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Posted January 2016 in Alternate Processes, History of Photography, Journals, New Additions, Publishing, Texts
Sigismund Blumann, (1872-1956) an American who became an important editor and photographer after moving to San Francisco, California from New York City in the early 1880’s is our subject for this post, along with his involvement with and history of Camera Craft magazine. Never heard of him? A few relevant but by no means comprehensive list of details about this gentleman whose friends addressed him as “Sig” for short:
⌘ West Coast champion for photography in his role as Editor-in-Chief of Camera Craft magazine from 1924-1933. Prolific writer for said journal whose love of language sometimes lead to his mangling of it, but only with the best of intentions.
⌘ Significant pictorialist photographer from the same period and earlier whose darkroom work was equally inventive and important.
⌘ So gregarious in affect, photographic historian Christian A. Peterson duly notes, (1.) that as editor, he personally answered all correspondence sent to him by his 8000 monthly Camera Craft readers in addition to his regular duties of penning multiple articles for each issue.
⌘ Possession of a sly sense of humor: look no further than a ca. 1930 self-portrait in which his suit lapel sprouts a long cable release rather than a floral boutonnière.
⌘ Conservative writer in print who often took a while to accept new ideas: as one example, Peterson notes his use of the made-up word “Sewereelism” included in a 1938 editorial written by him on his feelings towards the failings of the art movements Surrealism and Dada for the magazine Photo Art Monthly, a publication he owned himself. (2.)
⌘ Pipe smoker extraordinaire. Featured not only in the above referenced self-portrait but immortalized by artist W.R. Potter in print every month as artistic caricature shown smoking and reading a book used for his Under the Editor’s Lamp column in Camera Craft beginning in April 1926.
Sigismund Blumann: Short Biography
For the past three years, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of corresponding with Thomas High, Sigismund Blumann’s grandson, and been equally fortunate in acquiring a small archive of Sig’s vintage work for PhotoSeed previously kept in the family. Unlike Sig’s friends, Tom tells me, as a boy of perhaps five or six, he would of course address him as Grampa Blumann. Tom goes on to say:
”I only wish I had known him better – he died when I was a child, and my only real memories of him were playing rummy and whist with him.”
Tom has also agreed to let me reprint for purposes of introduction the following short biography of his grandfather written in October, 2009, for which I’m very grateful.
Sigismund Blumann (1872-1956) by Thomas High
Sigismund Blumann was born on September 13, 1872, in New York City, the son of Alexander Blumann and Rosalie (Price) Blumann. He came to San Francisco with his parents in late 1881 or 1882, and subsequently became a professional pianist and music teacher.
Sigismund Blumann married first on August 30, 1894, to Adele Morgenstern. They divorced in May of 1895. He married second on June 4, 1901, to Hilda Axelina Johansson and they subsequently had four daughters, Ethel, Amy, Lorna, and Vera.
In the 1890s, Sigismund Blumann became interested in photography and had begun taking photos seriously by 1900 while living in San Francisco. At the time of the San Francisco earthquake on April 9, 1906, he and his wife were still living with his parents on Army Street. He volunteered to help the recovery and, with his official permits, got through the lines and took a number of photographs.
Mr. Blumann was also a prolific writer and he authored numerous articles, commentaries, and poems.
After the 1906 earthquake, the Blumanns moved to Davis Street in Fruitvale (later part of Oakland). From that time, all of his photographic work was done in his darkroom at the Davis Street home.
Photography increased in importance in his life, and at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition he combined all of his talents: he played in an orchestra, photographed the Fair, and worked as a correspondent for the New York Tribune and other newspapers.
In the early 1920s, Sigismund retired from an active career in music and entered the profession of efficiency engineering, with offices in the Monadnock Building in San Francisco. His principal client was the Forster Music Publishing Company.
He continued his interest in photography and in 1924 he became editor of Camera Craft magazine. In addition to editing the publication and writing numerous articles for it, he also wrote the Photographic Workroom Handbook, published by Camera Craft in 1927.
Mr. Blumann’s last issue as editor of Camera Craft was in August of 1933. Several months later, he launched his own magazine, Photo Art Monthly, which he edited and published until 1940. During this period, he also produced several more manuals for amateur photographers, including the Photographic Handbook, Photographic Greetings - How to Make Them, Enlarging Manual, and Toning Processes.
In 1940, he sold the Photo Art Monthly to his assistant, Franke Unger (who married photographer Adolf Fassbender about the same time). She soon closed the magazine.
The Blumanns continued to live at their Davis Street home for the rest of their lives, joined by their unmarried daughters, Ethel and Lorna Blumann, both librarians. He produced little photographic work in the 1940s and 1950s, contenting himself to dabble in photography and discuss it with his new son-in-law, William A. High, who married his daughter, Vera, in February of 1943. Bill High was a commercial photographer before World War II, a combat photographer for the US Army during the war, and the founder of the photography department at Oakland’s Laney Trade School (later Peralta Junior College) thereafter.
Sigismund Blumann died in Oakland on July 9, 1956, and Hilda Blumann died on February 1, 1958, also in Oakland.
Sigismund Blumann’s photos are in the Oakland Museum, Minneapolis Institute of Art, High Museum in Atlanta, and elsewhere.
For further information, see “Sigismund Blumann, California Editor and Photographer,” by Christian A. Peterson, in History of Photography, vol. 26, no. 1. (Spring 2002).
Beginnings in Word and Photography
Writing under his infrequent pen name Charles H. Fitzpatrick in Camera Craft in 1925, (3.) Sig most likely gives us a small hint of his own beginnings in photography, a passion that would soon evolve into his extensive documentation of life of San Francisco’s bustling Chinatown neighborhood in 1901. (4.) Later in this capacity as street shooter, he played the role of documentarian in the aftermath of the destruction of San Francisco in the 1906 earthquake and subsequent job as part-time portrait photographer after relocating to neighboring Oakland in 1907 due to the destruction. (5.) all while making his living as musical performer and teacher) :
Having become interested in Photography back in 1900 as an amateur with an old style Adlake plate camera, and two years later as a professional with a studio— and almost continuously since in Commercial Photography the author has had a wonderful opportunity to study composition both by experience and observation of the work of others. (6.)
It was sometime in the 1890s, photographic historian Christian A. Peterson notes, that he “first used his wife’s Kodak camera to make snapshots and soon began searching the photographic periodicals for information and advice.” (7.) His editorship of Camera Craft as momentous professional occasion aside, Sig’s immersion in all things Photographic may very well have reached a high-point by 1933, the year he became a charter member of the Photographic Society of America as well as being honored a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society.
Photography in itself however was not his only reason for being during his professional career as editor, and even earlier as a musician. This was because Sig was a romantic at heart, a dreamer who had a great fondness for language, and the will to commit it to paper. Starting out for example, only in his early 20’s, he composed the following poem for the April, 1895 issue of the California-based magazine Overland Monthly:
PLEASURE is like perfect liquor,
Sweet to taste and after taste,
And like, too, in that when gotten
We imbibe too much, then waste,
And we find when pleasure passes
Life is empty as the glasses.
Wearing the hat of Poet-in-Residence at Camera Craft, Sig never neglected this early love of poetry for the publication, often combining his own photographic efforts alongside original compositions. One example, which he titled Lugubrio, though technically not even a real word, appeared in April, 1927, and was his way of simply assigning a mournful, or lugubrious meaning to his own photograph depicting jagged rocks and crashing waves-seen in his dramatic coastal landscape most likely taken on the Pacific coast:
By Sigismund Blumann
The drowned and dead, now turned to stone,
Stand watching by the shore
And you may hear them through the night,
From set of sun to morning light,
As they shall do for evermore,
Weep as they watch, and moan. (p. 177)
Camera Craft: Western Photographic Journal
Although he’d been a contributor to its’ pages in words and photos after the first decade of being founded, it would be 24 years from the journal’s 1900 founding until Sig would begin to establish an enduring legacy in the history of photography via his role as Editor-in-Chief of Camera Craft. Some historical background on the intents and purposes for this ground-breaking publication are in order.
First based in San Francisco at 120 Sutter Street and issued monthly by the Camera Craft Publishing Company under the direction of editor W.G. Woods, the photographic journal Camera Craft was founded on the principles the West Coast of the United States should have an equal geographical mouthpiece of influence to counter that of the East Coast in promoting photography-for both professional and amateur workers. (to this end a separate page was devoted monthly to the happenings of many California amateur clubs) For the first issue of May, 1900, the following observations and arguments were made by the journal in support of these ideals:
The growth of photography, the introduction of simplifying methods in scientific picture-making, during the past twenty-five years is one of the wonders of the century. The phenomenal strides made by the photographic inventors of the world, resulting in the production of simple devices and convenient appliances, have made photography in all of its branches an almost universal fad. The Pacific Coast, ever ready to appreciate the merits of an innovation, has kept well abreast in the steady march of progress.
The wonderful climate of California lends itself enthusiastically to the wants of the photographer. The hand of Nature has reared, in eternal beauty, scenic effects unequaled elsewhere on earth. The very atmosphere of the Far West encourages the artistic impulse of its people. With such great natural advantages it is small wonder that when the western photographer has seen fit to cross the continent to compete with the eastern brotherhood he returns with laurels upon his brow. Not less wonderful is the existence of the largest Camera Club in the world in the city of the Golden Gate.
Yet, strange as it may seem, this great class of enthusiasts, this immense body of earnest workers has never been represented by a publication worthy of its trust. The photographers of the West have for years depended upon the journals of the East for enlightenment, but have looked in vain for recognition in their columns. It is to remedy this condition that Camera Craft now makes its bow to the public.
As to the scope of Camera Craft nothing can be said; it will have to speak for itself. The only promise made is the sincere intent on the part of the publishers to improve with each succeeding issue. The one hope of the magazine is that it may be so conducted as to meet the approbation of its readers and lend its aid to the material welfare of all interested in photography, whether for pleasure or for profit. (p. 26)
With its second issue for June, ambitions quickly shifted in support of the establishment of a West-Coast professional organization:
“Camera Craft intends to agitate the question of a Pacific Coast Convention of photographers. General inquiry throughout the state has led to the belief that such a convention is not only desirable but an actual need to those who make their living through the lens and shutter.” …We recall instances where photographers of this coast have attended conventions in the East and have returned with easy honors. Camera Craft would be pleased to learn of a serious consideration of the idea. A convention held in San Francisco with a first-class salon as an adjunct would undoubtedly lead to a permanent organization, and result in the advancement of the craft in a manner hitherto untried.” (p. 68)
Although preceded geographically and in scope by the Pacific Coast Photographer, a short-lived monthly established in 1892 and believed to have ceased publication several years later, Camera Craft thrived as a robust Western photographic journal for the next 41 years. It first accomplished this under the capable tenure of editor Fayette J. Clute in the early decades of the publication before Sig took over in 1924, and was carried forward by him and others until the economic and human realities of World War II forced it’s hand. This occurred after the March, 1942 issue, when Camera Craft ironically headed back East so to speak, when it was absorbed by the Boston-based American Photography magazine. An editorial appearing in the final issue stated the decision to cease publishing was made because editor George Allen Young was taking his place in the armed services among other realities.
Sig As Camera Craft Editor: 1924-33
Photographic historian Christian A. Peterson, who called Camera Craft “the leading West Coast photographic monthly” and whose in-depth reassessment of Sigismund Blumann’s life and career was cited at the conclusion of Tom High’s short biography of his grandfather, called Sigismund Blumann:
”a prominent tastemaker in Californian photography during the 1920s and 1930s”. (8.)
Having an audience of 8000 monthly Camera Craft readers after coming aboard as chief editor in 1924 was surely a great start to becoming a tastemaker, but Sig proved his worth during the following nine years for his ability to impart to readers the essential knowledge of the ever-changing progress of photography. This took place in conjunction with his maintaining the vision of remaining true to himself-no matter how quirky some of his readers undoubtedly perceived him- while unashamedly promoting photographic talent in the pages of the magazine where he saw fit.
But some things remained the same after he took over. One, perhaps appropriate considering his musical background, was his retention of the subhead: “Conducted by Sigismund Blumann” for the journal’s long-established editorial column The Amateur And His Troubles previously edited by Paul Douglas Anderson. This time, an actual orchestra conductor was indeed stepping in to conduct editorial affairs! Keeping this personal touch intact-especially to those who knew him as someone passionate of music his entire life, was just one way of his remaining connected with readers as well as professional and social acquaintances in the Bay Area. Under Sig’s moderation, the column continued to offer advice dispensed by any number of well regarded authors who broke down and offered solutions to problems encountered by amateurs in the field relating to anything from photographic equipment to darkroom dilemmas.
His second column, a new feature which debuted with the November, 1924 issue, was called CHIT CHAT About our friends. A vehicle for Sig’s effusive boosterism of photography in general, both professional and amateur, it was written in a style that might best be described, amusingly, as slightly syrupy in tone but delivered with erudition. Profiles on photographers he found interesting, and news of California camera clubs were a constant monthly feature of the column in addition to news of major upcoming exhibitions as well as critiques and results from those salons happening not only on the West Coast but throughout the United States and beyond. Comically subtitled: “Ye Editor Retaileth Newes of Ye Profession And In Quaint Italics Titillateth Ye Sphynx With Hys Quill”, the column’s “titillations” were often just longish aphorisms managing implied or direct associations to something photographic. Appearing rather infrequently at the column’s outset and disappearing altogether by August, 1931 when this inventive take on the English language was eliminated, they appeared from time to time, with several reprinted below for his January, 1926 column:
“Every time you get the best of a customer you have cheated yourself.”
“The most expensive lens may not be the best but the cheapest is pretty sure to be the worst.”
Lastly, and most importantly, one of the most personal reasons for Camera Craft’s success under Sig was his entirely self-written Under the Editor’s Lamp column, debuting with the April, 1926 issue. Already a fixture by means of the pen to his many readers-in prose as well as poetry- the column gave a final say so to speak to his personal views-conservative to be sure-on just about anything going on regarding photography and musings on current events. With accompanying column artwork by California artist W.R. Potter portraying Sig kicking back while puffing his pipe and seated at a library desk, the column became an effective way for this journal’s Editor-in-Chief to assume the role of oracle and brand ambassador. Sig’s short forward for his first Under the Editor’s Lamp :
When the desk is cleared of paste-pot and shears and the lamp is lit, it is good to put a match to the freshly loaded, old pipe and take a puff or two, letting the mind’s mind relax into mere dreams. The lamp is a sentimental fiction, of course, being a standardized glass bowl with a bulb glowing through, but the pipe is real, the mood is sincere, and we hope the mind exists, more or less.
Out go our thoughts to readers unseen, perhaps never to be met except as a large, critical, voracious body of men and women who consume the forty-eight pages of pictures and text and off-hand decide the fare has been very good, fair, or rotten. Little do they care what labor, what hopes, what ambitions went into every line and every illustration. Why should they. The best is no better than their due. (p.180)
M.Q. Developer to Develop Good Feeling
Because Camera Craft billed itself the official organ of the Pacific International Photographers’ Association, (PIPA) with owner Ida M. Reed acting as Secretary and headquartered in the same San Francisco offices as the journal, (703 Market in Claus Spreckles Building) news of the Association-which covered a wide western geographic area including membership from Alaska, Alberta, Arizona, British Columbia, California, the Hawaiian Islands, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington states- became a regular monthly feature of the previously discussed Chit-Chat column. By 1927, Sig was hitting full-stride at Camera Craft, his writing skills undoubtedly honed through his reminisces featured in the Editor’s Lamp column.
The following account is a result of this, of Sig’s prodigious social engagement with members active in the Bay-area camera club scene. In a humorous yet telling example of his own admission to preserve the rightful history of one particular PIPA (often referred to as a club) meeting for Chit-Chat, the March, 1927 issue duly reported on the Past Presidents Night dinner dance at San Leandro’s Toyon Inn on Feb. 15, 1927. Taking place when Prohibition was still the law of the land in America, (9.) Sig’s account made sure to include the lengths employed at the soirée in order for those attending to enjoy the social, and inebriating benefits of some “liquid cheer”:
But hold, before we close it must be chronicled as it shall be inscribed in the archives of the club that each guest found a developing tray and two glass graduates before him. It was a paper tray, so that when dropped the falling tray might not raise the deuce. In one of the two ounce graduates water was served and in the other M.Q. developer to develop good feeling. A bucket of Hypo was kept in the ante-room to fix the police, and everything was provided to make a perfect picture except bromide. If any was needed it was the next morning. (p. 145: M.Q. was an alkaline developer for gelatine emulsions combining Metol and hydroquinone)
Camera Nut to the End
Considering he was having an awfully good time in his position as Editor-in Chief, an observation certainly not witnessed by this writer but most obvious by the written evidence left for posterity, Sig’s resignation at the end of July, 1933 does seem a bit abrupt. Historian Christian A. Peterson speculates he and owner Ida M. Reed “parted ways over deep differences.” (10.) But with the installation of Camera Craft veteran George Allen Young to replace him, Sig was none the less given deserved praise by owner Ida Reed the following month:
Since 1924 we, and the readers of this magazine, have enjoyed his contagious enthusiasm, and his wide technical knowledge of photography,. He leaves with our best wishes for success and happiness. (p. 387)
Earlier, for his final Under the Editor’s Lamp column written in July, 1933 and published the next month, his nine-year run at the journal concludes with a perhaps knowing, but certainly wistful remembrance of his good times spent there. Recounting adventures in photography that summer while traveling the California High Sierra, Sig first gives accolades to the efforts U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt was giving to get American industry moving again during the ongoing Great Depression before concluding by stating his own continued love affair with photography:
Does thinking of Yosemite and speaking of photography seem like reductum ad absurdum to you? It should not for I can allow myself so very short a time in that garden of The God and I can so effectively carry some of its glory and inspiration over the rest of the year with what my camera has enabled me to bring home, that it is natural to raise the picture, as near as imagination makes possible, to the original.
As I look at the screen and project the pictures, studying how to express my reactions when on the spot, I once again smell the pines and hear the rush of the Merced as it boils over the Happy Isles. In the quiet and the benignancy of the red light fancy builds Half Dome, El Capitan, and the Domes anew.
The old rags that made us free. The open spaces that made us immortal in spiritual disembodiment. The camera that vitalized every hour of the day with its assurance of creative picture making. Friends, I am glad, very glad, to be a camera Nut. (p. 343)
With that, a poem by Sig somehow seems a good fit in ending this remembrance about the young boy who moved to California and proceeded through hard work and perseverance to embrace the Golden State as his own. Along with possessing the gift of innumerable talents and more than a few dreams, he managed to share them with many others.
THE QUIET CORNER by Sigismund Blumann
A PIPE, some books, a flower or two,
The picture of one gone before
Who stands without the open door
And shall not die.
When work is through
Some day, some day, when rest is won
And the long, long duty-season done,
I’ll sit me down to taste the best
Of books, tobacco, men and things:
To listen when the spring-bird sings— Looking in peace toward the West.
Against that day, and I am spared,
My quiet corner stands prepared.
To see all work by Sigismund Blumann in the PhotoSeed Archive please go here.
1. see: Early Years in Photography: “Sigismund Blumann, California Editor and Photographer”, by Christian A. Peterson in History of Photography, vol. 26, no. 1. (Spring 2002) p. 59.
2. Ibid: in: Photo Art Monthly, 1933-40: p. 73
3. It would not be until July, 1934, in an updated version of this 1925 Camera Craft article on describing the process of turning photographs into dry point etchings in Photo-Art Monthly, that evidence of Fitzpatrick and Blumann being the same person would seem to be confirmed. In it, the illustrated example of Blumann’s credited photograph titled “Land’s End” is also shown reproduced into the converted dry point etching with credit given to Fitzpatrick. Editorially, it might seem odd to continue this pen-name fiction with Blumann even going to lengths to construct a suspect history in 1925 of “Fitzpatrick’s” own beginnings although the reason was most likely intended as another way of imparting education on a topic deemed worthy and educational enough in the eyes and mind of the editor himself.
4. Copies of at least 43 documentary photographs, with several corresponding paper negative envelopes dated 1901 by Sigismund Bluman, were donated by his family to the California Historical Society where they can be viewed as part of the collection “The Chinese in California: 1850-1925.” The following link includes a smaller sampling of later printed examples, (some hand-colored) along with a rare surviving example titled “Ruin” (a detail included with this post) from 1906 of earthquake damage taken by the photographer as well as several portraits of Sig taken by others.
5. see: citation #1: p. 54.
6. excerpt: introduction: Making Photographs Into Dry Point Etchings: by Charles H. Fitzpatrick Illustrated by the Author: in: Camera Craft: October, 1925: San Francisco: p. 485.
7. see: citation #1 p. 54
8. Ibid: introduction: p. 53
9. American Prohibition was a nationwide constitutional ban on the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages.
10. see: citation #1 p. 65
11. In order to make one of these etchings, the article instructs that after first selecting a printed photograph with little detail, the next step is to: “draw as much as he can on the photograph, using Higgins’ Water Proof India Ink. When this is absolutely dry the silver is completely bleached out with Bichloride of Mercury or Iodine-Iodide bleachers. The pen shading and finishing is then done with care, when the bleached and washed print has been dried.” From here, the article states a copy negative must then be made which is used to make the final second-generation finished (and reduced for effect) “etchings” using various grades of photographic paper: “The method of reproducing drawings is very simple. Place drawing on wall or easel and camera on firm support exactly centering lens on drawing, making exposure on a slow copy plate by diffused daylight or electric light, and develop for contrast. In copying it is advisable to reduce the image one-third smaller than the original as a finer line is thus secured which improves the finished print. The writer prefers a buff stock, matt paper of medium grade and heavy; and has found Vitava E just right: This is a matter of choice, however, as good prints may be secured on Azo, Velox, Cyco, Kruxo, Defender, Haloid, Barston, Charcoal Black or other matt papers. Proceed as in ordinary photographic printing then tone by re-development, using whatever process you prefer. I use Royal-Re-developer with pleasing results.” In the later 1934 article: “Etchings From and With Photographs”, “Fitzpatrick”goes further in depth on this etching process, adding that after the second-generation reduced copy print is made, the print could be “treated through all the usual solutions in the usual way and may be developed in any of the prescribed formulae for blue-black, jet-black, warm-black, or dark brown tones. Or it may be subsequently toned by the bleach and redevelop methods. The particular brown of an etching is easily gotten on Vitava Athena with a developer containing Athenon. Azo P-2 or 3, Vitava Athena E, Novira in the matt smooth or rough are all fine for the purpose. Gevalux gives a wonderful image in a true carbon black color and velvet crayon patine.” Continuing, the article offers a summary of the entire process: “That is all there is to the whole thing. You could not complicate it if you tried. Just make an enlargement, work on it with pen and ink, bleach out the silver leaving the ink image, photograph the line drawing, make as many etching-prints from the copy negative as you wish. Where can you go wrong? How can you fail?” He concludes by saying the maker of these etchings could also go “one step further by using hand-sensitized photographic papers for this final second-generation completed “etching”: “Furthermore, should you desire to print on colored papers or card- board of such surface as cannot be bought ready sensitized it will be a simple matter to sensitize any stock with the well known Blue Print solutions, or if the various shades of brown and black are wanted to resort to Kallitype. These processes are as cheap as they are easy to compound and use; they work on any paper not too saturated with chlorides or unfixed dyes. Kallitype is moreover a beautiful process in itself and prints endure according to the care in making them.”
Posted April 2013 in Photographic Postcards, Publishing, Texts
Beyond the Tweets, texts and messaging saturating our present-day social media culture-recently extending even to software giving a smartphone user the ability to view a photograph just once before it disappears into the ether forever, (Snapchat et al apps) the endurance, value and cultural importance of the printed word and photograph need be considered-indeed marveled at-for the historical record and of course for posterity itself.
Consider today’s example, a postcard featuring an original cyanotype photograph of a well-dressed gentleman reading a newspaper. Addressed and posted to Harold A. Buffington of Littleton, New Hampshire in October, 1906, (1.) this simple and lasting form of communication is signed “Papa”, (2.) with the suggestion for his son to come over on Sunday for a visit in order to enjoy a slice of pumpkin pie.
Before getting to the nut graph as they say in newspaper lingo, “Papa”: aka Arthur W. Buffington, (b. 1868) begins his correspondence with a quote from a well known (at least for its time) story celebrating the importance of small town rags everywhere. It might not be surprising given his listed occupation as a printer for the 1900 U.S. Census. Owner of the Buffington Press in Littleton during this period, (they printed cookbooks among other volumes) he writes on the postcard:
The Little Country Paper
It tells of all the parties an’ the balls of Pumpkin Row ‘Bout who’s spent Sunday with who’s girl, an’ how the crops’ll grow. An’ how it keeps a feller posted ‘bout who’s up and who’s down. That little country paper from his ol’ Home Town.
This entire “story” seems to have originated around 1903 or before by someone writing for the Denver Post newspaper in Colorado. I’ve taken the liberty to include it in its entirety at the end of this post (as it originally appeared) along with another similarly titled “story” I discovered from the era . And the juicy part? “Papa” writes:
Come down Sunday. Mamma has made a whole pumpkin pie and I have only had one piece out of it. (you can divide your piece with L. O and mamma and Ray don’t like punkin very well!) Papa.
In addition to the slice of pie he presumably ate, the postcard might have even inspired Harold Buffington to get ink in his blood like his father, for he is listed in the 1940 U.S. Census as a printer for the Courier office, still known today as the Littleton Courier, a weekly newspaper published since 1889.
The Little Country Paper
When the evenin’ shades is fallin’ at the endin’ o’ the day,
An’ a feller rests from labor, smokin’ at his pipe o’ clay.
There’s nothin’ does him so much good, be fortune up or down,
As the little country paper from his O’l Home Town.
It ain’t a thing o’ beauty an’ its print ain’t always clean. But it straightens out his temper when a feller’s feelin’ mean. It takes the wrinkles off his face an’ brushes off the frown. That little country paper from his Ol’ Home Town.
It tells of all the parties an’ the balls of Pumpkin Row. ‘Bout who spent Sunday with who’s girl an’ how th’ crops’ll grow. An’ how it keeps a feller posted ‘bout who’s up an’ who is down. That little country paper from his O’l Home Town.
Now, I like to read the dailies an’ the story papers too. An’ at times the yaller novels an’ some other trash—don’t you? But when I want some readin’ that’ll brush away a frown I want that little paper from my O’l Home Town. (3.)
The following with the same title originated in the Baltimore (MD) American newspaper in 1900 or before, and may have inspired the Denver Post account of The Little Country Paper:
The Little Country Paper
It’s just a little paper-it isn’t up to date:
It hasn’t any supplement or colored fashion plate.
It comes out every Friday, unless the forms are pied;
The outside is home printed, with boiler-plate inside.
It hasn’t any cable direct from old Bombay,
But it says that “Colonel Braggins is in our midst to-day.”
It doesn’t seem to worry about affairs of state.
But tells that “Joseph Hawkins has painted his front gate.”
It never mentions Kruger or Joseph Chamberlain.
But says that “Thompson’s grocery has a new window pane.”
And that “the Mission Workers will give a festival.
And there’ll be a temperance lecture in William Hooper’s hall.”
It tells about the measles that Jimmy Hankins had.
And says that Israel Johnson “has become a happy dad.”
It says that “cider-making is shortly to commence.”
And cites the fact that Ira Todd is building a new fence.
It mentions Dewey’s coming in one brief paragraph, And says that “Charlie Trimble has sold a yearling calf.” And everything that happens within that little town The man who runs the paper has plainly jotted down.
Some people make fun of it, but, honestly, I like To learn that “work is booming upon the Jimtown pike.”
It’s just a little paper—it hasn’t much to say—
But as long as it is printed I hope it comes my way. (4.)
1. It is believed the gentleman in the cyanotype photograph reading the newspaper is also the recipient of the postcard: Harold A. Buffington, a student who would have been 20 years old in 1906. (b.: September 12, 1886 | d. March, 1976. source: Crestleaf)
2. “Papa” was Arthur W. Buffington (b. 1868) who lived in Lisbon, New Hampshire at the time he mailed this postcard
3. The Little Country Paper: Denver Post: reprinted in the Mansfield (OH) News: Saturday, October 24, 1903
4. Newspaper Verse: Selections Grave and Gay: Current Literature-A Magazine of Record and Review: New York: Vol. XXVIII: April-June, 1900: pp. 192-93
Posted April 2012 in New Additions, Texts
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.
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.”
Posted April 2012 in Significant Photographs, Texts
No matter the evidence, in this case-the title assigned to it: Portrait de M. Peters- I refused to believe my eyes. That’s why I initially tagged it Portrait: Woman on this site: a most strange, mysterious and striking study of a woman with frizzed-out hair—or so I thought: a hand-pulled photogravure tinted in yellow hues— which made up the final plate included in the 1894 portfolio Première Exposition d‘Art Photographique. (First Exposition of Art Photography) The work was issued by the Photo-Club de Paris that year for their very first exhibition which took place at the Georges Petit galleries in Paris from January 10-30th.
But now thanks to a chance encounter with the photo reproduced in the English journal The Studio, I now know the truth, and have subsequently updated the tag to Portrait: Men:
The Portrait from life, by Mr. Eustace Calland, is a costume study of Mr. William Theodore Peters—as Bertrand de Roaix. The photograph, we understand, is now being exhibited at Paris. Mr. Peters is the author of a forthcoming volume of verse, containing, among other numbers, the Pierrot of a Minute, a charming poem already familiar through the author’s recitation in public. (1.)
And so it was not a woman who English photographer Eustace Calland (1865-1959) depicted but a man: the American poet and actor William Theodore Peters. (1862-1904) A quick online search of Peters gave me the impression he may have been the poster child for Decadence with a capitol D exemplified by 1890’s Paris. (2.) Someone who in the immortal words of American comic Steve Martin might have well stood in for the original “One Wild and Crazy Guy.” Peters lifestyle caught up with him however, and he is reported to have died in that city in poverty- not even 40 years old.
Since it was exhibited in January, 1894 in the Photo-Club de Paris exhibit, this portrait of Peters was most likely taken sometime in 1893. Another intriguing aspect of the photograph is a cloak he wears in it. As I don’t think it is a coincidence, I’m going to connect the dots here and conclude this post by going further: this is the very cloak made famous by Peter’s friend, the English poet and playwright Ernest Christopher Dowson, (1867-1900) who finished penning the following lines in August, 1893 (3.) with the title:
To William Theodore Peters on his Renaissance Cloak
The cherry-coloured velvet of your cloak
Time hath not soiled: its fair embroideries
Gleam as when centuries ago they spoke
To what bright gallant of Her Daintiness,
Whose slender fingers, long since dust and dead,
For love or courtesy embroidered
The cherry-coloured velvet of this cloak.
Ah! cunning flowers of silk and silver thread,
That mock mortality? the broidering dame,
The page they decked, the kings and courts are dead:
Gone the age beautiful; Lorenzo’s name,
The Borgia’s pride are but an empty sound;
But lustrous still upon their velvet ground,
Time spares these flowers of silk and silver thread.
Gone is that age of pageant and of pride:
Yet don your cloak, and haply it shall seem,
The curtain of old time is set aside;
As through the sadder coloured throng you gleam;
We see once more fair dame and gallant gay,
The glamour and the grace of yesterday:
The elder, brighter age of pomp and pride. (4.)
Ten years after these lines were written Peters and Dowson were both dead, with this portrait by Calland possibly being the sole surviving image known of Mr. William Theodore Peters.
1. The Studio: An Illustrated Magazine of Fine and Applied Art: London: Offices of the Studio: Vol. II: 1894: p. 138 (photograph appears on p. 139)
2. “He was, as an irreverent American once said of him, that “rara avis in human kind,—a poet with money,” and so stole time from his verse-making to give charming little dinners, the lists of which were redolent with Lady This and Countess That, since he knew nearly every woman of title, native or sojourner, in Paris.”: excerpt: Verses Written in Paris by Various Members of a Group of “Intellectuals”: in: The Critic: An Illustrated Monthly Review of Literature, Art and Life: New Rochelle, New York: Vol. XXXIX: 1901: pp. 38-39
3. notes: Ernest Dowson Collected Poems: edited by R.K.R. Thornton: University of Birmingham Press: 2003: pp. 257-258
4. included in: The Poems of Ernest Dowson: Dodd, Mead and Company: New York: 1922: pp. 144-145
Posted February 2012 in Publishing, Significant Photographs, Texts
When photographer and photographic supply dealer Henry Greenwood Peabody of Boston compiled and self-published the oblong quarto volume The Coast of Maine: Campobello to the Isles of Shoals in 1889, he offered it for sale by subscription, advertising it along with the fact he was the sole American agent for Wray lenses in photographic journals including Anthonys.
These lenses were first manufactured in London by a gentleman named William Wray beginning in 1850. Peabody, presumably using a Wray lens or lenses outfitted on his 8 x 10” view camera, had scoured the rocky Maine coastline the year before in search of the picturesque. The published results in The Coast of Maine included 50 full size plates, done using the very fine photo-gelatine process, (collotype) a specialty of Ernest Edward’s Photogravure Company of New York. These plates, most of which show the coastline in proximity to the ocean; multiple lighthouse views but surprisingly very few boats, (Peabody was an important photographer of sailboats on the high seas) are supplemented with poetry and prose by seven writers, including the American poet and writer Celia Thaxter. (1835-1894)
Her poem Reverie had been first copyrighted as early as 1878 and published in 1880 in her collection of poems titled Drift-Weed in Boston. Although this long-form poem predates the above photo Wing and Wing by at least ten years, Peabody paired it in double columns opposite this lone sailboat photograph (in full sail) appearing in the work.
The white reflection of the sloop’s great sail
Sleeps trembling on the tide;
In scarlet trim her crew lean o’er the rail,
Lounging on either side.
Pale blue and streaked with pearl the waters lie
And glitter in the heat;
The distance gathers purple bloom where sky
And glimmering coast-line meet.
From the cove’s curving rim of sandy gray
The ebbing tide has drained,
Where, mournful, in the dusk of yesterday
The curlew’s voice complained.
Half lost in hot mirage the sails afar
Lie dreaming still and white;
No wave breaks, no wind breathes, the peace to mar:
Summer is at its height.
How many thousand summers thus have shone
Across the ocean waste,
Passing in swift succession, one by one,
By the fierce winter chased!
The gray rocks blushing soft at dawn and eve,
the green leaves at their feet,
The dreaming sails, the crying birds that grieve,
Ever themselves repeat.
And yet how dear and how forever fair
Is nature’s kindly face,
And how forever new and sweet and rare
Each old familiar grace!
What matters it that she will sing and smile
When we are dead and still?
Let us be happy in her beauty while
Our hearts have power to thrill.
Let us rejoice in every moment bright,
Grateful that it is ours;
Bask in her smiles with ever fresh delight,
And gather all her flowers;
For presently we part: what will avail
Her rosy fires of dawn,
Her noontide pomps, to us, who fade and fail,
Our hands from hers withdrawn?
Posted July 2011 in Texts
Welcome to PhotoSeed! When I was a child, my reading of English archeologist Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tut’s tomb in Egypt inspired me enough to start digging around in my own backyard. Later, as a young aspiring photographer, I came across a quote by American photographer Harry Callahan which really stuck with me: “I love art because it doesn’t have rules like baseball. The only rule is to be good. That’s the toughest thing to do.”
Along with my parents, who instilled a love of art in me at an early age, the progression of my professional life as a newspaper photojournalist combined with an innate love for art and history has lead me to the present undertaking.
What is PhotoSeed? It is a destination based on derivation. It will evolve as an online photographic compendium focusing on the historical record of “artistic photography” roughly produced from the 1880’s to about World War I. With apologies to Alfred Stieglitz and others, there will be plenty of flim-flam, and the major “isms” of this era: aestheticism, naturalism, and pictorialism, will be here in abundance.
I’m not going to consciously ignore something because I don’t care for it. Mundane and repetitive work of the period is very instructive for the time in which it was created. Taken collectively, all of the work on this site added to the general conversation of ideas that pushed photography forward. I promise to make plenty of exceptions to keep things interesting, however.
The material presented here will continue to validate my own respect for Callahan’s observation “to be good” in guiding the site’s purpose, relevance and spirit. Carter’s influence will be illuminated by the site’s ongoing “photographic archeology” which will unearth delights not known by casual photographic historians.
That’s why I’m taking the time to share with you the fruit and results of photography’s early artistic efforts. In my estimation, their gleanings still matter. These photographs can and should inspire today’s practitioners—be they armed with ubiquitous cameras built into smart phones or those keeping alive the medium’s noble processes including daguerreotype, wet plate, and film.
As for its name, PhotoSeed’s derivation stands for growth and renewal in the photographic arts at a time when taking chances with a camera was seen by many as subversive. It is my hope PhotoSeed will evoke and conjure the time and place of when this photographic record was created.
For once planted, seeds, as represented by the ideas sown by photography’s pioneers and toilers alike, required only the sun overhead to realize their potential:
“Like the sunflower, the sun was a popular symbol with art photography clubs. It represented photography’s necessary light as well as the inspiration, power and renewal associated with otherworldly presence.” 1.
And about that “mesmerization” thing? The history of photography includes a delightful account of photographic hypnotism decades before George Eastman’s Kodak mania took hold and put people around the world in a different kind of trance.
English journalist Henry Mayhew, whose series of profile vignettes first published in 1851 as London Labour and the London Poor, included one dispatch published in the third volume of the series (1861). In his “A Photographic Man” (2), Mayhew writes about a former banjo busker turned photographer who teams up with another like-minded chap and enters the exploding yet dubious shilling and sixpenny portrait (ambrotypes & ferrotypes) trade. Sometimes, the duo are able to make a little bit extra at the conclusion of a portrait session. In this respect, the mysterious and telegenic power of the camera recounted in Mayhew’s profile reveals the gullibility (and empties the pockets) of the largely working poor clientele these photographic “entrepreneurs” cater too:
“People seem to think the camera will do anything. We actually persuade them that it will mesmerise them. After their portrait is taken, we ask them, if they would like to be mesmerised by the camera, and the charge is only 2d. (2 pennies) We then focus the camera, and tell them to look firm at the tube; and they stop there for two or three minutes staring, till their eyes begin to water, and then they complain of a dizziness in the head, and give it up, saying they “can’t stand it”. I always tell them the operation was beginning, and they were just going off, only they didn’t stay long enough. They always remark, “Well, it certainly is a wonderful machine, and a most curious invention.”
Here at PhotoSeed, mesmerization is absolutely free. So sit back, relax, and try not to get too dizzy. This operation is just beginning. We hope you do stay long enough to agree the artistic results of this most curious invention are most wonderful indeed.
—David Spencer (2010)
1. Janet E. Buerger, The Last Decade: The Emergence of Art Photography in the 1890’s (Rochester: International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, 1984) 4.
2. Henry Mayhew, “A Photographic Man,” London Characters & Crooks: ed. Christopher Hibbert, (London: The Folio Society, 1996) 12: 295-303.
Posted June 2011 in Significant Photographs, Texts
Sir John Frederick William Herschel is someone to pay attention to when thinking about photography. And for no other reason? He is credited with coining the very word “photography” in the English language. (with apologies to French-Brazilian painter and inventor Hércules Florence)
Herschel—famed English astronomer and, for our purposes here, photographic pioneer—is one of the unsung heroes of what we know as modern photography. For those lucky enough to have worked in a wet darkroom, it was Herschel the scientist and chemist who discovered and corresponded with William Henry Fox Talbot that sodium thiosulphite, commonly known as “hypo”, could “fix” silver halides, and therefore was a reliable means of making a photograph permanent.
Buried next to Sir Isaac Newton in Westminster Abbey, Herschel’s genius was an ability to make science understandable to both the curious and the more educated through his writings and presentations to the established scientific bodies of the mid 19th century.
As a collector, I’ve always been drawn to the art of photography. However, I have an appreciation of the science that has always been the important backdrop for making modern photography possible in the first place, and Herschel’s role in that science. This wonderful photographic likeness of Herschel, taken by his dear friend Julia Margaret Cameron, has always been of interest to me as a collector because it combines both art and science.
A Cameron portrait of Herschel appeals on many photographic collecting levels. It is considered one of the great “head” portraits that Cameron was famous for-perhaps more so because of its brooding and mysterious nature; a symbolic likeness of a man whose life was spent on a quest for discovery and explanation of the unknown.
But It has never been my intention as a collector to purchase a photograph because it is considered one of the “greatest hits” in the history of the medium. On the contrary, I am continually surprised how much wonderful material is available of the unknown and unsung photographer, often for the price of a song. The beauty of collecting photography in our modern age is that its’ story has not been fully chronicled nor even discovered, and one of the aims of PhotoSeed will be to fill in some of these blanks for the record.
The four known portraits of Herschel were taken late in his life in 1867 by Cameron. Through much luck I was able to purchase this one, a mounted (with wood veneer overlay) albumen example at auction in 2004 from a gentleman who originally purchased it at auction in Dublin, Ireland in 2003.
Twice personally signed by Cameron, the bottom right hand corner of the mount provides the following inscription by her: “Given to Mr. Charles Hegan by Mrs. Cameron with her kindest regards.”
Naturally, I was intrigued as to the mysterious Mr. Hegan was and how he might have known Cameron. Through research, I tracked down the family who originally consigned the Herschel portrait as well as other items to the Irish auction. And this is why photographic sleuthing pays off. It turns out that in 1899 this photograph was a wedding present from Hegan to one Joseph Alfred Hardcastle. (born 1868) Never heard of him? It turns out he was Herschel’s grandson, and the photograph had stayed in Hardcastle’s family until 2003. A very nice provenance indeed.
A friend of a member of the present-day Hardcastle family in Ireland did research on my behalf, trying to figure out who Hegan was and his possible connection to Cameron, but came up empty. Later, my own research determined Hegan (Charles John Hegan) was a fellow of London’s Royal Geographical Society (elected 1873) who likely knew Hardcastle through scientific and perhaps family connections (they both attended Harrow but over 20 years apart). Ownership of the Herschel portrait makes complete sense as both Hegan and Hardcastle were devoted to scientific endeavors. On this front, Hegan travelled to South America to conduct fluvial research on behalf of the Royal Geographical Society and Hardcastle, a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society who lectured and conducted research relating to astronomy, was appointed director of the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland, but died suddenly in 1917 while in route there.
So talk about the perfect wedding gift. Hardcastle’s love was astronomy. Although only three years old when his grandfather was buried next to Newton, Herschel would have been proud of a grandson following in his own esteemed footsteps.