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.

 

 

Italian Pilgrimage to the Past

 

2012 will mark a century since a lovely collection of photographs of Italy were taken and assembled into a personal, miniature Grand Tour type album recently added to our collection here at PhotoSeed. As photographs, I feel they stand on their own strong merits but alas, an elusive missing piece for posterity is a record of their maker.  Stamped on the cover is the simple title of its’ contents: Jtalien 1912 (Italy 1912).  After purchasing it from a gentleman in Holland several years ago, I quickly deduced the photos were of German origin.

 

opened-album-b "Jtalien 1912" is the name embossed on the cover of this opened,  four-flap album showing the mounted photograph "Sailboats on Lake" : image: 7.3 x 10.7 cm : mount: 15.5 x 21.3 cm atop others contained within it.  

 

In this regard, language was the clue. Other German material in our archive contains this early spelling for Italy in the German language as well as Italian using the capitol letter “J” instead of an I: Jtalien and Jtalienische. But what sealed the deal for me was the curious addition to the album in the form of a later mounted snapshot of a group of 12 men wearing military clothing. A small sign propped up in front of them states “1914 Feldzug 1915”.

 

soldiersDetail: "1914 Feldzug 1915 : German World War I  Soldiers" : (7.8 x 10.4 cm)  this portrait of World War I, German Imperial Army soldiers may be a clue to who is responsible for taking the photographs making up the 1912 album.

 

From this photograph I determined they are wearing World War I issue,  Imperial German Army uniforms.  “Feldzug” further translates to “Campaign” in German.  I’m no military expert, but these guys don’t exactly look like they have just returned from the front lines. Instead, they are smiling, one holds a cigar, and another bearded soldier propped up in the back row poses for the camera while placing his hands on the shoulders of his comrades. Two women flank the group and appear to be nurses of some kind. A military hospital setting?  Or perhaps soldiers on an extended R&R assignment?  Is the same elusive photographer responsible for the marvelous images in this album sitting among them? And why not the possibilty one of the nurses could actually be our photographer? How did this album end up in the Netherlands, which remained neutral during The Great War?  For these questions I have no answers at the moment, just more questions.

 

horsesDetail: "Women on Horseback": (7.5 x 10.4 cm)  Another clue to the origins of the album? 

 

Another potential clue to the album’s familial origin is the inclusion of a photograph of two women sitting side-saddle on horses. They may only be part of a larger party connected with the album’s fox hunt gathering photographs or merely a separate moment of repose while they take a pleasure ride in another location.

 

woman-and-childrenDetail: from album photograph titled: "Woman Greets Italian Village Children". (9.6 x 8.0 cm)  The woman on left appears to be presenting this group of Italian village children with a bottle (wine?)  and  clutch of flowers.

 

My own hunch is the woman looking directly into the camera on horseback is the same woman shown in a separate album photograph. In it, she presents several gifts-a bottle of wine (?) and clutch of flowers to a group of Italian village children, several barefoot. But again, deductions, not facts.

 

childrenDetail: from album photograph titled: "Village Children Gathered for Portrait". (9.8 x 7.9 cm)  The same children pose for a photograph against a stone wall.  Compositionally, this image is different than others in the album and is printed on gelatin silver paper, instead of a pigment process used for the majority of the photographs. 

 

What I can say conclusively about the album’s 60 or so mounted photographs is they are a visual delight and important record of Italy before the outbreak of World War I. Some of the images are strikingly beautiful: the Italian countryside in particular but also of subject matter one rarely sees in “typical” Grand Tour type albums (not the commercial or snapshot variety) : carefully framed and presented images of dirt roads, life in a back alley,  a woman in bonnet caught unawares while most likely harvesting mussels at the seashore, a mysterious detail of a gate affixed with several crosses as well as many of the country’s famous landmarks and important Roman Catholic churches.

 

alleyDetail: album photograph: "Man Working in Alleyway" : 10.9 x 8.5 cmarchAlbum photograph: Arch of Constantine: 7.9 x 10.8 cm

 

These photographs are not topographical records but instead are done with a pronounced pictorialist aesthetic. Printed in multiple colors (ozobrome-a transfer pigment process-may be a hunch for some) and mounted on colored supports-they are individual jewels waiting for your own critical eye. Please follow this link to make your own Italian pilgrimage to the past.

 

Voici la Blog! | Here is the Blog!

 

The process of preparing material for this website has been a real education for me.  In picking apart and studying the components making up the two latest French portfolios added: L’Épreuve Photographique (The Photographic Print) for 1904 and 1905, knowledge has come in both large waves and tiny revelations. One of these waves has been some of the poetic, profound, and often humorous writing of French art historian and critic Émile Dacier. 

 

initialThis stunning woodcut initial, designed by the French artist and type designer George Auriol , (1863-1938) begins the preface to the 1904 First Series portfolio of  L’Épreuve Photographique, written by Émile Dacier, 1876-1952.paris-at-nightPhotographer J. Petitot found a high vantage point to photograph Paris, The City of Light, for the Second Series, 1905 portfolio of L’Épreuve Photographique. Petitot was a member of Société D’Excursions des Amateurs de Photographie in this magnificent city.

 

Here is an example of him speaking of his perceptions on the artistic photographic plates-included in his preface to the 1904 portfolio:

“These are the memories of distant lands, these are the tragedies and comedies of the street where chance is the great director, and here the pressure of crowds, the galloping squadrons, the shock waves on the breakers…”

And earlier, his delightful account of Photography and photographers in the dark ages-before their creative impulse was set free:

“Photographers! These terrifying figures to children that their souls have kept long stubborn grudges! …To visit these murderers as children we had to dress up-like the condemned.  After the mandatory cutting of the hair, torture ensued by the shaking of the neck yoke…”

 

cover-1904The First Series (1904) cover to L’Épreuve Photographique. Type designer George Auriol designed the floral vignettes and other typographic elements that were integrated into the cover as well as for the half-title, title, preface pages (1904 only), plate tissue-guards, and separate “Table” index page (listing titles of photographs to corresponding photographer) found in the collected yearly portfolios for 1904 and 1905.misonne-Photographic plates, like this detail by Belgian photographer Léonard Misonne, are reproduced for the portfolios from original source prints as hand-pulled, Taille-Douce (copper plate) screen photogravures. They are often double mounted, as shown, to a larger colored support measuring 44 x 32 cm and covered with a tissue-guard.

 

Tiny revelations: the editor of L’Épreuve Photographique, Roger Aubry, was not only a photographer and inventor, but a passionate balloonist who survived a crash into the Grand Palais in 1905 while taking photographs above Paris. And another: the very typeface that survives in some of the signage used in the Paris Métro train stations- Auriol, was designed by namesake George Auriol, a French artist, type and graphic designer who used his new typeface as well as other Art Nouveau elements in his commission of  L’Épreuve Photographique by the Paris publisher Librairie Plon.

 

advertisementThe Annuaire Général et International de la Photographie. (General and International Directory of Photography) published this advertisement for the Second Series, 1905 portfolio of L’Épreuve Photographique .demachy-frontisThis burin-enhanced portrait, "Etude", by French photographer Robert Demachy, was used as the frontis plate to the 1905 Annuaire Général-reproduced as a hand-pulled photogravure by the Rembrandt Intaglio Printing Company of London. Dimensions to work: 13.8 x 12.0 cm.meunier-cartoon-gf1The humorous and sly observations of French writer and critic Émile Dacier, who wrote the preface to L’Épreuve Photographique in 1904, also extended to a much larger, illustrated history of perceived photographic mishaps, included in the 1905 edition of the Annuaire Général and titled "La Photographie à Travers L'Image". (Photography Through the Image) This drawing titled "Partie de Tennis: Étrange résultat d'une photographie instantanée" (Game of Tennis: Strange result of a snapshot) by the artist Meunier was included. (this example from source-Le Rire: June 22, 1901)plate-with-auriol-typefaceAuriol's relationship with the Annuaire Général is subtle, considering he was largely responsible for the design of L’Épreuve Photographique. The annual uses the Auriol typeface for the working titles of select plates, including this example: "Fleurs Lumineuses", taken by French woman photographer Mlle. Céline Laguarde and published as a collotype plate by Ch. Collas & Cie of Cognac (Charente). (dimensions: 10.8 x 14.7 cm)dark-roomsI'm not here to check in, I just want to use your Chambres Noires……and for the traveling photographer roaming France in 1905, a subscription to the Annuaire Général would even include this list (detail shown) of available darkrooms at the disposal of amateurs compiled by the Société des amateurs photographes du Touring-Club.auriol-flowers-fybGeorge Auriol- designed floral vignettes like this one grace several of the letterpress pages of L’Épreuve Photographique, adding elegance to this sumptious portfolio work.

 

 In 1903, Aubry had taken over the editorship of the Librairie Plon’s  Annuaire Général et International de la Photographie. (General and International Directory of Photography) Published in Paris, this was an annual encompassing a little bit of everything photographic, but with a more scientific focus in keeping with the tradition of the publication. I was fortunate to have bought a copy of the 1905 edition many years ago, and used it as a reference work when preparing these galleries.  “Directeur”, another way of saying “Editor”, is the title assigned Aubry for this publication as well as for L’Épreuve Photographique.  My respect for his work in compiling these portfolios keeps in step with the tradition of the enlightened city of Paris, their place of publication. We have additionally prepared a PhotoSeed Highlight for this work here, with a further link to all 96 plates making up the portfolios.

 

 

French Revolution Evolution

 

In France, prior to taking on the complex task of publishing the journal L’Art Photographique, (The Photographic Art) first appearing in July, 1899, Georges Carré and C. Naud in Paris had made a reputation for publishing volumes dealing in scientific, medical, as well as photographic subjects. Their journal the Photo-Gazette under the editorship of Georges Mareschal was the best known.

 

muchaParis publishers Georges Carré and C. Naud intended to showcase photography on the cover of L'Art Photographique but settled for the tried and true in the form of artwork and typography done by Czech Art Nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha instead.

 

With the committed goal of keeping the relevance of photographic art before the public eye and with the backing of France’s elite photographic body in the form of The Photo Club de Paris, Carré and Naud under the leadership of Mareschal set about contracting with multiple printing ateliers throughout the country  (1.)  in order to showcase work produced by the club’s members.

 

specimenCarrying the imprint of Spécimen stamped in blue ink, this plate with the title "Automne" by French photographer Robert Demachy was eventually included with the October, 1899 issue of the journal. Without knowing any specific details, it may have been used as a working production publisher's plate at the outset to publication or even one to solicit potential subscribers for it.

 

Certainly with Franz Goerke’s Die Kunst in der Photographie journal in Germany serving as a model beginning only two years earlier in 1897, the publishers believed bigger was better, (46.0 x 34.0 cm)  and the task of presenting French work (2.) as reproduction plates in the original size the photographer intended was the stated goal from the outset. Everything about this photographic magazine is admirable, and for France, this evolution would break new ground as the first monthly photographic publication solely devoted to the image itself. Looking back, it is also an important historical record of the cutting-edge, French photographic engraving being produced at this time. The photographic plates included with it are printed in the finest hand-pulled photogravure, collotype, (photocollographie) and single and multiple-color halftone. (similigravure) These in turn are printed, often by a separate atelier, on a variety of French papers running the gamut from hand-made plate paper to traditional examples of thick coated stock.  To satisfy the photographic purist, technical details for the images are often supplied on the accompanying plate tissue-guards.  So in a word, revolutionary. 

 

much-plate-goodThis Art Nouveau, publishers imprint ( 6.5 x 4.7 cm ) woodcut for Georges Carré and C. Naud by the French artist P. Ruty appears on the title page to the bound, collected volume of L'Art Photographique in our archive.

 

In the mission statement laid out by editor Georges Mareschal in the first issue, he explains the admirable intention of employing the cover itself to showcase a photograph. But because of logistical problems not revealed, (3.) the talents of Czech Art Nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha were employed in 1899 to design its cover used consistently over the one year run ending in June, 1900.

 

tissueThis detail of a tissue-guard for the plate "Étude a L'Atelier" by Polish photographer Count Aleksander von Tyszkiewicz, (working in Paris) is an example of engraving and technical specifics for work included in the journal. It was included in the September, 1899 issue.

 

At PhotoSeed, we are excited to be able to present all 48 photographs from L’Art Photographique in their order of publication beginning here.

 

Notes:

1. Nine in France and the long established firm of Jean Malveaux in Brussels.
2. Although several examples from Argentina, Belgium, England and a Polish photographer working in Paris are included.
3. My own conjecture on this surmises the publishers felt an over-sized magazine needed to be “shown off” better-especially with the resources being devoted to its production, and there was certainly no better way to do this than to employ a cover “poster effect” in the form of a full-color lithograph by Mucha.

 

 

New Fruit in Color, Black & White, and Shades in Between

 

Since PhotoSeed launched a month ago, I have been putting together material on a run of the important German photographic journal known as Photographische Mitteilungen. (Photographic Reports) Several hundred photographs, almost all of them hand-pulled photogravures, are now searchable in our archive database. As a working photographer myself, it is an honor to be able to give new light to this material and introduce fresh eyes to it over a century later.

 

hw-vogel-ernst-vogel-paul-hanneke-v51From left to right: Photographische Mitteilungen founder and editor H.W. Vogel: 1864-1898; his son Dr. Ernst Vogel, who edited the journal from at least 1893-1901; and Paul Hanneke-sole editor from 1901-1911.

 The challenge for me has been trying to get things right the first time. The language barrier in assessing this material has often been difficult in some cases to overcome. But fear not. If I’m not comfortable about something regarding a translation, I will probably not include it unless I  spell it out verbatim on the site-which I have done in a few cases already. I wish I could say I spoke five languages but since four years of high school French is my reality, Google as well as other online translation software has taken up the slack in this department. I have been translating titles of the work where appropriate (found in the misc. tags area) in order to give our English-speaking audience an idea what the photographer’s intent was as well. “Unidentified” seems to be my new favorite word on some days but consistency will always be my mantra while adding material to the site.

 

mitteilungen-title-pageThis detail shows the title page for the 30th year of Photographische Mitteilungen covering 1893-1894.-photographic-society-in-berlin-1909-y8zThis photograph taken by Berlin photographer Nicola Percheid from the March, 1909 issue of Photographische Mitteilungen shows board members of the Association for the Promotion of Photography in Berlin. (Vorstand des Vereins zur Förderung der Photographie in Berlin) This is the same organization founded by H.W. Vogel in 1863. In the early years of the publication, the name was incorporated into the title page since the journal was actually its mouthpiece. (example- Photographische Mittheilungen: Zeitschrift des Vereins zur Förderung der Photographie) Over the years, the journal lost the "h" in Mittheilungen as well. Seen in this photograph at center is journal editor Paul Hanneke and to his right, journal publisher Gustav Schmidt.    

 

 In researching the history of the journal, I discovered early examples of color plates reproduced  from 1893.  Twenty years earlier, journal founder and photochemist H.W. Vogel had first figured out how color sensitizing agents could be added to photographic plates in order for objects to delineate themselves into their proper shades of gray.

 

mitteilungen-colored-collotype-april-1893-3-5b3This very early natural-color collotype photograph showing a swatch of an antique rug was done by the atelier Georg Büxenstein in Berlin and reproduced as a full-page plate in the April 15 (heft 2) 1893 issue of Photographische Mitteilungen. Dimensions- image- 15.3 x 12.2 cm -support- 24.4 x 16.9 cm (trimmed)

 

Later, his son Ernst Vogel- (who had joined his father as co-editor at an undetermined date but at least since 1893) took up the challenge of printing three-color photographs in halftone as well as collotype. He first teamed up with William Kurtz in New York in 1892 (who was a good friend of his father’s) and a year later with Berlin engraver Georg Büxenstein.

The three-color halftone below showing a still life of fruit reproduced in the January, 1893 issue of the journal is believed to be one of the very first three-color halftones ever done on a large scale. In Berlin, Ernst Vogel’s subsequent business relationship with Büxenstein bore additional fruit in the form of this firm’s exquisite gravure plates now available for your examination on our site.

 

xvogel-kurtz-1-3t5The New York engravers Bartlett & Co. under the direction of William Kurtz and Ernst Vogel printed this very early three-color halftone image. Dimensions: image: 13.3 x 18.3 cm : support: 16.7 x 24.5 cm coated stock paper (trimmed)