2. excerpt: Meredith on Comedy: An Essay on Comedy. By George Meredith. Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co. 1897: from:  ‪Dramatic Opinions and Essays‬ by G. Bernard Shaw/(James Huneker): Volume 2: New York: Brentanos: 1906:  pp. 225-6

 

 

Technology meets Service

 

A curious photograph entered this archive last year, and with the debut of a new season of Downton Abbey upon us here in the States, I thought it important to pay homage to those women who made English Service, from circa 1917, the noble effort it was.

 

blog-english-service-margaret-gouldingEdward D. or Margaret Goulding (English, possibly Liverpool) vintage gelatin silver print, from 1917 compiled album, mounted individually within folder: (25.0 x 19.0 cm | 20.9 x 15.0 cm) on card recto: "Margaret Goulding" The vacuum shown may be an early "Sweeper-Vac" model from Worcester, MA.

 

New Year Greetings

 

charles-hellmuth-singer-building-lower-broadway-bromoil-blog

 

 

Unskilled & Unacquainted with Photography

 

Perhaps as a final swan song to its illustrious editor, the final issue of the American Amateur Photographer  in which Alfred Stieglitz was associated-December 1895-featured an actual gelatin-silver photograph by the American master.  (1.)

 

blog-alfred-stieglitz-at-lake-como-december-1895-velox-silver-gelatinDetail: Alfred Stieglitz: "At Lake Como": matt surface Velox (silver-chloride) print: 15.5 x 22.8 cm | 12.75 x 18.5 cm: from: "The American Amateur Photographer": December, 1895: A Velox "Nepera Chemical Company" blindstamp can be seen at far right margin of print: from PhotoSeed Archive

 

But don’t get too excited. Unlike the exacting standards Stieglitz made in creating master prints from one of his own negatives, (often not exceeding one example) At Lake Como taken in 1887 was reproduced in several thousand examples for the issue. In fact, copy supplied by the paper manufacturer, the Nepera Chemical Company, inferred the simplicity involved in exposing the Velox paper it was printed on: “exposures were made by a boy unskilled or unacquainted with photography”.

 

From the collecting standpoint, especially by one of the medium’s greats, the print however is extremely rare, and is a continuation of the fascinating history of photographic marketing in which original prints were bound inside journals for the purpose of selling product, in this case the Velox brand.  You can read more about the process of making this print here, and see the uncropped version.

 

For myself, the artist’s intent for At Lake Como is more fully realized- and unfaded- in another version seen below: a hand-pulled gravure reproduced in 1893.

 

blog-at-lake-como-alfred-stieglitz-1893"At Lake Como": 1893: hand-pulled photogravure by N.Y. Photogravure Company: 12.8 x 18.8 cm: which appeared in the December 1, 1893 issue of The Photographic Times: from PhotoSeed Archive

 

1. Stieglitz however did appear as co-editor on the masthead of the American Amateur Photographer along with F.C. Beach for the final issue of January, 1896.

 

Heaven's Road, Traveled

 

If we are extremely lucky, there will be people we meet in life personifying the ideal of who we might aspire to.  That was certainly true for me and Ruth Kaplan. Ruth, who passed away in a Florida hospice last week, was the mother of John Kaplan, one of my very best friends since college. I’m here to say they have both influenced my life for the better.

 

blog-ruth-kaplan-jr-peterson-meadow-road-carbon-print-1906

J.R. Peterson: American, Portland, Maine: detail: “Meadow Road”: 1906: vintage green-toned carbon print: 23.5 x 18.5 cm: unmounted. From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

A mom and devoted wife to husband Ralph, who passed away some years ago, Ruth was a gifted artist, journalist, and lover of nature; with orchids being a special interest. She was someone whose quiet dignity and wisdom I respected and hung onto whenever I had chance to spend time with her, but also, as I re-discovered last week while searching for old photos-someone who didn’t take herself too seriously-proven by a series of frames I took of her with John, where she mischievously stuck her tongue out in a few.

 

Hebrew scholarship states Ruth is the model for Chesed, (חסד) translated to loving kindness. My friend was the embodiment of this human virtue: for all who knew her, and those lucky enough to meet someone like her while traveling their own road of life.

 

 

Christmas Spirit

 

blog-adolf-de-meyer-madonna-and-christ-childDetail: 1895: "LA VIERGE A L’ENFANT", (The Virgin and Child) Baron Adolph de Meyer: hand-pulled photogravure from: Bulletin du Photo-Club de Paris: December, 1896: 17.1 x 12.1 cm | 27.2 x 19.7 cm: PhotoSeed Archive

Dream Girls

 My weekend adventure-mysterious airport layovers aside-celebrated my daughter’s graduation from college. And no, this certainly is not her photograph, for it most likely depicts a younger high school graduate instead, wearing a circa 1895 garment that is a true work of diplomatic fashion—incomparable to the disposable, one-zipper frock my daughter wore for her modern ceremony of pomp and circumstance.

 

james-lawrence-breese-woman-graduate-holding-diplomaJames Lawrence Breese: United States: vintage lantern slide ca. 1895-1905: "Woman graduate holding Diploma": support glass: 3.25 x 4.0": window opening: 6.4 x 5.2 cm: from: PhotoSeed Archive

 

For those in the know, the journey of higher education is never easy or predictable, for student or parent. But to those students everywhere earning the right to walk with their class on graduation day, the commencement is rightful icing on the cake and a glorious stepping stone to the next chapter. In the case of this late 19th century lantern slide portrait seen here, the fact that women in the United States had not yet earned the legal right to vote does not diminish this graduate’s pride in her accomplishment, as evidenced by her strong comportment.

 

The ceremony I attended featured all the usual bullet points, with the comic relief of microphone malfunction segueing to the esteemed retired professor remarking on how the school’s newly inaugurated football prowess in the late 1940’s trumped the fact it had previously been known as an institution of higher learning for women only. Applause all around of course, but I rather like the fact the school has foundational women bones.

 

With my own parents supporting my dream of becoming a photographer long ago, my now fatherly advice to an alumni daughter stressed the practical, but also advised exploring the road less traveled with the idea of embracing failure in order to learn.

 

Tripod not Optional

 

Commemorative events in world history recorded in the early years of photography were entirely documentary, with the brutal results being a kind of topographical portraiture not often appreciated by modern viewers, at least for the efforts expended on behalf of their makers.

 

statue-of-the-republic-stevensDetail: Frances V. Stevens: American: 1893: "Gondolier passing Statue of the Republic" in Grand Basin of the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. In background can be seen Peristyle from Liberal Arts building which overlooked Lake Michigan: vintage mounted gelatin-silver photograph: 10.8 x 9.5 cm: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Industrial and world expositions come to mind: the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris and 1876 Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia being some of the better known. Before the very early 1880’s, when the dry plate came into wide use, photographers attending these expositions would need a portable darkroom and chemicals mixed on the spot for the coating of glass plates- quickly inserted into the back of their tripod-mounted cameras in order to make an exposure. Major hurdles typically not ventured by the average photographer.

 

Enter the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, and the wide availability by then of dry plates and roll film for the teeming photographic masses. 1892 marked the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in North America and its’ commemoration from May to October the following year attracted over 27 million people from around the world. But so-called “serious” photography practiced there, along with capitalistic motive by those in charge, conspired against the dedicated photographer attending. With the exception of practical solutions for photographers in the form of railings, pedestals or fixed objects, only one attendee was allowed the luxury of lugging a camera tripod around the 600+ acre fairgrounds,  Charles Dudley Arnold, (1844-1927) designated the World’s Fair Official Photographer.

 

grand-basinDetail: Frances V. Stevens: American: 1893: "People Congregating in Court of Honor" on east side of Administration Building overlooking the Grand Basin at World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. vintage mounted gelatin-silver photograph: 9.2 x 12.1 cm: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Tripods aside, the biggest obstacle was financial, as a daily permit was required. After shelling out .50¢  for daily admission, someone intent on photographing the grandeur of the Chicago fair needed to pay an additional $2.00 for the privilege, almost $50.00 in today’s currency.  

 

“Of course, any one who pays the required $2 can obtain a permit to photograph in the World’s Fair grounds with a four-by-five (or smaller) camera, and without a tripod” ,

 

the Photographic Times helpfully informed its readership on September 22, 1893.

 

One person who had no problems with the price of a daily photographic permit was Miss Frances V. Stevens of New York City. A world traveler, she was an active and exhibiting member of the New York Camera Club as early as 1891 according to The American Amateur Photographer. Her society credentials were equally impressive, with the New York Times mentioning her in a July, 1890 article along with Louise Whitfield Carnegie, the spouse of Andrew Carnegie, one of the world’s richest people:  “Among the New York ladies who are amateur photographers are Mrs. Andrew Carnegie, … Miss Frances V. Stevens” it stated.

 

bullfrogs-on-columnDetail: Frances V. Stevens: American: 1893: at right: "Entrance to the Fisheries Arcade" (Henry Ives Cobb): a bullfrog can be seen peering out from a riot of frogs on the set of columns at right on the grounds of World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. This ornamental hand-work was made from staff, composed of plaster, cement, and jute fibers. Vintage mounted gelatin-silver photograph: 10.5 x 9.8 cm: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Six surviving examples of photographs taken by Frances Stevens, all signed by her and taken at the 1893 World’s fair, have now been added to the site. Believed to be contact-prints from cut or reduced 4 x 5” negatives, they had originally been individually framed. Improper storage has also taken a toll on the work and they each exhibit a large amount of surface staining-but not enough to preclude their artistic and historical importance from being seen here.

 

Even in the reduced format, the Stevens prints are chock full of nuance, and I’ve taken the liberty of showing details from select examples to illustrate this post. In many ways, her less scripted results by means of the smaller hand camera are extremely valuable documents-certainly in regards to artistic consideration-but equal in different ways to many of those captured by one of Charles Arnold’s 11 x 14 inch plate cameras. In consideration of preservation issues and speaking of the wonder of large glass plate negatives in general, a vast secret life waits to be uncovered by historians willing to take the time to save this material. Something crucial and I dare say almost too late for one of humankind’s greatest achievements, her invention of photography.

 

statue-of-laborDetail: Frances V. Stevens: American: 1893: "Statue of Industry" by American sculptor Edward Clark Potter (1857-1923): statue overlooks South Basin with part of the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building seen on left and Agriculture Building at right. vintage mounted gelatin-silver photograph: 9.2 x 11.8 cm: PhotoSeed Archive

 

If one were willing and intrigued by the idea however, photographic archives from newspapers around the world dating to the early 20th century can be a wonderful starting point. For those seeking evidence and inspiration with respect to digital preservation, please check out Springfield Photographs, a site concentrating on the Midwestern American experience from 1929-1935 and most worthy of your attention.