Webby Distilled

 

I wanted to give it a little time before commenting here on my recent trip to New York City to attend The Year Distilled-otherwise known as the Annual Webby Awards. PhotoSeed had previously been named the Webby winner in the Art category on May 1st of the year, thanks to the efforts of Jay David and Tyler Craft (formerly) of the TOKY agency of St. Louis; who, unbeknownst to this blissfully ignorant site owner, had entered it for consideration in the 16th annual installment of the award.

 

webby-and-photoseed-flower-logos-63w"You're a winner" I was told upon my arrival to the front lobby of the Hammerstein Ballroom. And with that, I was presented with this smartly designed Webby lapel pin, seen here against the gorgeous emerging olive drab flower designed by TOKY Interactive Creative Director Jay David for PhotoSeed.

 

Of course, “giving it a little time” puts me at a seeming disadvantage when it comes to our lovable information superhighway. Speed is the thing they say: something I’m uncomfortable with when it comes to dealing with nuance in the form of the photographic heritage that will continue to evolve from here.

 

patton-oswalt-onstage-webbyStand-up comedian and actor Patton Oswalt opens the 16th Annual Webby Awards onstage at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City on the evening of May 21, 2012. The PhotoSeed website won this year's Webby award in the Art category. Photo by Shannon O'Brien

 

Even as a nominee for the award, an online editor in Spain asked if I had a press kit—an idea foreign to my way of thinking, but perhaps an essential component for those wanting a more concise definition of who and what we are. And so, from gray to black and white: the following a quote from the release later cobbled together courtesy of my wife, the friendly interrogator:

 

What’s your motivation?


I’ve always loved art in all its many forms, which is the foundation for the entire site. Photography was always one of those arts. I was lucky as a child to be exposed to all types of art—museums, music, drama, dance. In my teens, I became interested in photography. As a lover of art, I see beauty in the world. One of the most important elements of this site is for people to leave it with a renewed sense of the beauty that’s in our world. In some respects, the site is a keyhole to the past that doesn’t exist any longer on many levels.

 

david-spencer-jay-david-photoseed-webbyPhotoSeed site owner and curator David Spencer, right, hangs with Jay David during the pre-party at the 16th Annual Webby Awards at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. Jay and Tyler Craft, formerly Lead Developer at the TOKY Branding + Design agency in St. Louis, are responsible for designing and building the PhotoSeed website. Photo by Shannon O'Brien

 

The trip to New York was icing on the cake: a celebrity and bling-fueled feeding frenzy for those connected or in the know for all-things internet. Like the majority of winners, however, PhotoSeed didn’t enter the live-streaming conversation hosted by comic and actor Patton Oswalt, but took on the form of hand shakes and raised glasses among friends, just what I expected and cherish the most.  I would not have missed it. My wife’s observation before the show that several Hollywood movie stars were in attendance several feet from our conversation seemed most unconvincing to me, until TOKY owner Eric Thoelke mentioned one—Juliette Lewis (a Webby winner)—had played opposite Robert De Niro in the 1991 remake of Cape Fear. The other, an actress wearing a simple dress, only confirmed by me several days later when I saw her official red carpet photo, struck me as a “normal” looking person, and reminded me of those photographs I’ve seen of HM Queen Elizabeth II wearing a raincoat while blending in with the crowd.

 

Oswalt’s tongue-in-cheek opening monologue was spot on: especially the following observations:

 

This is the night when the best and brightest on the internet meet face to face…look at each other…and all say…you are not what I expected either…at all.  But the Webbys have brought us all together tonight to celebrate the thing that keeps us all apart. As well as also we are going to be celebrating the 5% of the internet that is not porn. So..really…that’s… kind of important. That’s right.

 

holland-interior-kleintjesDetail: "Veluwe Interior from artist Jan L. Kleintjes's atelier in Heerde": by Dr. L. Kleintjes: from: Photographische Rundschau 1903 (17.0 x 14.6 cm: December: Heft 23 Plate 59): This genre photograph from the PhotoSeed archive strikes me as being symbolic of what often passes for human "interaction" in the hyper, digitally-connected present day of the year 2012.

 

His middle thought bubble about the web keeping us apart seems especially acute today, and perhaps reason for alarm in terms of keeping humankind’s social construct going forward.

 

My eagerness to connect at the show resulted in one slightly ill-informed blog post several days after the fact, with the writer’s assessment of PhotoSeed being no more than a “fancy Flickr account for old-assed photos.” A good lesson in humility for me. It further reminded me critics will always exist, and looking back over 100 years, proof that history repeats. Even Alfred Stieglitz reprinted mocking reviews from the New York press in his journal Camera Work after his gallery, 291, mounted shows of art and photography that radically stirred the pot of public discourse. Ego aside, the journalist in me liked the ideas in this blogger’s writing anyway. Thank goodness someone is still willing to go out on a limb and call it as they see fit.

 

As for the show itself, which began outside the Manhattan Center on a drizzly, early New York City evening, the literal stars in Lou Reed’s lyrical song to Andy Warhol could be seen on the red-carpet and later in the house. Well before comic Louis CK wrapped it up several hours later by giving his five word Webby speech (‪”When I die, bye bye”‬), Apple’s founding icon, Steve Jobs, was memorialized by U.S. Presidents, Bono, and introduced by actor and activist Richard Dreyfuss. A man whose feisty demeanor has apparently continued unabated since his role in the 1977 film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” which finds him rearranging his living room into a mock-up of a Martian landing space.

 

richard-dreyfuss-steve-jobs-tribute-webbyBefore honoring the passing of Apple's Steve Jobs onstage during the Webby awards, actor and activist Richard Dreyfuss first launched into the business practices of Facebook and Google: “If you’re going to take our privacy away from us, then why don’t you tell us something private about yourselves? And if your gonna change our world, why don’t you pay for it, because it’s theft" he said. Photo by Shannon O'Brien

 

steve-jobs-tribute-at-webbysSteve Jobs, 1955-2011: co-founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Apple Inc. was honored in a video tribute during the 16th annual Webby awards at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. Photo by Shannon O'Brien

 

But the biggest star on this night?  Photography itself. Those nicely dressed folks dishing out snappy five-word acceptance speeches on the Hammerstein Ballroom stage surely owed it big time, and so do I. Webby Breakout of the year Instagram, a social media app that, according to the breathless prose of the official awards booklet, was, among other things, responsible for “furthering the democratization of photography on the Web” was preceded by a lip-synced video spoofing so called “food porn” photography.

 

instagram-webby-kevin-systrom-mike-kreger-Exit, stage left. Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger head backstage after Systrom accepted the Webby for Breakout of the year after saying "This here requires no filter". Photo by Shannon O'Brien

 

frederick-boissonnas-instagram-maidensBut could this be? They say Abraham Lincoln invented Facebook, so why not PhotoSeed inventing Instagram? After all, the buzzword I heard at the Webby awards was all about romance in conjunction with this revolutionary filtering device that spits out photographs in a square shape via your smart phone. Not so hard really when transforming this detail of the vintage pictorialist image "Late Bloomers" (Herbstzeitlosen) by Swiss photographer Frederick Boissonnas found in the PhotoSeed archive. from: Photographische Mitteilungen 1902: November: 19.9 x 8.4 cm

 

“Eat It Don’t Tweet It” by American Hipster + Key of Awesome makes fun of smart phone photographers who insist on photographing everything they eat and posting it to social outlets. Sung by three band members, one being an ordinary looking bloke as well as two keyboard players dressed as a cupcake and the other sporting a lobster suit, lyrics include more photographic references: “you are pathetic we’re not photogenic” and the real compliment if you are a photographer famous enough: “a gastronomic Annie Leibovitz.” The last two photographic highlights for the night I’ll mention are 1. inspiring and 2. weird.

 

eat-it-dont-tweet-it-american-hipsterLive…onstage at the Webby Awards! "You are pathetic we're not photogenic" and other gems make up the lyrics to the music video "Eat It Don't Tweet It" by American Hipster + Key of Awesome. Photo by Shannon O'Brien

 

fruit-and-flowers-from-nature-photographic-timesSpeaking of early examples of food photography: arrangements such as this vintage view of artfully arranged fruit and flowers were always typically presented as a showcase for the latest and greatest technology from the early years of color engraving, this being an example of a multiple color halftone believed to be printed in three colors by the Photo-Chromotype Engraving Company of Philadelphia. (detail: PhotoSeed archive: "Fruit and Flowers from Nature" from: The Photographic Times 1898, January: 19.2 x 16.1 cm )

 

In the inspiring category was the image of Holocaust survivor Tibor Sands, who stood on stage and accepted two Webby awards on behalf of the Remember Me? project done by The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum-voted best cultural institution on the web. But what sealed it was a simple portrait photograph projected behind him. Most in the crowd, myself included, may have mistaken it for a Nazi evidentiary photograph at first glance. But with a few keystrokes searching the Web, a happier background for it emerged, showing again photography’s importance as the ultimate documentarian. It turned out to be a passport photograph of a very young Tibor Munkácsi- taken in Germany’s Kloster Indersdorf near Dachau right after World War II by an American GI. As of this writing, 330 Holocaust survivors have been identified by means of anonymous photographs like this one because of the Remember Me? project.  Munkácsi, it turned out, was heading for a new life in England and eventually to the United States, where he changed his last name to Sands and became a cinematographer in Los Angeles. No wonder he can be seen with a slight smile on his face in the picture.

 

holocaust-survivor-tibor-sands-webby-Then and now. Holocaust survivor Tibor Sands accepted two Webby awards on behalf of the Remember Me? project done by The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.-voted best cultural institution on the web. Photo by Shannon O'Brien

 

Finally, a dictator gets his due, sort of, and a great example of how photography can cut two ways. When he was alive, the official ministry of North Korean public relations-if there is such a place- periodically issued “official” photographs of their “dear leader”, better known as Kim Jong-il.

 

kim-jong-il-looking-at-things-webbyWeird Webby: or how "public relations" can be taken to extremes, with hilarious results. One of the many photos of "dear leader" Kim Jong-il inspecting "stuff", from the Tumblr blog "Kim Jong-il Looking at Things." Several were projected during the show, including a real beauty of the dear leader checking out some large fish. Or was it Kim Jong-il in disguise?  Photo by David Spencer

 

Enter Lisbon-based João Rocha to re-appropriate history in a most cunning and amusing way. What to do with this plethora of propaganda relating to photographs of Kim Jong-il in the blogosphere? Why, a dictator in a stiff suit, shades and void of all expression makes for the perfect aggregation target and voila, a new star of sorts in the form of a Tumblr blog called Kim Jong-il Looking at Things. Live on the Web since 2010, the site was awarded a Webby People’s Voice award, inducing no further comment other than the following observations from Rocha, who succinctly states his motivation thusly:

 “the dear leader liked to look at things.”
 “why is it so funny? i have no idea either”.


Heels of Progress

 

If you ever wanted to learn about the importance assigned or excitement surrounding the discovery of the X-Ray, look no further than any photographic journal published the world over between 1896-1897. Chronicled in breathless detail within their many pages, this new and miraculous revelation was aided by photography’s very ability to record the see-through results of these “mysterious rays” on a myriad of materials.

 

boot"Foot in a Shoe": full-page halftone plate identified as figure 6 accompanying article "Radiography and its Application" published in "The Photographic Times": July: 1896. Believed to be photographed by author Arthur Willis Goodspeed with the assistance of G. C. McKee.

 

And so this new victory was shouted far and wide: the symbolic Iron Heel of Progress, represented by the dual disciplines of scientific investigation and photography coming together, marched forward. In my own convoluted way of thinking, the splendid specimen of shoe including said iron-studded heel protecting a foot within makes perfect sense, literally and perhaps symbolically making a full-page debut along with other objects in the July, 1896 issue of The Photographic Times.

 

goodspeed-addressUniversity of Pennsylvania physics professor and Radiology pioneer Arthur Willis Goodspeed was the addressee of this personal letter sent by Photographic Times editor Walter E. Woodbury in 1896 seeking the procurement of X-Ray photographs to accompany Goodspeed's published July issue article: "Radiography and its Application". Detail from original envelope with dimensions of 9.3 x 16.5 cm

 

The reason for all this excitement was the official announcement late the year before: German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen (1845-1923) had “produced and detected electromagnetic radiation in a wavelength range today known as X-rays or Röntgen rays”. (1.) For his efforts, Röntgen in 1901 was awarded the first Nobel Prize in Physics.

 

I will be the first to admit scientific photography is not a collecting focus for the PhotoSeed archive, however, the possession of a postal cover and several pages from a hand-written letter by Photographic Times editor Walter E. Woodbury (1865-1905) posted to this site was reason enough to visually explore X-Ray photography in this space as the profound discovery it remains even today. On May 22nd, while working in advance of the July issue, Woodbury penned a short missive to America’s equivalent of Röntgen: University of Pennsylvania physics professor Arthur Willis Goodspeed. (1860-1943) Radiography and its Application was the name of the article he had already written, dated April 30th and eventually published. But at the time, working more than a month in advance, editor Woodbury was willing to hold up publication of his journal until he could secure the necessary photographs showing the dry-plate, x-ray-effected negatives he knew would cause a stir, and thus providing proof for and generating interest in Goodspeed’s article.

 

goodspeed-hand-carbuttLeft: Arthur Willis Goodspeed (1860-1943) circa 1903-04 when he was 4th President of the American Roentgen Ray Society. Middle: An X-Ray photographic negative from 1896 showing Goodspeed's hand taken by Philadelphia photographer John Carbutt. Right: Englishman John Carbutt, (1832-1905) inventor of specialized glass dry plates sensitive to the newly identified x-rays that were provided to Goodspeed for research purposes.

 

Goodspeed was no stranger to photographic experimentation. In the mid 1880’s he had witnessed and assisted the English photographer Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) while he conducted the now famous Animal Locomotion studies under the support of the University of Pennsylvania and more unbelievably, had made by accident along with British photographer William Jennings, the first known X-Ray photograph in the physical lecture room at the school on February 22, 1890 . A centennial  remembrance written by TL Walden Jr. for the journal Radiology in 1991 partly states:

 

On that evening, Goodspeed and Jennings had been making brush electrographs of coins and brass weights. After they finished their experiments, Jennings stacked all of the photographic plates; two coins—either left from the experiments or Jennings’ trolley fare—were placed on top of the plates. Goodspeed then demonstrated to Jennings the university’s collection of Crookes tubes, with the idea of photographing the glow from the tube. While the two men were talking, however, the Crookes tube was emitting x radiation that affected the nearby plates. After the plates were developed, Jennings noted that one had the shadow(s) of a disk(s) on it; neither man could explain the image. (2.)

 

xray-hand-in-rundschau-1896One of the most popular subjects it seems for early depictions of X-Ray negative photographs was the human hand. This full-page halftone presentation of a full hand with ring was included in the February, 1896 issue of the German photographic journal Photographische Rundschau. Original caption: Aufnahme einer menschlichen Hand nach dem Röntgen'schen Verfahren vom Geh. Regierungsrath Prof. Dr. Slaby und Assistent Klingenberg in Charlottenburg.

 

The photographic holdup for Woodbury was worth it. Englishman John Carbutt, (1832-1905) who had first made a name for himself in America by taking stereoscopic landscape photographs as well as running a Chicago portrait studio in the 1860’s, had become an important collaborator in the late 1890’s with Goodspeed in Philadelphia. Carbutt’s invention of specialized glass dry plates sensitive to the newly identified x-rays were provided to Goodspeed for research purposes; the same year his article appeared in The Photographic Times.  Carbutt’s role as well as the importance of these plates was acknowledged in it:

 

With a view to developing the sensitive plate to produce the best results possible, Mr. John Carbutt has given untiring attention and made many experiments. The Carbutt plates have most of them been tested by the writer in comparison with other makes, and those now in use give by far the best results of any yet tried. The negatives from which the illustrations accompanying this article have been reproduced are samples of the plates referred to.  (3.)

 

baby-xrayUnknown health hazards did not seem to present issues with photographers keen to exploit the miracle that was X-Ray photography when first discovered in late 1895. Although it is not known what the exposure time for this 3 day old child was when Philadelphia photographer John Carbutt recorded it in 1896, exposures of over 1 hour in length are commonly mentioned. This photograph appeared as a full-page halftone in the December, 1896 issue of "The American Amateur Photographer".

 

woodbury-letter-"Photographic Times" editor Walter Edward Woodbury (1865-1905) was the son of Walter B. Woodbury, who invented the Woodburytype. Woodbury edited the journal from 1895-1899. He died from yellow fever while later editing the English section of the "Panama Star and Herald and Inter-Ocean Critic" newspaper in Panama.

 

In closing, and with a nod to collectors like myself seeking out the ultimate published examples of Röntgen, or X-Ray scientific photographs, I suggest a further investigation of the 15 oversized, hand-pulled photogravure plates published in 1896 under the direction of Austrian photo-chemists Josef Maria Eder and Eduard Valenta. Containing magnificent studies of human bones, various small animals as well as man-made objects including a set of lockets, this portfolio, titled Versuche über Photographie mittelst der Röntgen’schen Strahlen, features as its’ final plate the now iconic coiled snake titled Aesculap-Schlange. First taken by Eder and Valenta and presented to members of the Viennese Photographic Society in January of 1896, (4.) these photographs have long ago entered the canon of modern photographic art, a scant two months after Röntgen’s initial discovery shook the world.

 

aesculap-schlangeDetail: Aesculap-Schlange (Facsimile des Negativs). pl. XV: from portfolio: "Versuche über Photographie mittelst der Röntgen'schen Strahlen" published in 1896 as a large plate photogravure. Symbolic of healing and native to Europe, the Aesculapian snake is associated with the Greek god Asclepius and Roman god Aesculapius. The symbol of modern human medicine is often represented by this snake intertwined around a rod.

 

 

1. Wilhelm Röntgen: from: Wikipedia: accessed: 2012
2. excerpt: The first radiation accident in America: a centennial account of the x-ray photograph made in 1890: TL Walden Jr.:in: Radiology: December, 1991: pp. 635-639
3. excerpt: Radiography and its Application: A.W. Goodspeed: in: The Photographic Times: New York: July, 1896: pp. 308-309
4. from: Beauty of Another Order-Photography in Science: Ann Thomas: Yale University Press: New Haven and London, in association with the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; 1997

 

 

 

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.”

 


Decadent Dandy

 

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.

 

-peters-portraitAn American in Paris: actor and poet William Theodore Peters (1862-1904) is the subject of this portrait by English photographer Eustace Calland reproduced as the final plate in the "Première Exposition d‘Art Photographique" portfolio issued in 1894. Detail of plate showing tissue guard and plate marks: image: 13.9 x 11.8 cm: planche LVI

 

 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

 

Quaker with Soul

 

When researching this site’s new online gallery for a view album of Japanese tissue photogravures several months ago titled Life and Nature, (1889) I had no idea how important the American painter and amateur photographer George Bacon Wood Jr. (1832-1909) would figure in my respect for someone pursuing both disciplines equally well.

 

george-wood-at-easel-b-km1"My Father at his Easel", a plate showing the Philadelphia artist and amateur photographer George Bacon Wood Jr. (1832-1909) included with the 1916 volume A Girl's Life in Germantown, written by his youngest daughter Elizabeth.

 

 With the introduction of the brand new dry-plate, the most advanced technology of its’ day invented by George Eastman and others and marketed to the masses beginning around 1880, the world of amateur photography soon opened to those who rejected the unforgiving and laborious wet-plate collodion process that preceded it. After reading about the break-through in his Philadelphia newspaper, Wood jumps into amateur photography with all the gusto, passion and creative problem solving he had long applied to his occupation as landscape painter.

 

In a short biography of Wood I’ve prepared along with the online material, I’ve included a humorous self-account of his 1882 inauguration into the medium.  This includes his first efforts at exposing one of those new dry plates while stalking one very uncooperative cow in a field, a bovine that just would not stay still long enough for Wood to make a decent exposure. Being a  perfectionist however meant not giving up so easily. A challenge for sure, but not insurmountable, and for his efforts, one of the least unheralded people in the history of photography I’ve since encountered who continued to make his livelihood with the brush.

 

painter-with-cow"Artist Painting Cow" : unknown American photographer: vintage mounted platinum photograph from PhotoSeed Archive circa 1905-10: (11.8 x 16.2 cm)

 

Life and Nature was originally purchased by this writer in late 2007 and squirreled away until a few months ago, when I started posting similar view albums whose gorgeous tissue gravure plates were done by Ernest Edward’s New York Photogravure Company.  On first look, I had no idea Wood’s background was that of a painter, and I certainly had no clue what the “B” for the initial of his middle name stood for. I was also intrigued by the fact the album’s cover went so far as to omit reference to his full first name-shortening it to “Geo” instead of George. A period advertisement for the work included here does spell out his name, but neglects to include the fact he was a Jr.

 

wood-june-1890-22Period advertisement for the view album "Life and Nature" (1889) reproduced in Ernest Edwards' periodical "Sun & Shade": June, 1890: whole #22. The album features Japanese tissue photogravures by George Bacon Wood Jr. "From Original Studies".

 

A complicated or simple soul this Wood chap?  More research revealed an impressive amount of his photographic work held by The Library Company of Philadelphia, with the following exciting statement from their website:

 

In 1982, for example, we acquired more than 500 photographs by Philadelphia photographer and painter George Bacon Wood from a descendant.  Additional gifts of Wood photographs throughout the 1980s increased the collection by about 300 more images.  This body of photographic work along with paintings from other institutions and private collections will form the basis of a Library Company exhibition in 2014.

 

Timely to be sure, and more reason for me to hone in on some of Wood’s background. The majority of online sites, mostly art galleries who have handled his paintings in the past, with the exception of the Library Company, state he died in 1910. I have no idea how they got even some of the basics wrong, as his New York Times obituary clearly states his passing was actually June 17th, 1909:

 

Wood. — At Ipswich, Mass., June 17, George Bacon Wood, formerly of Staten Island and Philadelphia. Services Monday, June 21, at the residence of his daughter, Mrs. Bernard Hoopes, Germantown, Philadelphia.

 

Figuring the cause was also worth the shelling out of two bucks on my part, I purchased the September/October, 1979 issue of the defunct magazine American Art & Antiques, which seemed to contain one of the more important accounts of Wood’s working life. It not only helped, it lead me to another rich source in the form of a posthumous volume penned by Wood’s youngest daughter Elizabeth: A Girl’s Life In Germantown, published in 1916.

 

wood-home-in-germantownDetail: "Germantown Avenue" (12.4 x 20.5 cm): tissue gravure plate from the view album "Life and Nature". (1889) Wood and his family, including his seven children, lived in this stone home located at 5502 Germantown Ave. in the city of Philadelphia. (later changed to 6708 Germantown)

 

Although the 1979 article dealt mostly with his career as a painter, the book itself revealed this gem concerning Wood’s embrace of photography:

 

“Above the woodshed, which was attached to the barn, my father had a studio built, with a north window, skylights, and an outside stairway. He had seen the announcement in a newspaper that the dry plate had been invented, and he immediately became interested in photography, since the dry plate made the process easier and more reliable.”

 

And yet, the volume also stated this sobering observation from the daughter on her father’s artistic endeavors:

 

“My parents were of Quaker origin, my father following this religion to the end of his life. His mother and father were very strict in their beliefs and this made the study of art a difficult one for him, for an artist in those days was looked upon by Quakers as almost predestined to the loss of his soul. My father’s aspirations doubtless caused much unhappiness to his parents, and his study of art under this disapproval was erratic and pursued almost entirely alone. Persistence, however, carried him to success.”

 

wood-compositeLeft: portrait of George Bacon Wood Jr. from "Prominent Amateur Photographers", a plate featuring Wood and others published in the November, 1893 issue of "The American Amateur Photographer". Right: detail: "Elizabethtown, N.Y." (From the original painting by George B. Wood" published as the frontis to "A Girl's Life in Germantown" by his daughter Elizabeth W. Coffin. (1916) Wood spent much of his summers painting and taking photographs in this area of the Adirondack mountains located in the far northeastern corner of New York state's Essex county.

 

Furthermore, Wood’s wife Julia, born Keim Reeve, was an Episcopalian, with the implication set forth by her youngest daughter in the 1916 book as being of a more tolerant persuasion, at least in relation to artistic pursuits . Mother of his seven children, (she married Wood in Oct. 1858) her last years before her untimely death in 1887 were spent as an invalid occupying a wheelchair in a room of their stone house on Philadelphia’s Germantown Avenue-surely a sad and ultimately tragic event for Wood to endure for his remaining life.

 

A Few Details on the Artist’s Background

 

George Bacon Wood Jr.’s parents: Horatio Curtis Wood (1803-1879) and Elizabeth Head Bacon (1807-1846) had ten children, of which he was the third born on January 8, 1832 at 150 N. Fifth St. in the city of Philadelphia.

 

In early 2017, a Bacon family descendant, working from a bible in their possession that once belonged to the artist’s maternal grandmother, Mary Ann Warder Bacon, kindly supplied PhotoSeed with the following details regarding George Bacon Wood Jr.:

 

Horatio Curtis Wood (1803-1879) and Elizabeth Head Bacon (1807-1846,) actually had two sons named George Bacon Wood. The first son died of scarlet fever just seven weeks before the second son was born, so he was also given the name George Bacon Wood, only with the Jr. suffix. … there were several tragedies in the Wood family when GBW Jr. was young. Just before GBW Jr.’s eighth birthday, his younger brother, John Bacon Wood, died from a respiratory ailment. When he was only 13, his mother, Elizabeth, died two hours after the delivery of her 10th child, and three years later, (in 1848-ed) GBW Jr.’s older brother, Richard, suffered horrific injuries in a train accident in Maryland, lingering for over a week before his death. (According to a newspaper article about the accident, a witness speculated that the injuries to Richard’s legs were severe enough to require amputation.)

Because he was a Quaker, (known as the Religious Society of Friends) George Bacon Wood Jr.’s  moral compass precluded him from taking part in the American Civil War. (1861-1865) Before embracing photography, he continued his occupation as a landscape painter, with many fine studies done in New York state’s Adirondack mountain region while spending summers and even a winter in Elizabethtown. He was also a genre painter however, which revealed itself later on in his photographic studies-often featuring his own children in what we would perhaps consider today as being overly contrived situations.

 

civil-rights-detailDetail: oil on canvas painting: "The Fifteenth Amendment" (Civil Rights) (73.9 x 65.4 cm.) by Philadelphia artist George Bacon Wood Jr. According to Christie's Auction house of New York City, which last sold the work in late 2001, this painting was exhibited in the centennial 1876 exhibit at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

 

A genre painting done by Wood sometime after 1870 titled The Fifteenth Amendment, or Civil Rights, is quite revealing with the additional knowledge that it’s creator was a Quaker. After Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, this American Constitutional amendment prohibited governmental bodies within the United States from denying voting rights to one “based on that citizen’s race, color, or previous condition of servitude”, otherwise known as slavery. Wood’s painting, formerly owned by art historian Donelson F. Hoopes, the great-great grandson of Wood and the aforementioned author of the 1979 article, is pictured along with it, described in the caption thus: “this whimsical genre scene conveys the artist’s observations of social change in America following the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870”.

 

Showing two well-dressed patrons face to face at an outdoor market, one being white and the other an African American, with the latter presumably borrowing a clay pipe from the white gentleman in order to light his own, I would further argue the work shows Wood’s keen empathy for his fellow human being, and therefore a rebuttal of sorts to a later discovery instigated by none other than Alfred Stieglitz in 1900.

 

chain-gangDetail: "Chain-Gang": (8.5 x 18.8 cm) tissue photogravure plate from the view album "Life and Nature" (1889)

 

It was at this time that Wood gave a lantern slide lecture, “The Camera in the Hands of an Artist”  before members of The New York Camera Club. A  later critique of the talk signed by Stieglitz and published in an issue of Camera Notes revolved however around genre photographs most decidedly not whimsical in nature:

 

One of the Mouths of the Mississippi,” a young negro boy biting into a watermelon, will illustrate the general tone of the lecture.    A.S.

 

For anyone who has spent time leafing through American mass-circulation photographic journals from over a century ago, these types of overtly racist genre photographs-often not limited to the work of amateurs but also appearing in period advertising-crop up with alarming frequency. In concurring with Stieglitz, these types of images and misappropriations personally make me wince, their only possible justification now serving as damning evidence worth saving as part of the historical record.

 

But Wood was human, so perfection can never be an option, even a century after his passing. One of the images included in Life and Nature, titled Chain-Gang, features a grouping of puppies chained together. Also a very sad photograph when seen by modern eyes, but almost certainly viewed in its’ day (1888) as downright cute by many.  The loaded title to the work, with the connotation of shackled prisoners, doesn’t soften it. However, genre photography of this type practiced by Wood, as well as many others in his day, should not easily be pigeon-holed, type-cast, or set in stone in my estimation. The evidence? Pups as movable props for this one example. More than one photograph taken by Wood around this time-featuring the same or similar litter of puppies-surely brought smiles to many faces, and still has the power to do so. In conclusion, the following example, titled Dog Show, gives credible evidence Wood indeed had a heart, empathy, and most certainly, an enduring and intact soul. Please visit here to learn more and see Life and Nature.

 

dog-showDetail: "Dog Show" : photographic plate by George B. Wood published in: "A Girl's Life in Germantown" by his daughter Elizabeth W. Coffin. (1916)

 

 

Reverie

 

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.

 

single-wing-and-wing"Wing and Wing", (16.3 x 22.7 cm) one of fifty plates reproduced by the photo-gelatine (collotype) process by the Photogravure Company of New York in the volume: The Coast of Maine: 1889: published by Henry G. Peabody, 53 Boylston Street, Boston.

 

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)

 

single-book-rectoThe artist J.E. Hill is credited as having done the drawings appearing in "The Coast of Maine: Campobello to the Isles of Shoals", published in 1889 by photographer and at the time, photographic supply house owner Henry Greenwood Peabody of Boston. Hill's work can be seen here embossed in gilt on the cover of the volume. (27.4 x 35.5 x 2.5 cm) Additional Hill drawings appear as vignettes opposite many of the plates in the book.

 

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.

 

Reverie

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?

 

Celia Thaxter.

 

single-wray-lensesAdvertisement showing wide angle Wray landscape lens with iris diaphragm manufactured in London from: "The International Annual of Anthonys Photographic Bulletin": New York: 1889: from p. 98 of the advertising section in the rear of the volume. Photographer Henry Peabody is believed to have used a similar Wray lens for photographs appearing in the volume "The Coast of Maine" published by him in 1889.

 

single-the-nubble-york-meThis is an example of one of several lighthouse plates: "The Nubble : York, ME" (15.6 x 22.5 cm) taken by photographer Henry Peabody and published as a full-page photo-gelatine (collotype) plate in "The Coast of Maine" in 1889. The view shows the Cape Neddick "Nubble" Light near the entrance to the York River. The light continues to operate today.

 


Kodak's Work not Done

 

girl-with-kodak-1907-yswDetail: "Girl with Kodak": particulars witheld: vintage platinum print from PhotoSeed archive: circa 1907-08: 22.9 x 13.2 cm (mount: 33.5 x 23.6 cm)

 The inevitable yet sad news today of the Eastman Kodak Company’s filing for bankruptcy protection in the court of the Southern District of New York state did not come as a surprise to those of us who have been paying attention to the company’s mounting woes over the past several decades. However, what is more shocking to me is how the once ubiquitous Kodak brand no longer figures in any cultural discourse as it pertains to amateur photography considering its formerly ubiquitous place in that very culture.

Alfred Stieglitz might have used up part of his 15 minutes of fame, to quote another artist provocateur, by railing against the culture of a company that promised to do the rest after you pressed their many shutter buttons, but even he could certainly not deny the value and cumulative effect all those hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of little yellow boxes containing treasures not yet exposed had when opened by the masses. The bicycle craze be damned you say? Without naming names, I know for a fact more than a few caught opening up one of those many Kodak boxes on a weekend trip to the country or simply photographing the amorphous shapes of pots and pans in their own sink using Kodak film who went on to became  famous or infamous photographers in their own right. Their efforts have contributed much to the history of Photography and even changed-and continue to do so- the perception of visual ideas by way of a camera lens-using a Kodak or some other brand.

 

george-eastman-portrait-composite-2004Audiovisual display of George Eastman: a composite portrait done with hundreds of individual photographs held in the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film collections. Rochester: George Eastman House public exhibit space: Photograph by David Spencer:  2004

And if you will pardon my own rant for only a moment, a little historical background please, if only to diffuse some of the screeds I’ve been reading lately upon said company’s demise-for it is still a remarkable achievement- and rare-that an enterprise such as Kodak has been able to survive for 131 years, even in bankruptcy reorganization.

The founder, George Eastman, (1854-1932) surely had his faults. If you care to read, as I have been, Elizabeth Brayer’s important and exhaustive biography of Eastman first published in 1996, you will find however that they were abundantly balanced with a philanthropy not exercised enough in modern times. You will learn Eastman was anti-union and ran a company whose tentacles reached around the world to defend Kodak patents to the point of stifling innovation. And if that didn’t work out, he would just offer up a mountain of cash in order to buy out the other guy in route to creating and maintaining a monopoly of those yellow boxes as well as the manufacturer of the very cameras using the gelatinous rolled film found inside of them.

 

detail-kodak-bankruptcy-filing-2012-xg7Detail: official court transcript document of Eastman Kodak Company Chapter 11 Bankruptcy filing: Southern District of New York state: Manhatten, New York: January 19, 2012.

Eastman, a man of the gilded age who harnessed the sweat of America’s Industrial Revolution for fantastic riches, also gave back-enough so in my opinion to become basis as unwitting poster child to the very idea behind the formation of an American middle class. As chronicled in Brayer’s volume, Eastman in the guise of the anonymous “Mr. Smith”, gave upwards of 20 million dollars in his lifetime-almost single handedly building the fledgling Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from the ground up. But he also donated millions more to the children and citizens of his very own Rochester in the form of brand new dental clinics. How do scores, let alone successive generations, put a long-term value on both brains and good teeth?

 

photoseed-display-at-grand-centralKodak's famous Colorama displays were formerly projected from the area now currently occupied by Apple's newest store in Grand Central Terminal in New York City. With my sincerest apologies, I'll shamelessly use this opportunity as a plug for yours truly. Photograph by David Spencer: 2011

For myself, Kodak was most definitely alive and bigger than life as I walked into Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal as a kid in the late 1960’s and marveled at their magnificent Colorama displays. For those indelible images, courtesy of Kodak and a healthy dose of Life magazine, I’ll say thanks and count myself a photographer forever. In regards to my recent trek through Grand Central, the ubiquity of another brand-Apple, now holds court where those giant transparencies formerly shown bright. Genius Bar indeed.

 

eastman-house-2009Mansion facade: The George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film-a different look I hope….Rochester, New York: 2009. Photograph by David Spencer

In light of this recent bankruptcy news and its effect on those separate but linked entities of the Kodak company itself- the city of Rochester as well as the guardian, research institution and public display facility extraordinaire to the history of Photography- the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film- my message is, please carry on. And to all those affiliated or working in both places, let me apologize for Mr. Eastman just this once and say chin up, your work is most definitely not done, and hopefully never will be.

 

rochester-sunriseSunrise over the city of Rochester, New York: February, 2009. A new beginning for sure.   Photograph by David Spencer

New Year Greetings to You

 

card-2012-3tj

Boraxologically Speaking

 

Is logical. And I’ll tell you why. Because the Boraxologist told me so. How else to explain the 1906 publication of a small book featuring the work of American Photo-Secession founder members Clarence White and Gertrude Käsebier as a way to convince folks to open new savings accounts at a bank in Rochester, New York?

 

the-orchard-clarence-white-p61Happiness is finding the work of American Photo-Secession founder member Clarence Hudson White's work in the tiny book "Homespun Essays" published late in 1906. Shown here is White's photograph "The Orchard".

 

I’m guessing you have no clue what I’m talking about, but if you happened to be alive in 1904 and flipping through your daily newspaper, chances are good you might have encountered a drawing of a wise old mule-named the Boraxologist—lauding the untold benefits of “20-Mule Team Brand Borax”—a water-softening agent used in the laundry. Today, Borax® is best known as a laundry “booster” and multi-purpose household cleaner. But thanks to the sayings of this mule a century ago, you may have believed the Fountain of Youth and Holy Grail were cleverly disguised in a box—humbly biding time on the general store shelf, awaiting your purchase to give new life to  dirty clothes.

The mind that came up with the mule with the funny sounding name and that little book from the bank was from a gentleman by the name of Otis H. Kean. A book publisher and advertising agent by profession, Kean turned creeds and in his own words, “optimistic aphorisms” into advertising copy by the barrel. “Such things seem to please the people” he said in 1904, regarding his “wisdom” dished out as part of the borax campaign. While reading through much of his published copy in preparation for this post, the modern figure of Don Draper did cross my mind, but of course from the “kinder and gentler” era of the early 20th century. I have no doubt if Kean was given a client’s account with the challenge of selling the benefits of more snow to a group of Eskimos, he would have no hesitation with the challenge. In carrying this mindset forward, Kean’s contact with cutting edge artistic photography by Clarence White and Gertrude Käsebier was simply the opportunity to consummate a marriage: photographs as visual aphorisms if you will.  Why just confine their work to a gallery he may have thought, when it could be the perfect foil in promoting the virtues of opening a new savings account at the just opened Rochester Trust & Safe Deposit Company’s new building?

 

kean-composite-for-blogExamples of specialized publications and advertising work published and carried out by the firm of Otis H. Kean from 1897-1906: clockwise: brochure cover-"Glove Lore"-1897; gentleman's walking glove from Glove Lore; photograph of Dresden porcelain from book "The Art of Giving"-1902; advertising photograph showing Hygienic Soap Granulator in use from McClure's-1906; newspaper caricature advertisement of the "Boraxologist", a mule-1904; American Girl Picture No. 4 from Pacific Coast Borax Co. advertising campaign-1904.

 

Boraxologically speaking, how exactly did Mr. Kean persuade or convince this aforementioned gallery owner, none other than Alfred Stieglitz himself, that using White’s and Käsebier’s work was in his best interest? A moot point perhaps, because Kean succeeded in issuing this tiny book, titling it “Homespun Essays—Everyday Thoughts About Everyday Life”, which featured their work. Of course, their encounter may never have happened, but if it did, a conversation between this wisdom spouting advertising man and fierce guardian of the American Photo-Secession would have been amusing to say the least.

 

homespun-essays-newspaper-ad-december-1906-6swThis advertisement for the free book "Homespun Essays", arranged and printed by Otis H. Kean, was placed and appeared in at least 15 newspapers in and around Rochester, New York in late December 1906 by the Rochester Trust & Safe Deposit Company. The ad was a promotion for people to open up new savings accounts at their new bank.

 

My own take on Kean while preparing Homespun Essays for this site is this: a perfectionist with a heart. The specialized books he published in conjunction with his business concern, the Literary Print Shop, were high-class productions and in this regard, his possible saving grace in relation to any possible dealings he may have had with Stieglitz. It wasn’t as if he was opposed to all commerce of course, but you do have to consider Stieglitz was most definitely an anomaly in the gallery world when and if Kean crossed his threshold in pursuit of “business”. This is because his well documented and self-prescribed “fight” for photography in America took the form of fierce protector and champion of White’s and Käsebier’s photography at a time when the very concept of hanging artistic photographs on gallery walls was in itself a revolutionary act. Kean’s involvement with fine printing and his possible business relationship with the Quadri-Color Printing Company in New York City—a firm responsible for the first true, four-color printing in America beginning in 1904, would have also given both a healthy respect for each other and a way to start a meaningful conversation.

 

little-galleries-291The work of Clarence Hudson White and Gertrude Käsebier was one of the very first shows of artistic photography Alfred Stieglitz showed at his Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession from February 5-19, 1906. Advertising agent Otis H. Kean may have seen this show, which would have given him reason to print examples of their work in "Homespun Essays" in December of 1906. Photograph from halftone plate reproduced in Camera Work XIV: 1906.

 

the-farmer-kasebier"Fruits of the Earth": (6.4 x 4.9 cm) by Gertrude Käsebier, a multiple-color halftone, is her sole photograph appearing in the book "Homespun Essays", accompanied by an essay written by Kean titled "The Farmer". Printed tissue guards, an example seen here, protect all book plates, and issued with red silk bookmark seen underneath guard. The photograph was previously reproduced as a photogravure by Stieglitz in "Camera Notes" from October, 1901.

 

Please visit our latest opus on Homespun Essays here, and prepare yourself to be “homespun” if you decide to read the posted essays along with the photographs, where you may smile and even laugh, especially after digesting this following tidbit from the book’s publisher: “The Trust Company never dies, never absconds and is immune from those possibilities of loss that may happen to every individual.” But then again, don’t cry too much when you find out they actually paid 4% interest back then on a savings account.

 

Cyber Sleuthing Aloha Style

 

I’ll admit to never having stepped foot on any Hawaiian island, but I did “drive” a few roads in Honolulu recently thanks to Google’s Street View feature, all for the sake of checking out the topography near Maunalua Park, its proximity to Fort Shafter; the island’s oldest military base nearby, and the more distant city of Honolulu itself, an approximate 11 minute trip according to its algorithmic brain trust.

 

kapiolaniDetail: gum bichromate album photograph: "Palm Reflections at Kapiolani Park" : 15.4 x 20.5 cm

 

My reasoning for this is the newest addition to this site, an album of gorgeous gum bichromate photographs circa 1900-1910 I’m calling Hawaiian Landscape | Japanese Garden Album, possibly taken by a very gifted amateur photographer who called senior Army headquarters in Honolulu home. What made me pursue this research path?  Since no attribution or even titles to the photographs exist in the album, I could only rely on the one clue left in it: a single photographic support stamped “Official Business” evidently used as a mailing envelope.

On the back of it is a return address for the United States War Department, based in Honolulu, further known as Headquarters Hawaiian Department. The other clue was the envelope’s addressed recipient. And this is where the trail gets really maddening, because it is mostly deliberately rubbed out. Just enough to fail any military censor but enough for me to figure out it was addressed to a Commanding Officer, also based in Honolulu. More online checking showed the term Hawaiian Department didn’t come into official use until early in 1913, which then presented another conundrum: the final mounted photograph in the album shows a nighttime view of San Francisco’s Market Street during the September, 1904 encampment of the Sovereign Grand Lodge of the United States and Canadian Independent Order of Odd Fellows. 

 

detail-war-department-b-Top: detail of return address on support verso for album photograph "Diamond Head | Lēʻahi" | Bottom: detail of envelope recipient: "Commanding Officer…..?" The identity of this person may be the album's photographer.

 

 

maunalua-park-postcard-backThis divided back RPPC postcard from a private collection was stumbled upon online while doing research for the album. Apparantly, Moanalua Park was quite the destination for those in the U.S. Army and stationed at Fort Shafter. Period script: 1910-1915 states: "Scene in Moanalua Park. It is rather close to Shafter, just below. Soldiers there all days except pay days. Then I guess they have business elsewhere." The album's photographer also spent a good deal of time at the park.

 

 

-bridgeDetail: gum bichromate album photograph: "Japanese Tea Garden Bridge : Moanalua Park" : 15.2 x 19.4 cm

 

But photographic archeology can be my peccadillo sometimes. In revisiting “the envelope”, I of course could not leave well enough alone. I went ahead and searched for a Commanding Officer whose first name was Thomas, the name that seems to make sense to my feeble gray matter since the sole letters “Th” appear under the Commanding Officer recipient address stamped on it. The name of Major Thomas J. Smith, who headed the Hawaii Ordnance Depot for the U.S. Army in Honolulu in 1917 was a lone result that turned up, placing it farther away from the working 1900-1910 dates I’ve assigned this album based on the final 1904 image included in it. In that case, I or anyone else may never know who took these lovely- and in the case of surviving artistic photographs from the Hawaiian Islands at the turn of the 20th century- very uncommon and rare photographs.

 

sacred-fallsDetail: gum bichromate album photograph: " Sacred Falls : Oahu" : 19.0 x 15.6 cm

 

But the real-life photographer in me does want to give someone credit for them. Were the photographs assembled for the album after the person left military service, if they were ever enlisted in the first place? In that case, the photographer simply re-purposed an old piece of correspondence-addressed to himself or someone else- to throw everyone-and especially yours truly- off his or her trail.

 

great-bellDetail: This front page artists rendition of an illuminated Market street at night shows one of the illuminated "bells" at center. The cutline used underneath states: “Throng Moving Under The Great Bell, The Crowning Piece of The City’s Illuminations, Which Swings Over Market Street, Near Kearny.” from: front page: San Francisco Call: Tuesday, September 20, 1904.

 

odd-fellowsDetail: gum bichromate album photograph: "Independent Order of Odd Fellows Encampment Lights on San Francisco's Market Street" : 12.1 x 17.1 cm. This wonderful night view of the city was taken sometime during the week of September 19-24, 1904 and presented as the last photograph in the album.

 

So Aloha to your memory anyway, whomever you are.  And thanks for this record of Hawaii from a place lost in time. If desired, please visit here to begin your Hawaiian vacation.