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Posted January 2017 in Documentary Photography, History of Photography, New Additions, Significant Photographers, Significant Photographs
The historical photographic record doesn’t flinch when it comes to the importance of women, and I present herewith a short gallery as evidence, many of these photographs taken by women themselves. Mother Earth was surely proud of those millions who turned out in rallies all over the United States and across the World in support of the fairer sex on Saturday. And in Washington, D.C., it was a pointed, diverse, and joyous message presenting the true story of America heard loud and clear countering the utterances of the keynote speaker the day before.
Posted March 2015 in New Additions, Significant Photographs
P.T. Barnum gave me permission. A recent news item that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus would send their remaining ponderous performing pachyderms to a Florida retirement home by 2018 got me to thinking recently. Did I not possess in my archive one very old mysterious photograph of a stuffed elephant? Sure enough, I did.
Looks kinda important.
Bunch of people standing outside a building… with a really big stuffed elephant.
Now to some Google “research”.
As in: “Jumbo was the greatest circus attraction in American history.” (1.)
So now I’m more interested in that old photo. But then it dawns on me: several years ago, I had purchased a trove of material taken by an amateur photographer named Charles Rollins Tucker. Never heard of him? Tufts College. Class of 1891. Bachelor of Philosophy with specialties in chemistry and physics, then a Master of Arts from the same institution in 1894. From Stoughton, Massachusetts, Tucker first resided in East Hall (room 26) on the Tufts campus after first matriculating in the Fall of 1887. Trust me. I know a great deal more, and eventually, time willing, you will too. Several photographs of his daughter Dorothy, (also a Tufts graduate) including “Girl with Kodak“ and an earlier study of her photographing her doll have been hiding in plain site on this website for several years now, and I eventually hope to show the progression of her growing up in a wonderful series of images taken by her father.
But now back to the main attraction, that old photograph. Like I said, Barnum would approve.
Jumbo, a word synonymous with someone or something very large or huge-especially so in the American lexicon, was an African elephant of immense proportions. According to Wikipedia, he was also the first “international animal superstar” after showman Phineas Taylor Barnum (1810-1891) purchased him from the London Zoo in 1882 for $10,000. However, in September of 1885, after entertaining North American circus audiences for a bit more than 3 years, he came to an inglorious end after being accidentally struck by a freight train after a Canadian performance.
Barnum being Barnum, a little thing like death was certainly not going to get in the way of Jumbo thrilling audiences while continuing to replenish his masters coffers- albeit in a more restrained and static way. An early trustee and munificent benefactor of the school, he gave it $55,000 in 1882 for the establishment of the Barnum Museum of Natural History on the campus, which was completed by 1884. Housing a museum of natural history showcasing a multitude of stuffed circus and zoological animal specimens as well as laboratories and classrooms, arrangements for Jumbo’s remains had been planned even while he was still alive. Overseeing the museum was John Marshall, the first professor of natural history at the school, who had presciently written to Henry A. Ward, Barnum’s taxidermist extraordinaire and owner of the “Natural Science Establishment” in Rochester, N.Y. two weeks before Jumbo’s death:
College Hill. Sep 1. 1885.
Dear Prof. Ward.
We fully expect to have the skin of Jumbo when he dies. Jumbo was excepted when the arrangement was made with the Smithsonian. I should not consider the Barnum Museum complete without this noble animal. It would be the greatest ornament that we could place in the Vestibule, near Mr. Barnum’s bust. Our front door to the Museum is [blank] feet high. You can judge whether the stuffed Jumbo would go in. It is wide enough, I think. Probably it would be necessary to stuff the skin in the vestibule. I have not decided upon the skeleton yet but will endeavor to let you know soon. - I think your offer to Mr. Barnum was $75 in exchange or $50 in money. Would you object to letting the $50 go towards the skulls? -
Yours very truly.
John P. Marshall (2.)
After Jumbo’s demise, Ward was dispatched to Canada in order to secure the animal’s remains, not an easy task. Arriving two days after the accident on Sept. 17, souvenir seekers had to be kept at bay by police:
In addition to the problem of size, Jumbo’s fame caused added complications. Relic seekers had done some damage before Ward arrived, and a policeman had been put on guard to prevent further mutilation. It took Ward, his assistants, and half a dozen butchers from St. Thomas, two days to dissect the elephant and prepare the hide and skeleton for shipment. The hide weighed 1,538 pounds, the bones 2,400 pounds. Coins of many kinds were found in Jumbo’s stomach, and Ward was quoted as having said that “Jumbo was a bank all by himself.” His stomach also contained rivets, a bunch of keys on a ring, a policeman’s whistle, and various ornaments. (3.)
By March of the following year, after his skin had been tanned and “scraped to a uniform thickness and nailed to a huge wooden framework with 74,480 nails”, (4.) Ward’s Natural Science Establishment delivered two finished mounts of Jumbo to Barnum at a reported cost of $1200.00: (5.) one of his skeleton and another for his hide. This stuffed version of Jumbo, after two additional years of touring with The Greatest Show on Earth, eventually made its’ way to Medford and the college via train after Barnum made the decision to (mostly) “retire” him from traveling circus life.
A Rare Survivor
With this mounted cabinet card seemingly the only photographic evidence of his arrival on campus, it must have been quite a sight to see all the steps taken to safely transport Jumbo by train, ferryboat and horse-drawn carriage on his final journey to Tufts. Beginning on Friday, March 29 from his winter home in Bridgeport, CT , Jumbo finally arrived in front of the Barnum museum at the college on Wednesday, April 3, 1889, with the final leg of the journey described as:
…” he was hauled to Tufts by a double team of horses. When that team proved unable to pull him up College Hill, more than 50 Tufts professors and students, aided by some local boys, completed the task.” (6.)
An alternate dispatch from 1888 Tufts graduate Julien C. Edgerly, (1865-1913) a reporter and news editor for the Boston Daily Globe newspaper who witnessed the famed elephants arrival on campus, wrote an article published in the edition for Thursday, April 4, 1889, illustrated by a small woodcut of the mounted cabinet card seen here. Conclusive proof it was taken by Tufts student Charles Rollins Tucker-albeit without being named directly-was included in Edgerly’s article. Some excerpts:
The mounted skin of Jumbo this morning stands in front of the museum on the top of College hill, as shown in the accompanying cuts, one of which shows the animal with a man at his side to give by contrast an idea of his size, and the other shows both Jumbo and the building which, barring the cadence of fortune, is destined to be his last long home. …
After Jumbo made his final journey, pulled by 6 horses up College Hill to the front doors of the Barnum Museum, the carriage he was riding on was “taken apart and drawn away.” … and:
The canvas coverings were removed to allow a student photographer to transfer his image to the plate of the camera. Several views were taken, some with ambitious young men upon the great beast’s back. Then the coverings were replaced and he will stand as lone sentinel till today when he will be placed inside the museum. He will occupy the centre of the large front room, facing the entrance. (7.)
Professor Marshall, writing in the Annual Report of the President of Tufts College for 1889, also gave an interesting account of Jumbo’s arrival that day, commenting Jumbo had increased visitors to the museum among other observations:
Jumbo was brought to the Barnum Museum on Fast Day of the present year, and moved into the vestibule the following day. All the wood-work was removed from the great arch of the portico, leaving barely room for the entrance of the largest mounted elephant of modern times. It will be taken away, September 20, to be exhibited in London during the coming winter. About the first of April of next year, it will become a permanent attraction of the Museum. During the five months of its exhibition here the number of visitors to the Museum was largely increased. Your attention is again respectfully invited to the need of additional cases for the proper exhibition of specimens which have been accumulating during the past two years.
JOHN P. MARSHALL,
Director. Tufts College,
September 19, 1889. (8.)
Picking up the Ashes
Jumbo has given back to Tufts, no pun intended, in a Huge way. Period accounts state he was immediately adopted as the school’s new mascot shortly after his arrival in 1889 and continues in that role today at Tufts University. The school website, semantics aside, brags Jumbo is the “only college mascot found in Webster’s Dictionary.” But alas, Jumbo endured a second death, this time by fire in 1975, when faulty wiring lead to a conflagration that gutted the 1884 Barnum museum. But all was not lost. Fortunately, the school’s archives held a section of Jumbo’s tail removed earlier because of students continual penchant for tugging on it, and a university staff member, while the rubble was still smoldering, had the smarts to scoop up some of his ashes that now reside in a Skippy peanut butter jar at the school. (nice trivia question- it’s secured with a Peter Pan Crunchy brand lid) Members of the sports teams on campus are said to rub this jar for good luck before an important game, and students indelible memories of college life at Tufts have been published every year since 1917 in the “Jumbo” yearbook.
With reporter Julien Edgerly’s account of a Tufts student photographer recording Jumbo for posterity in front of the museum on April 3, 1889, my argument and “Conclusive proof” Charles Rollins Tucker was that author working with Edgerly seems credible. For comparison, the Tufts archives holds a photograph dated 1889 showing Jumbo later on exhibit inside the museum credited to noted marine photographer N. L. Stebbins. (Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins-1847-1922) But given Jumbo’s immense fame, why is there no back-mark or other attribution for Stebbins for this exterior view of Jumbo? Surely, like one of his famous yachting studies, Stebbins would have insisted on it!
On his way to becoming a fine pictorialist photographer in the early 20th Century, Charles Tucker took a series of architectural photographs that survive in this archive which further gives credibility to his being responsible for the 1889 exterior Jumbo photograph. These include several examples seen above showing (ca. 1890-95) one of architect Henry Hobson Richardson’s masterpieces, the Thomas Crane Public Library (built 1882) located in Quincy, south of Boston. This is a gelatin silver mounted cabinet card using the same card-stock as the Jumbo photograph as well as a variant mounted cyanotype on a different paper stock. Finally, when he finished with his masters degree in late 1894 at Tufts, Tucker became sub-master until 1896 at Quincy High School- the same town as Richardson’s library. Two of his photographic views of this additionally survive, with a card-mounted, signed cyanotype by him dated 1896 seen here.
1. excerpt: Step Right Up! : Bob Brooke presents the history of the circus in America : from: History Magazine: October/November 2001 issue: online version accessed March, 2015.
2. excerpt: Jumbo: by John R. Russell: in: University of Rochester Library Bulletin: vol. III, no. 1: Fall, 1947: River Campus Libraries online resource accessed March, 2015
4. excerpt: Jumbo: Here and There at Tufts: Medford: Tufts College: Lewis Doane, Editor-in-chief: 1907: p. 44
5. excerpt: Jumbo: by John R. Russell: in: University of Rochester Library Bulletin: vol. III, no. 1: Fall, 1947: River Campus Libraries online resource accessed March, 2015
6. excerpt: Jumbo Matriculates: from: An Elephant’s Tale: Susan Wilson, J69, G75: Tufts online Magazine: Spring, 2002
7. The Boston Daily Globe: Thursday, April 4, 1889: p. 4
8. excerpt: Annual Report of the President of Tufts College: Boston: 1889: p. 36
Posted January 2015 in PhotoSeed, Significant Photographers, Significant Photographs, Typography
Posted December 2014 in Exhibitions, New Additions, Significant Photographs
Posted October 2014 in New Additions, Significant Photographs
This spooky season. For more on this photograph with a short overview on the pictorial work of Maine resident Bertrand H. Wentworth, proceed here.
Posted October 2014 in History of Photography, New Additions, Scientific Photography, Significant Photographs
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.
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. ✻
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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.)
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
Posted July 2014 in History of Photography, Scientific Photography, Significant Photographs
Walt Whitman certainly did. Just check out his eyeballs on this photograph taken in 1887 by George C. Cox for confirmation. Especially on this most personal of American holidays, the Fourth of July, the continuing birthday idea of our messy, evolving experiment of a democratic republic called the United States can never be said to be boring.
Need proof of his vision? - Whitman’s metaphorical call in this famous quote: “What is that you express in your eyes?” ; and response: “It seems to me more than all the print I have read in my life.”
You could say America’s poet (1819-1892) of the everyman didn’t need a camera, he was one. His genius of observation, something all great photographers possess, gave him the power to indelibly express his convictions. So when words flowed from his pen, they possessed the power of photographs, especially on the very idea of America in the aftermath of the Civil War:
from Leaves of Grass: intro to “Thoughts”:
Of these years I sing,
How they pass and have pass’d through convuls’d pains, as
How America illustrates birth, muscular youth, the promise, the
sure fulfilment, the absolute success, despite of people-
illustrates evil as well as good,
The vehement struggle so fierce for unity in one’s-self;
How many hold despairingly yet to the models departed, caste,
myths obedience, compulsion, and to infidelity, … (1.)
But enough of the history lesson. Since most of us will never rise to the level of a Whitman in prose, photography as an art form is a comparably easy stretch. Speaking for myself as a young newspaper photographer in the mid 1980’s hunched over a light table editing film, an early mentor told me as long as a person’s eyes in the negative were tack sharp through the loupe, it was a “keeper”, and worthy of publication.
And so it was for my colleagues a century before my own light table revelation, but with the slow, fragile dry plates in use at the time a much greater technical challenge. In 1887, New York portrait photographer George Collins Cox (1851-1902) had the sitting of a lifetime in none other than Whitman. Strolling into his New York studio with oversized fedora, it was 22 years to the day no less on April 15th when American president Abraham Lincoln finally succumbed to an assassin’s bullet in 1865.
And he nailed it, as they say in America. Eyes tack sharp. The following historical account of the Whitman portrait sitting from the Charles E. Feinberg Collection at the Library of Congress gives a nice working account of Cox the photographer in action. A result of that session: the “Laughing Philosopher”, was the title Whitman declared as his favorite:
”On the morning of April 15th, 1887, George Cox took several photographs of Whitman, who was celebrating the success of his New York lecture on Lincoln, delivered the day before. Whitman recalls that “six or seven” photos were made during the session, but Whitman’s friend Jeannette Gilder, an observer of the session, said there were many more than that: ‘He must have had twenty pictures taken, yet he never posed for a moment. He simply sat in the big revolving chair and swung himself to the right or to the left, as Mr. Cox directed, or took his hat off or put it on again, his expression and attitude remaining so natural that no one would have supposed he was sitting for a photograph.“ (2.)
1. from “Thoughts” Leaves of Grass II: The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman: New York:1902: Henry W. Knight, publisher: National (limited) Edition: p. 275
2. excerpt: Walt Whitman Archive online resource accessed July, 2014
Posted March 2014 in Composition, History of Photography, Significant Photographs
When evaluating the chiaroscuro masterpiece Campo San Margherita by James Craig Annan, a striking vertical composition taken in 1894 during his visit to the Campo San Margherita piazza in Venice-an outdoor market and tourist destination still popular today- the idea of Modernism, a decidedly 20th Century school as applied to the photographic arts, should be taken seriously considering the intent and evidence posed by this finished work.
Documentary, cubist in form and radically pictorial for its time, this slice of life study showing the interaction of a market vendor and customer can be dissected for compositional posterity with the intent a post-mortem of sorts by this reviewer is reason enough when re-considering the historical record of early photographic aesthetics.
First off, Scotsman Annan was a master engraver and pioneer of the hand-pulled photogravure, an intaglio process similar to etching, but with the matrix of a photographic negative “from life” doing the stand-in for the artists brush or pencil. With this control afforded, the photographic results transferred to a copper plate could be altered at will depending on artistic intent, giving Annan the ability to subtly control and change aspects of his composition after he took the initial exposure by camera.
Arbitrarily beginning at the bottom of the frame, a subtle flow begins to develop reaching near the top of this composition. Here we see the Campo San Margherita title, with letters spanning the entire width of the vertical composition placed in its own compartmentalized box serving as anchor to the entire work.
From here, the eye travels upwards. With an engraver’s burin, Annan deliberately alters a portion of highlighted marketplace cobblestones to a shaded version- the result being complimentary, contrasting diagonals now taking residence within the dead-zone of space created by his decision to present the work as an extreme vertical composition from the outset.
This in turn brings us to the very center of the frame. Without reading too much into it, the scale itself is the perfect symbol for what Annan achieves in this area we are most interested in visually. Holding it out while weighing a marketplace purchase for his customer opposite, the vendor’s action gives credibility to the idea a kind of balance has been created and achieved at the very center of the frame, especially after she conveniently stoops to his same level while contemplating the purchase.
The rest of the frame serving as backdrop to this drama in the middle compliments everything else within in, but with a twist. Instead of a purely static presentation of a lone moment occurring in the marketplace, the hat-wearing gentleman walking directly behind the vendor preparing to bust out of the frame gives a refreshing jolt to the work. Annan’s inclusion of this other action reminds us the marketplace bustles with life.
Finally, the central part of the background: a large shaded alleyway dividing two separate buildings anchoring the entire left and right margins of the frame, neatly compliments the balance of the two windows seen behind the man wearing the hat. Here, the area of the arched window frame in the top left of the composition reaches upwards to its natural conclusion: another area of naturally shaded discoloration similar in tone and effect Annan manipulated for the bottom third of the frame.
But this is just one opinion, albeit from someone who has spent a lifetime constructing and deconstructing photographs. Hopefully, this insight into one singular example of Annan’s art might give others the chance to see his motives and intent for what they are: a strong example of photographic Modernism ahead of his time.
Posted January 2014 in New Additions, PhotoSeed, Significant Photographs
Posted December 2012 in Childhood Photography, New Additions, Significant Photographs