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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.

 

 

A Brief Moment in Time

 

Finding words. Looking back. Celebrating life. Of the canine type. In the end, all we can hope to attain.

 

-misses-selby-woman-with-dogThe Misses Selby: ca. 1900-1905: "Woman with her West Highland White Terrier": Vintage platinum photograph: image: 16.7 x 12.0 cm | support: 18.2 x 12.5 cm (unmounted) For Pepper

 

 

For Kim

 

 I’ve never bought into the hokum that “a photograph is worth a thousand words”. I’ve always thought the medium was bigger, believing the phrase has been overused in popular culture to the point it has cheapened the very essence of Photography as Memory.

 

closed-gentianLouise Birt Baynes: (1876-1958)  "Closed or Blind Gentian": 1904: vintage gelatin silver process photograph loosely mounted within period support. image: 20.8 x 12.6 cm | support: 29.5 x 20.1 cm

 

This might not be earth-shattering news to the picture-taking masses, so I’ll just reiterate my feeling that any photograph-new or very old- has the ability and inner life to prove incalculable worth and embody pure memory, especially for you, if you happened to take it. Photographs are simply the personification of Memory made real. It matters little if today’s memories are in digital form, or of the vintage paper variety accompanying this post, made over 100 years ago.

 

When we receive sad news, shock and tears always come first. And then memories. In this case, always good ones, and then the photographs already taken invariably retrieved and revisited. This is how it went yesterday when my wife and I belatedly learned a dear friend had passed on. Georgia native Kim McCoy was a young woman who was passionate, funny, articulate: a writer with a voice that could deliver in public as well as a former journalist of conviction who used her own professional gift of words to give life and context back to her own loving family.

 

As is Life, intent and chance mysteriously came together, and my next post in this space would feature a preview of flower studies which will soon find their way to the site dating to 1904 taken by American photographer Louise Birt Baynes. (1876-1958) After acquiring them, I had struggled for almost a year trying to learn the identity of their maker, with chance granting me success only last week after Golden rod was found with proper attribution in a photographic journal. Several of these photographs have the added bonus of hand-written poetry on their mounts. And so for Kim, some words penned a century ago and recited anew to your memory of a life cut short at 33. One to celebrate as fully as is Nature’s own beautiful Closed Gentian, a flower that never fully opens:

 

“It never opened someone said,
The strange, fair, bud was all,
a bright hope only half interpreted,
and shriveling to its fall.”