Deep Holbein

 

A reappraisal of old photos has recently invaded the public conversation of late. Artificial intelligence, in the form of video driver technology invented by Israeli company D-ID, was licensed earlier this year to genealogy and DNA company MyHeritage with the moniker Deep Nostalgia™. Old photographs, no matter their original medium, are brought to life as short animated video clips, and may never be seen in the same way again.

 

blog-animated-holbein-still-captureScreenshot: Animated “A Holbein Woman” from YouTube. Cropped image of the same by American photographers Frances & Mary Electa Allen, ca. 1890 using the Deep Nostalgia™ app licensed to genealogy and DNA company MyHeritage. Original source photograph from PhotoSeed Archive.

 

Taking up the company’s free offer to try out the technology, I applied it to a recent archive acquisition, A Holbein Woman, taken in the very early 1890’s by Deerfield, Massachusetts sister photographers Frances Stebbins and Mary Electa Allen. You can see the result in a short 12 second video posted to YouTube embedded above in this post. 

 

blog-photo-holbein-colorizedLeft: Colorized version of “A Holbein Woman” by American photographers Frances & Mary Electa Allen, ca. 1890. Created by DeOldify deep learning experts Jason Antic and Dana Kelley, this colorizing technology has been licensed from DeOldify by DNA company MyHeritage, with their branding of MyHeritage In Color™. Source photograph from PhotoSeed Archive. Right: “Portrait of a Woman from Southern Germany”: c. 1520-25: Formerly attributed to Hans Holbein the Younger, Germany: (1497/1498-1543): Oil on panel: 45 x 34 cm: Courtesy: collection of the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague.

 

The photograph, considered a masterwork of early genre pictorialist portrait photography, is of their mother Mary Stebbins Allen, (1819-1903) and in itself done after the then fashionable practice (1.) of an imitation painting: in this case, a Renaissance portrait by Bavarian artist Hans Holbein the Elder. (c. 1460-1524) To add another layer of mystery, research I did last year revealed the primary source portrait- the oil painting (c.1520-1525) known as “Portrait of a Woman from Southern Germany” in the collection of the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, was originally attributed to Holbein’s son “The Younger”, (c. 1497-1543) with the now updated disclaimer by the museum’s curators as being “formerly attributed” to this artist. This painting can be seen at upper right, with a colorized version of the Allen sisters portrait run through remarkable colorization technology MyHeritage In Color™ at left.

 

blog-a-holbein-woman-allen-sisters“A Holbein Woman”: Frances Stebbins & Mary Electa Allen, American: 1854-1941 & 1858–1941. Gelatin silver print ca. 1890: 20.1 x 16.3 cm laid down on light gray card mount 35.2 x 27.8 cm: presented here in original ca. 1896 beaded wood frame by Greenfield, MA framer Dunklee & Freeman with original overmat replaced. Done with the intent of being a tribute imitation painting to Hans Holbein’s “Portrait of a Woman from Southern Germany”, the subject of this portrait is the photographer’s mother Mary Stebbins Allen. (1819-1903) The result: “A Holbein Woman”, was one of the earliest and most successful examples of portraiture done by the Deerfield, MA sisters. From: PhotoSeed Archive.

 

Another words, if being accurate to revisionist history but without the convenient addition of a famous name, (2.) the Allen sisters efforts in the modern day might conceivably be retitled “A Formerly Attributed Woman” rather than “A Holbein Woman”.

And although it is but one example reanimated from that era using new technology, it seems reasonable to conclude 21st Century progress courtesy of Deep Nostalgia™ may only reinforce and belie a continuation of certain prejudices and expectations from the past, the same criticism that could be leveled at video driver technology being only an approximation of humanity, leaving us devoid of the true mannerisms of those who actually lived.

 

blog-a-holbein-woman-allen-sisters-label-and-dunklee-freeman-framing-labelExhibition label: “A Holbein Woman”: ca. 1896. Pasted white-paper label (7.2 x 13.6 cm) (preserved and cut out from) wood backing board with black ink photographers stamp: F.S. & M.E. Allen. Deerfield, Mass.; in black ink believed to be in the hand of the photographers: No 7   A Holbein Woman: 73 to upper right corner, faint X mark in red ink in lower right. From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

“Creepy” is one online descriptor I kept encountering in people’s reactions to this new technology, but when has that ever stopped “progress”? (3.) Are we doomed or can fleeting perceptions of the past in old photographs brought to “life” change our future for the better, our marveling reactions to it as incidental as the new shiny object of the here and now? Only time will tell. (4.)    David Spencer-

 

 

Notes:

1. The worldwide pandemic brought on by COVID-19 lockdowns inspired a massive revival of imitation paintings and other works of art including photography. Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum in March, 2020 promoted their Stay at Home Challenge!, inviting people to recreate modern day reinterpretations from masterworks in their collection. This was soon followed by the Getty museum in California. One of the very first “challenge” accounts to promote this revived genre was the Netherlands Instagram account Tussen Kunst & Quarantaine- translating to “between art and quarantine” which first inspired the Rijksmuseum challenge.

2. This would never happen.

3. An examination of ethical concerns as a result of so-called Deepfake technology contained within Deep Nostalgia™ is explored in a New York Times article written by Daniel Victor from March 10, 2021: Your Loved Ones, and Eerie Tom Cruise Videos, Reanimate Unease With Deepfakes.

4. That shiny object has been here since February, 2021. Care to upload a selfie, historical photograph or stock pic of Kim Jong-un, Mao Zedong or Joe Biden and see yourself or them “sing” to popular music? Then download the WOMBO app here. Guardian technology columnist Helen Sullivan reports on March 12, 2021 the app just might be giving competition to Deep Nostalgia™.

Fortunate Son

At PhotoSeed, we celebrate the life of Ann McElroy Spencer, 1929-2021, one of our most profound influences.

blog-ann-mcelroy-spencer-leaving-for-umass-sept-1946-mryDetail: “Day Ann left for College, Sept. 1946” Jane Ross, American: gelatin silver print: 1946: 9.0 x 15.0 cm. At center, the author’s mother, Ann McElroy, 17, is shown outside her home on South Main Street in Orange, MA flanked by parents James Ernest McElroy (1900-1961) and Edna Sawyer Blanchard (1901-1961). My mom’s bicycle (the color was red) can be seen strapped to the hood of the family car, ready to take her on new adventures and freshman year at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Growing up in Orange, my mom was fortunate to have the life-long love of a little sister, my Aunt Jane, and her parents, who were both active and civically engaged in their small New England town. Edna was known by everyone there by her nickname “Happy,” and my grandfather James, recently discharged as a Lieutenant, who served in the United States Navy Reserve in WWII, was the town’s assistant postmaster. Tragically, their lives were cut short in an automobile accident, an event that impacted and shaped the young lives of my mother and aunt. From: Authors family archive.

 

Words often fail at times like these, but I wanted to take a few moments to recount one remembrance in the very rich life of my mother, Ann McElroy Spencer, 1929-2021, who passed last week. And it has a photography angle! On a late spring day about 20 years ago, I discovered the true secret of her selfless character, qualities reaffirmed to me in her final years by her fellow residents at the assisted living facility she called home.

 

new-blog-ann-spencer-portrait-1962-by-sissy-shattuk-copyDetail: “Portrait of Ann McElroy Spencer”: Sieglanide “Sissi” Shattuck, American, born Austria: oil on canvas: 1962: 38” x 30” Artist Sissi Shattuck of New Hampshire was a friend of my mother and father in the late 1950s and 1960s. This portrait of my mom, done in her early 30s, always inspired me and it hung for years in the living room of our Connecticut home- the author of this post also had the great fortune to sit for the artist in 1969. From: family collection (artwork © by SissiStudio: sissistudio.com)

 

On that day, she suggested we take a walk around my old neighborhood, where I had grown up but had long since departed for a career in newspaper photojournalism and, in my mind, greener pastures. To my surprise, the walk this day took us up a long steep hill, a bit distant from the route I was expecting. After reaching the summit and turning left, I was hesitant about where the journey would ultimately lead, but she seemed intent, and I did not question, happy to be sharing some good one-on-one time with her.

 

blog-1969-flower-by-ams“Crewel Embroidery Flowers in Vase”: Ann McElroy Spencer, American: 1969: 28.25” x 24.25” : dyed wool thread stitched onto linen ground from pattern kit, framed in gilt oval wood frame. My mother learned to sew from her mother at a young age, making her own clothes and things for my brother and me. (Sometimes from the same pattern!) One of my earliest memories as a child was sometime in late 1967, when my mom took on this complex crewel work piece. I found a photo stating it took her 1 1/2 years to finish it, my young self intently following her needle as she worked on the orange and yellow tulips sprouting from the top of the bouquet. From: Authors family collection.

 

Shortly, we found ourselves in front of an unknown mailbox, in front of a house that was also unknown, at least to me.  It was in the next moment, however, that she produced an envelope from somewhere, and proceeded to open the mailbox and deposit the letter within. I casually asked what she was doing and she matter-of-factly stated that earlier that spring, on a previous journey past this mailbox, she had made a mental note to bring along her camera in order to take pictures of flowers growing near it. “A very beautiful display,” or something to that effect, is my recollection of her intent, and reason enough to capture their beauty for eternity, thanks to photography’s magic. She had made prints and placed them in that envelope, intent on sharing them with whomever retrieved the mail at that address—folks that, to the best of my knowledge looking back these many years, were complete strangers. That was my mom.   David Spencer-

 

blog-2012-candlelight“Ann and Charlie Spencer Reading by Battery & Candlelight”: Photograph by my wife Shannon O’Brien, 2012. During a power outage, my parents keep busy at the kitchen table of their Connecticut home in a favorite pursuit: reading. A long time public educator, one of my mom’s former students wrote this touching condolence: “Mrs Spencer was my 7th grade English teacher who inspired me to become a poet and the love of poetry. We were required to memorize selected poems which to this day I still can recite aloud. She was strict but kind. As a result of her love of the educational world, I also became a teacher of elementary students in Fairfield where we began each day with a poem to read and copy in script.” From: Authors family collection.

 

The Piano Lesson

by Ann Spencer

 

She was always there, waiting, just inside the door. I came lingeringly up the walk, book-bag bumping against my leg. She opened the door and I sidled past into the dim hall that seemed to smell of old things. “Five minutes late!” she said. I smiled weakly. I followed her into the living room, brushing against the heavy brown velveteen portieres, which helped keep the room warm in winter. She waited silently while I took off my coat and dropped it on the horsehair sofa. The armchairs, each with their antimacassars, stood guard, like sentinels, in their appointed places. Somewhere a clock chimed the quarter hour. It was risky to be late. It was rude to allow her to wait, in expectation, behind the etched glass window of the front door. Promptness was a virtue.

Ida Conrad Babb was Conservatory trained and was one of the two piano teachers in our small New England town. It was the depths of the Depression, and the money she made by giving lessons provided for her groceries: she had no car. She was tenacious of her pupils and held herself stiffly, as if the loss of even one student would cause her to crack and send her to the poor farm on East River Street. I recall her across the gulf of the years, not unkindly, but with some trepidation. She was one of the few adults in my life at the time who evaluated my work. I felt sorry for her- in my way. She was my first piano teacher.

We approached the piano which was housed in an alcove off the living room- a large instrument tucked into a little space, almost like an afterthought. Pulling out the music from my bag, I put Henri Hertz- Scales and Arpeggios on the piano rack. “Well,” she said, “let’s commence with the scales. We have to warm up the fingers first,” and she’d smile so that her slightly protruding teeth showed. I started off, thinking to myself that yesterday when I had practiced scales, I’d said to mother, “Henry Hertz when I do these!” and she had laughed. Now I dutifully sawed through the music- not much facility there- certainly no joy. I was sure she’d give me a “Fair” this week on my report card.

A dog barked somewhere in the back of the house, and I ploughed on through the other studies. “Mind your fingering.” “Commence again- play it at half-tempo.” And again: “You’re not practicing this étude as you ought,” she’d say, reproachfully. Never any praise. It was a relief when she said, “Get that folder, Ann, on top of the piano.” I moved carefully- not much space- and tentatively set aside the framed photograph of her brother killed in World War I. The street she lived on bore his name. I took the folder which contained the pieces. She leafed through the contents and selected one. Now I could sit in her seat by the window and she would sit at the piano and demonstrate how the piece should be played. Spare, erect, hand held above the keyboard- never would she allow them to droop- she played the short composition with fluidity and grace. “Your turn now, “ she said. She seemed happy to restore the piano to me. Never once did I hear her in recital.

After the lesson and after she had meticulously graded my report card- “Fair” for scales and arpeggios, “Very good” for the memorized piece- she told me to go to the kitchen- would I see the dog? to get a note for my parents which would be on the kitchen table. Entering the room, I was suddenly aware of her husband, smoking a pipe in the failing light of a winter’s afternoon. He knew my father, yet he spoke no greeting: a dusty plant, neglected, in a dark corner. I was a little afraid. “Hello,” I said, grabbed the note and didn’t wait for a response.

The tree at the end of her front walk still bore its leaves- sere, clicking against each other in the January wind. “That tree wun’t lose its leaves until spring,” she said. I stumbled back home across the frozen ruts of the two fields which separated our house from hers.

The following week, I commenced piano studies with the other teacher in town. He was a jolly man who emphasized popular tunes over études.

 

Can We?

blog-2021-new-years-day-greeting-olive-m-potts-portrait

Have Faith

A Christmas Wish

blog-the-vendors-the-faithful-manuel-arrelano-manila-philippines“The Vendors & the Faithful”: Manuel Arellano: Filipino, b. 1885. Vintage bromide print ca. 1920-30: 34.5 x 27.2 | 38.1 x 30.4 | 45.8 x 35.8 cm. Wearing a traditional short-sleeved Camisa blouse, a woman devout in her faith kneels and prays inside a church while vendors stand behind her with wares for sale. These would most likely include rosaries, religious pamphlets and small religious icons such as the Black Nazarene, should the location of the photograph be the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene (Quiapo Church) fronting Plaza Miranda in Manila, perhaps the most important symbol of Roman Catholicism in the Philippines. Further research for the location of this photograph may be the former Antipolo Church, now Antipolo Cathedral-rebuilt after the church was destroyed in World War II. From: PhotoSeed Archive

Casting out Intrusions

On this first day of November, the words of American photographer Frederick Britton Hodges, who wrote the following lines about the month in 1915, seem an appropriate tonic for the constant upheaval of the present:

 

blog-november-skies-1915-or-before-frederick-britton-hodges“November Skies”: Frederick Britton Hodges, American: 1868-1955. Vintage platinum print with applied watercolors, ca. 1915: 11.5 x 16.7 cm tipped onto 17.0 x 21.3 cm mount, signed by the artist in graphite at lower right corner. (slight water damage) Born in Rome, New York and spending his entire life there, Hodges was not only a prolific photographer, but a journalist, poet, and naturalist who spent his waking days wandering off the beaten paths of Oneida County New York while documenting the delights of nature with his pen and camera. These often personal and lengthy observations illustrated with his own photographs reached a national audience in photographic journals as well as his local newspaper, the Daily Sentinel of Rome. There, his articles appeared as early as 1886, the year he purchased his first camera and continued until 1938, when his own weekly column was launched. This lasted until 1955, the year of his passing. From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

“The years’ end in November, after all the glorious riot of summer verdure, brings opportunities to observe how full of inspiring force are the more subtle phases of Nature. We are shown to what an extent we are charmed by the variety of form. …


Let us call November the broadening month, the month in which we cast out the selfish intrusions that will creep in and occupy some of the valuable space in our minds, and look with clear, sane eyes. Our ideas are not large enough—no, it is hard to make them so. It takes us a long time to discover good in the work of others, that we disdained, at first, to give a second glance.” 
(1.)

 

 

1. Excerpt: F.B. Hodges: “November”, The Camera, (The Camera Publishing Company): November, 1915. pp. 641-42.

 


19th Century Game Theory

19th Century amateur photographers faced trials and tribulations in mastering their new found craft, put into the spotlight after photography itself became a growing mass medium with the marketing of Kodak’s #1 box camera in late 1888.

In 1889, taking advantage of this new large audience-by giving them a fun diversion- the Milton Bradley company of Springfield, Massachusetts produced what is believed to be the world’s first card game on photography, one they called “The Amateur Photographer”.  So now, the agony and ecstasy experienced by those dedicated amateurs who owned more advanced cameras and maintained wet darkrooms while embracing art and science could be enjoyed by all. PhotoSeed recently acquired 24 cards of this game from the original set of 36.

1-blog-the-amateur-photographer-card-game-1889-copy-10Left: “Buy a Good Outfit” : Right: “First Prize”. 1889. Individual coated-paper lithographic playing cards measuring 8.9 x 5.6 cm (3.5 x 2.25”). Milton Bradley Company, Springfield, MA. The cards making up the game “The Amateur Photographer” were illustrated to show “the triumphs and “hard luck” of an amateur photographer in a way that no member of the craft can fail to appreciate”. From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

The directions for this Victorian card game can be seen printed below in a vintage advertisement for the 1889-90 Milton Bradley Company “Catalogue of Games, Sectional Pictures, Toys, Puzzles, Blocks and Novelties”. 

For the most part up to the present day, physical card ⌘ and board games have never featured the character of the photographer, although video games beginning in the 1990’s have included many, including: “Polaroid Pete” (1992), “Pokémon Snap” (1999), “Dead Rising” (2006): excerpt: “gamers play photojournalist Frank West, who somehow got stuck in a shopping mall in Colorado during the zombie apocalypse. Frank has to fight his way out through hoardes of zombies and uncover the truth with his camera.” and “Spiderman 3” (2007).

Instead, popular culture has taken the lead, with the larger than life character of the photographer (for good and bad) celebrated in films taking hold in our collective imaginations. Some that come to mind by this writer include James Stewart’s character spying out his apartment window using a telephoto camera lens in Alfred Hitchcock’s masterful film “Rear Window”, (1954) and Peter Parker’s more recent alter-ego occupation sans Spiderman suit. Enjoy the following select game cards from this surviving set.

 

2-blog-1889-gameLeft: Title Page from “Catalogue of Games, Sectional Pictures, Toys, Puzzles, Blocks and Novelties Made by Milton Bradley Company”. Right: Catalogue listing for card game “The Amateur Photographer” in same volume, 1889-90. (p. 10) Courtesy: Internet Archive3-blog-the-amateur-photographer-card-game-1889-copy-6Left: “Try an Instantaneous Shot” : Right: “Film Comes Off”. 1889. Individual coated-paper lithographic playing cards measuring 8.9 x 5.6 cm (3.5 x 2.25”). Milton Bradley Company, Springfield, MA. The cards making up the game “The Amateur Photographer” were illustrated to show “the triumphs and “hard luck” of an amateur photographer in a way that no member of the craft can fail to appreciate”. These two negative value cards show two common problems: film emulsion sensitivity or improper camera settings on left card reveals the amateur’s error of not being able to “stop” the action of a race horse while the chemical darkroom problem of a peeling film emulsion (washing too vigorously perhaps?) ruining the masterwork of a sailboat photograph at right. From: PhotoSeed Archive



4-blog-the-amateur-photographer-card-game-1889-copy-8Left: “Two on the Same Plate” : Right: “How Pretty”. 1889. Individual coated-paper lithographic playing cards measuring 8.9 x 5.6 cm (3.5 x 2.25”). Milton Bradley Company, Springfield, MA. The cards making up the game “The Amateur Photographer” were illustrated to show “the triumphs and “hard luck” of an amateur photographer in a way that no member of the craft can fail to appreciate”. The negative value card at left shows the common problem of exposing the same photographic plate twice for two different scenes while at right, a positive value card shows a seemingly perfect picture of a bouquet of flowers. From: PhotoSeed Archive5-blog-the-amateur-photographer-card-game-1889-copy-4Left: “She Only Wanted to See the Picture” : Right: “Composite Old Maids in Our Town”. 1889. Individual coated-paper lithographic playing cards measuring 8.9 x 5.6 cm (3.5 x 2.25”). Milton Bradley Company, Springfield, MA. The cards making up the game “The Amateur Photographer” were illustrated to show “the triumphs and “hard luck” of an amateur photographer in a way that no member of the craft can fail to appreciate”. Gender sexism depicting the foibles of the female sex was alive and well when Amateur Photography first came into fashion- evidenced by the negative value card at left of a woman peeking at the results of an exposed photographic plate before the negative was properly fixed in the darkroom. Owing to the fact Photography was then a very expensive hobby and career opportunities for women in general were completely lacking, the majority of practitioners were men. But this would soon change, particularly after the dawn of the 20th Century, when Photography actually became one of the few occupations women were encouraged to pursue outside the home. At right, in a twist of this same gender sexism, a positive value card reveals itself in the form of this photographic portrait of an “old maid”, complete with mustache and tiara? or hair comb- with comparisons to later portraits of Queen Victoria by the card artist possibly being the so-called “humorous” intent. From: PhotoSeed Archive6-blog-the-amateur-photographer-card-game-1889-copy-7Left: “Snap Shot at Tennis Player” : Right: “Try a Shot by Magnesium Light With Good Effect”. 1889. Individual coated-paper lithographic playing cards measuring 8.9 x 5.6 cm (3.5 x 2.25”). Milton Bradley Company, Springfield, MA. The cards making up the game “The Amateur Photographer” were illustrated to show “the triumphs and “hard luck” of an amateur photographer in a way that no member of the craft can fail to appreciate”. These two high value cards reveal the very tricky technical goal of freezing sports action at left- something rarely attempted at the time- and at right, the undertaking of a so-called “flashlight” photograph. This was achieved on a photographic plate through the intense illumination given off during the ignition of flash powder made up of a mixture of nitrate and magnesium held off camera by the photographer. From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

⌘ One exception found online by this website is the 2016 Japanese card game  “Wind the Film!”, a half-frame camera photography themed card game for 2-4 players.

 

Henry Ravell: Embracing Art & Photography

“Coburnesque”, or, in the style of American master pictorialist Alvin Langdon Coburn, (1882-1966) was how the work of now forgotten American photographer Henry Ravell (1864-1930) was described in 1908 by London’s Amateur Photographer & Photographic News.

1-a-narrow-street-guanajuDetail: “A Narrow Street-Guanajuato”: Henry Ravell, American: 1864-1930. Vintage multiple color gum print c. 1907-14. Image: 33.1 x 23.5 presented loose within brown paper folder with overall support dimensions of 39.8 x 58.8 cm. In central Mexico, with the dome of a church framing the skyline at center in background, two native women make their way along one of Guanajuato’s narrow streets. Henry Ravell perfected the gum bichromate process to a very high level. Probably in 1906-07, he began experimenting in multiple color gum. In Germany, around this same time, similar examples were being done by the brothers Theodor (1868-1943) and Oscar Hofmeister, (1871-1937) as well as Heinrich Wilhelm Müller. (1859-1933) From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Under the headline “Local Colour.” by journal critic “The Magpie”, a discussion of the merits around Ravell’s new color multiple gum printing process was considered for their large readership. Commenting on a series of his Mexican church photographs published in the May issue of the Century Magazine, “Magpie” writes:

 

“Who is this Mr. Ravell, and what is his wonderful colour process, which is not “on the negative”? Multiple-gum, one may surmise- and one may also venture to guess that Mr. “de Forest” (Lockwood de Forest- editor) has, notwithstanding this flourish of trumpets, nothing very much to tell us. The Ravell photographs, illustrating “Some Mexican Churches,” are Coburnesque, and the pictures are, in their very Yankee style, fine and strong- which is more than can be said for those in our English monthlies. Couldn’t Mr. Ravell be induced to send some examples of his work to the R.P.S. or Salon? We badly need some new American exhibitors.” (June 16, p. 600)

 

A reassessment of Ravell’s output is long overdue in elevating him back to his rightful position as one of the more important practitioners of pictorialism in the early 20th Century canon of American artistic photographers.

 

2-36-canal-street-on-far-right-3rd-floor-was-ch-lyons-photo-studioLeft: Henry Ravell was only a toddler when his father Charles Henry Ravell (1833-1917) opened a skylight photographic studio on the third floor of this brick building painted red located on Canal Street in Lyons, New York around 1865-66. Shown here in the summer of 2019, the entrance was at the present day 36 Canal street (on the far right of the photo-presently an insurance office) but was numbered #30 Canal before the turn of the 20th Century. It was here that Henry was “brought up in photography from childhood and became an expert in all processes before he was twelve years old”. Right: A full-page advertisement for “Ravell’s Photograph Gallery” operated by C.H. Ravell at the Canal street building appeared in the 1867-68 Wayne County (New York) Business Directory. At the time, Charles Ravell would have been using the wet-plate process, and the ad highlights “Large Imperial Photographs finished in Ink or Colors”… “Pictures Executed Equally as Well in Cloudy Weather Except of Children”… “Particular attention given to taking Babies’ Pictures, without Getting Cross”. Left: David Spencer for PhotoSeed Archive; Right: courtesy Museum of Wayne County History.

 

Undoubtedly, “Magpie” would have been pleased to know Henry Ravell sprung from fine English photographic stock. His father Charles Henry Ravell (1833-1917) emigrated to the U.S. from Boston, England and was known to have been active as a Daguerreotypist as early as 1857, (1.) his trade shingle set up early in the New York state village of Chittenango. By 1860, U.S. Census records show he had moved to Wolcott, New York, where he was a commercial photographer. Surviving cdv photographs from here bearing his C.H. Ravell back-stamp reveal some of his clients were young men heading off to fight in the American Civil War.

 

3-ch-ravell-and-cdv-cardsLeft: This is the only known portrait of commercial portrait photographer Charles Henry Ravell, father of Henry Ravell. The carte de visite albumen portrait shows him most likely in his early 30’s, after he had settled in Lyons, New York. Born Charles Herring Ravel in Boston, England, he emigrated to the U.S. as a young man, with an early notice of his Daguerreotypist skills from 1857 showing he was living in Chittenango, New York State. By 1860, he had settled in Wolcott, where son Henry was born in early 1864. By 1867 or earlier, he and wife Cornelia Dudley Ravell (1840-1908) and Henry had moved permanently to nearby Lyons. Middle & Right: This elaborate backstamp engraving for C.H. Ravell’s Canal Street skylight studio in Lyons is ca. 1865-80, with the albumen portrait subject (Right) a young girl posing on a commercially available chair. Both: courtesy Museum of Wayne County History

 

Born in early January of 1864 in Wolcott, Henry Ravell is known to have embraced photography from a very young age. As a boy, he became his father’s apprentice. Lockwood de Forest, (1850-1932) an important influence on Henry for the rest of his life in the 20th Century and important American painter and furniture designer, wrote in 1908 that Henry:

 

was born and brought up in photography from childhood and became an expert in all processes before he was twelve years old.” Through a fascinating confluence of sons starting out in their father’s professions, Henry Ravell graduated to having an interest in art, and he studied water-color painting with the noted American artist and Tonalist Henry Ward Ranger, (1858-1916) probably in his late teens or early 20’s.  The artist and student had much in common. Like Charles Henry Ravell, who had established his own Canal Street photo studio in Lyons, N.Y. by 1867, (Wayne County Business Directory) Ranger’s father Ward Valencourt Ranger (1835–1905) had opened his own commercial studio in 1868 in Syracuse, N.Y., 55 miles east of Lyons, almost at the same time. Like Henry Ravell working for his father at an early age, Henry Ranger was also known to have worked in his father’s establishment as a young man.

 

4-ch-ravell-crayonportraitUpper Left: “Negative Outline-Dark Chamber”: woodcut from 1892 volume “Crayon Portraiture: Complete Instructions for making Crayon Portraits on Crayon Paper and on Platinum, Silver, and Bromide Enlargements” by J.A. Barhydt. In the early 1880’s, Henry Ravell worked in a similar capacity as the artist shown here for the Photo-Copying House Ten Eyck & Co. of Auburn, New York. Woodcut shows an enlarged and enhanced crayon portrait being made freehand on the easel at right. A photographic negative from a sitter has been placed inside a large box camera at left while mounted in front of a scrimmed-off window. This provides the light source for the projection within a darkened room while the artist goes over the outline and shadow lines of the projection in a first step. Other variations of crayon portraits began with an artist working in a lighted studio with charcoal and pastels after the initial projected outline on crayon, gelatin, bromide, etc. papers had been chemically fixed. Ten Eyck advertised on cover stationary from 1884: “Fine Portraits in India Ink, Water Colors and Crayon, By the Association of Celebrated Portrait Artists…” (From: Internet Archive) Lower Left: December, 1884 postmarked cover (envelope) from Ten Eyck & Co. Portraits located at 108 Genesee St., Auburn, N.Y. (8.5 x 15.0 cm-right margin perished) Ravell worked at the firm about this time, making a living combining his skill of photography and art. In the late 1880’s to early 1890’s, he became an agent for Ten Eyck after moving to Mexico. From: PhotoSeed Archive. Right: “Crayon-style Portrait” ca. 1890-5: (50.9 x 40.5 cm) enhanced water-color or India inks applied by hand to unknown (bromide?) photographic emulsion fixed onto light grade cardboard matrix. Henry Ravell produced similar crayon-style portraits for Ten Eyck, with this example from an unknown artist featuring Mary Carruthers Tucker (1877-1940) as subject, then living in Provo-City Utah. She was the spouse of C.R. Tucker, whose work is featured at PhotoSeed. From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Sometime in the early 1880’s after Henry had finished this “apprenticeship”, he moved to nearby Auburn, New York, about halfway to Syracuse from Lyons, to a job crafting Crayon and Pastel portrait photographic enlargements for Ten Eyck & Co.  At the time, this firm is said to have been the largest of its’ type in the world. This gave Henry additional artistic skills, combining his interest in photography and art, an important and influential confluence indeed. He kept at this profession until either 1883, according to Lockwood de Forest, or as late as 1892, in a posthumous biography of Henry by sister Florence.

 

5-oil-painting-by-henry-ravell“Portrait of John Lee Cole”: Henry Ravell, American: 1864-1930. Ca. 1885 Gouache and or Oil? on paper, mounted within period wood frame bearing inscription “John L. Cole to Jason Parker, 1918”. This very rare example of a surviving painting by photographer Henry Ravell is now owned by the Museum of Wayne County History in Lyons, New York. Cole was a 1859 graduate of Yale and grandson of the Rev. John Cole, a founder with John Wesley of the Methodist Church in the U.S.. In 1862 he was admitted to the bar and later became a banker in Lyons for Mirick & Cole. An earlier 1882 notice of Henry’s artistic pursuits was published in The Democrat and Chronicle newspaper of Rochester, New York: “Henry Ravell, of Lyons, was in this city last night, on his return from Medina, (New York-editor) where he disposed of two of his latest paintings for $70.” (November 26) Photo by David Spencer for PhotoSeed Archive- artwork courtesy Museum of Wayne County History, Lyons N.Y.

 

At this time, Henry is said to have moved to Cuernavava Mexico, south of Mexico City, where he became a far-flung agent for the Ten Eyck & Co. firm, although a certain amount of traveling back and forth to the U.S. and the family home was probably the reality. To wit, the Minnesota State Census for 1895 lists his occupation as “artist”, claiming an American residence while living with his father, mother and younger brother, Charles Ravell Jr. in the city of St. Paul. Here his father finished out his career running a photo studio on Western Ave. from 1890-92.

 

During the mid 1880’s back in Lyons, a fascinating yet presently unsubstantiated account of Henry’s involvement with the development of the first Kodak camera is relevant for background on his future career as a master photographer who became a striver with his own agenda. This event is worthy of historical contemplation in the present from reminisces provided in the aforementioned posthumous biography published in 1940:

 

“George Eastman of Rochester, New York, was a family friend. During a visit of three or four weeks, Mr. Eastman worked on and developed his famous Kodak, with the help of my father and brother.” “Their workshop was the basement of our former home at 70 Broad Street, Lyons. Mr. Eastman offered my father stock in the Kodak Company, which he often regretted not accepting.”  (2.)

 

6-henry-ward-ranger-by-sarony-may-1894-sun-and-shadeLeft: “H.W. Ranger” (Henry Ward Ranger): Napoleon Sarony, American: born Quebec. (1821-1896) Photogravure published in periodical "Sun & Shade": New York: May, 1894: whole #69: N.Y. Photo-Gravure Co.: 22.4 x 15.2 | 34.9 x 27.6 cm. Like Henry Ravell assisting in his father’s studio, American artist and Tonalist Henry Ward Ranger (1858-1916) worked in his own father’s studio as a young man. Later, Ranger taught Henry water-color painting, probably when Ravell was in his late teens or early 20’s. The “Sun & Shade” periodical noting of Ranger: “His work in Lower Canada won him great repute, and as a water-color painter, before taking to oil-painting, he was undeniably excellent.” Right: “A Country Road”: Henry Ward Ranger, American. (1858-1916) Photogravure published in periodical "Sun & Shade": New York: May, 1894: whole #69: N.Y. Photo-Gravure Co.: 17.1 x 22.7 | 27.6 x 34.9 cm. Ranger’s bucolic painting style reveals itself in this simple country scene of a roadway lined with trees, probably done in Holland. Scenes like this would have undoubtedly made an impression on Henry the fledgling art student, assuming he had access to reproductions or the originals of his teacher’s work. On Ranger in the periodical: “He is an admirer and follower of the best Dutch school of art, and has made it his pleasure and his duty to pay many visits to Holland, in order to be perfectly au fait with the excellencies of its best masters.” On “A Country Road”: “It is seldom that so simple a subject becomes so important in form and color-so full of air and freedom, and so admirably harmonious in its proportions.” Both from: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Memories can sometimes be suspect, but several details of Florence’s biography are important and worth following up on, with this website happy to accept the challenge. By tracking down old street addresses, the Ravell family home as published in the 1886-87 Lyons residential directory was actually found to be located as 40 Broad Street. (William Smith, whose occupation was Express Transfer Agent, lived at 70 Broad St. as published in the same directory) Coupled with the knowledge that Lyons street addresses had been renumbered, probably in the early 20th Century, and cross-referencing with a 1904 Sanborn Fire Insurance Company map found online at the Library of Congress, the former and still standing Ravell home built in 1850 revealed itself to be the present day 64 Broad Street. All of this effort, if somehow confirming a claim George Eastman had actually spent time in Lyons was true, could result in a potentially fascinating footnote to the development of one of the most important inventions of the 19th Century- The Kodak No. 1 Camera which debuted in 1888: “By far the most significant event in the history of amateur photography”, according to the Met Museum in New York City.

 

blog-pebble-beach-watercolor“Cypress Tree -Pebble Beach”: Henry Ravell, American: 1864-1930. Vintage watercolor drawing on paper: ca. 1915-20. (Museum of Wayne County History accession #Pi 176f with verso sticker additionally listing number 148 and $30.00) One of the few known examples of a watercolor drawing by Ravell is this delicate landscape featuring a lone cypress tree springing from a rock outcropping in Pebble Beach on California’s Monterey Peninsula. It may depict the world famous “Lone Cypress”, an approximately 250 year-old Monterey Cypress standing today on a granite hillside off the famed 17-Mile Drive. Courtesy: Museum of Wayne County History, Lyons N.Y.

 

7-composite-ravell-ravel-rh5This panel reveals the artistic styles of two distinct artists signing their work nearly identically. It’s presented with the hope a distinction can be made for a larger audience. The reality at present: nearly every painting returned on web searches is misattributed to being by photographer/artist Henry Ravell. Left Diptych: Top: “Cypress Trees at Pebble Beach”: Henry Ravell, American: 1864-1930. Vintage watercolor drawing on paper: ca. 1915-20. (Museum of Wayne County History accession #Pi 176e with verso sticker additionally listing number 147 and $20.00) This is one of three rare watercolor drawings by Ravell. Showing a stand of cypress trees in Pebble Beach on California’s Monterey Peninsula, the signature of “H.Ravell” in graphite has been enlarged in separate bottom panel. Courtesy: Museum of Wayne County History. Right Diptych: Top: “The Ripers” (The Reapers): Henry Etienne Ravel, American, born Naples Italy to French citizens. (1872-1962) Oil on artists board: ca. 1946: 20.5 x 15.4 presented within wood frame (not shown) 24.5 x 19.4 x 2.0 cm. Two field workers harvest wheat, a small landscape most likely depicting the Italian countryside. Henry Ravel immigrated to America in 1906 and became a naturalized US citizen in 1920. A transportation clerk by trade in the early 1920’s, his paintings- many done in Europe- date from ca. 1930’s-1950’s. Enlarged signature at bottom panel: “H. Ravel”. From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

The earliest published references to Ravell’s photographic work in the popular press is found around 1905, when Boston’s Photo-Era, writing for their December issue, pronounces him “A new star of the first magnitude”, although noting his two pictures: “Pleasant Valley” and “Viga Canal”, “do not represent him at his best.” This assessment also including listing him on the journal’s noteworthy list of exhibitors whose work had been accepted for the Second American Photographic Salon which ran from 1905-06.

 

8-64-broad-street-formerly-40-broad-street-lyons-kodakUpper Left: This quote by Henry Ravell’s older sister Florence Ravell Lothrop appeared in The Lyons Republican & Clyde Times on March 21, 1940 stating Henry and their father Charles Henry Ravell had worked with a young George Eastman in developing the world’s first Kodak camera from 1888 in the basement workshop of their Lyons home. Clipping courtesy Museum of Wayne County History. Lower Left: An original Kodak No. 1 camera from 1888 shown with its lens cap and original documents appeared as Lot 0238 and sold by Auction Team Breker of Cologne, Germany on September 30, 2006. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York states: “By far the most significant event in the history of amateur photography was the introduction of the Kodak #1 camera in 1888. Invented and marketed by George Eastman (1854–1932), a former bank clerk from Rochester, New York, the Kodak was a simple box camera that came loaded with a 100-exposure roll of film”. Courtesy Auction Team Breker. Far Right: Built in 1850, the former Ravell family home in Lyons, New York was actually located at 64 Broad Street-seen here: not 70 Broad Street as stated in the clipping. The actual address was confirmed by this website using Sanborn fire insurance maps and a Lyons residential street directory from 1886-7. Home exterior courtesy 2018 online real estate sales listing.

 

Florence Ravell, quoting Lockwood de Forest for her 1940 article on Henry, expanded on her brothers new found respect in the profession, particularly in his mastery of the gum print, which would soon establish him as a major talent:

“Henry Ravell was recognized as one of the leading artists in his profession, both in this country and in Europe where he had exhibited, and has been a contributor to many of the photographic magazines, where a description of his technical processes are given. He succeeded in making a gum print in one printing with results far beyond the finest etchings and very similar in character.”  

 

9-mexico-sombrero-composite-ravellLeft: “Mexican Peon”: Henry Ravell, American: 1864-1930. Vintage gum print ca. 1900-15. Alternately titled “A Mexican Peon” as listed in the catalogue of a 1978 retrospective of the artist at the Museum of Wayne County History, although an uncropped variant titled “Mexican Charro” (Mexican Cowboy)- is a more accurate description based on his fancily embroidered sombrero- is held by the California Museum of Photography, Riverside. Right: “Eating Tent-Taxco, Mexico”: Henry Ravell, American: 1864-1930. Vintage gum print ca. 1900-15. These photographs are part of a grouping of 18 singular gum prints featuring Mexican scenes and subjects held in the collection of the Museum of Wayne County History, Lyons N.Y.

 

Henry perfected the gum bichromate process to a very high level. Probably in 1906-07, he began experimenting in multiple color gum. In Germany, around this same time, similar examples were being done by the brothers Theodor (1868-1943) and Oscar Hofmeister, (1871-1937) as well as Heinrich Wilhelm Müller (1859-1933) (3.) The following quote in the December,1908 issue of Boston’s Photo-Era encapsulates the admiration these gum prints received:

“It will be remembered that last summer Henry Ravell, of Mexico, exhibited in New York and Boston his results in multiple gum-bichromate printing in color. They excited considerable interest at the time, especially among our painters, who were very cordial in their praise of Mr. Ravell’s beautiful work, for it showed, in an eminent degree, the artistic possibilities of the gum-process.” (p. 300)

 

10-church-henry-ravellLeft: “Chapel of the Holy Well near Mexico City”: Henry Ravell, American: 1864-1930. Vintage gum print ca. 1900-15. Right: “Church, Mexico”: Henry Ravell, American: 1864-1930. Vintage gum print ca. 1900-15. Museum of Wayne County History accession #Pi 176p with verso sticker additionally listing number 2 and $5.00) Featuring church architecture, these are part of a grouping of 18 singular gum prints of Mexican scenes and subjects held in the collection of the Museum of Wayne County History, Lyons N.Y.

 

Again writing in 1940, Florence wrote of her younger brother: “but his favorite work was photography, and the gum print process. This process was original with an Austrian who refused to make it known, but Henry experimented until he developed it, and later gave the formula to the world.” The conjecture of this website is the possibility Henry originally gleaned and modified his own multiple gum color process from the earlier work of Austrian photographer Heinrich Kühn. (1866-1944) An 1897 example of a three-color gum print by him can be found in the collection of the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg Germany.

 

11-henry-ravell-marketplace-multiple-gumLeft: “Mexican Vegetable Seller”: Henry Ravell, American: 1864-1930. Vintage multiple color gum print c. 1907-14. Right: “Mexican Youth”: Henry Ravell, American: 1864-1930. Vintage multiple color gum print c. 1907-14. These are two of the three rare multiple color gum prints by Henry Ravell held in the collection of the Museum of Wayne County History, Lyons N.Y.

 

In 1908, Henry’s champion Lockwood de Forest gave a fuller explanation of the technical details for this color process, as part of copy included with a series of Mexican Church studies published in the May issue of the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine:

“Last summer he started experiments in color-printing. His process is simple. Instead of introducing colors on the negatives, as in the lumière process, he is using the colors in the sensitizer of the printing paper. The specimens he has sent me are printed in three or four colors. Each print is finished, recoated all over with the sensitizer with the next color, and again printed. This is done for each color separately, the black print coming last, as in the regular color-printing process.”

 

12-an-ox-cart-by-henry-ravell-in-1904-art-in-photography“An Ox Cart” (Mexico): Henry Ravell, American: 1864-1930. 1905: Vintage halftone tipped to mount: 16.6 x 21.4 | 17.4 x 22.2 | 45.0 x 30.5 cm “This mount is Sultan Bokhara and Royal Melton Egyptine Made by the Niagara Paper Mills”. Taken in Mexico ca. 1900-05, this is one of the earliest published examples of a Ravell photograph to appear in the popular press. It was included in the luxury portfolio publication “Art in Photography” issued by the Photo Era Publishing Company of Boston. From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Ravell continued to work in Mexico until about 1914, when it is believed he moved back to the Los Angeles area of California in order to escape the Civil War (Mexican Revolution) then engulfing the country. A short biography included in the 1978 volume Pictorial Photography in Britain 1900-1920 gives 1916 as a slightly later date, although it was likely he was traveling back and forth from Mexico to the U.S. several times during this tumultuous time:

“In 1916 an article entitled “Cathedrals of Mexico”, illustrated by his work, was published in Harper’s magazine. About this time he left Mexico, almost as a refugee. His studio in Cuernavaca was destroyed by rebels. He moved to California where he began to photograph near Carmel and settled at Santa Barbara.”

Now that this American born “refugee” was back in his home country for good, he immediately set out photographing the beauty of the southern California coastline, with an emphasis on capturing the numerous entanglements of old cypress trees set against the landscape and Pacific Ocean. Conveniently, and perhaps not coincidentally, Lockwood de Forest had moved permanently to Santa Barbara in 1915 after wintering in the area since 1902, with his professional connections to the world of art giving Henry and his work credibility and entrance to a larger audience. These included retrospective exhibitions of nearly 100 framed works of his Mexican and California subjects at major American institutions. These began in October, 1918 at the Pratt Institute Art Gallery in Brooklyn and continued into 1919 at the Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York followed by shows the same year at the newly opened Cleveland Museum of Art and then at the Chicago Art Institute.

 

13-single-templo-de-marfil-de-Left: “Marfil: Templo De Marfil De Arriba”: Henry Ravell, American: 1864-1930. Vintage gum print c. 1900-10: 37.4 x 29.0 cm. Still standing today, this church constructed in the Baroque style is located in Marfil, a suburb of the central Mexican city of Guanajuato. The church is colloquially known as “La Iglesia de Arriba”, or the “Church up Top”. From: PhotoSeed Archive Right: Four photographs of Mexican churches by Henry Ravell, including the Templo De Marfil De Arriba photograph, were published in the February, 1914 issue of Century Magazine for a picture spread titled “Old Churches in Mexico”: “The churches of Mexico, built about one hundred and fifty years ago, are a monument to a race of conquerors who extracted much loot from a subjected people. As part of the Spanish Colonial government, the church had a share in the taxation of rich mines and other industries, and lavished the proceeds on many churches and monasteries. The conquered Indians were put to work and directed by those who built the splendid temples of Spain. They produced massive structures, a combination of classical and oriental architecture with richly decorated interiors.  Surrounded by beautiful landscapes or placed in the streets of a town, the splendid tinted walls, tiled domes, and skilfully carved facades prove the Spaniards a great race of builders.” From: Internet Archive

 

Henry Ravell would continue to exhibit his work late into the 1920’s at smaller venues, one example being a tri-colored gum print titled “Mexican Peon Boy” shown at the 1927 Los Angeles Salon and remarked on by Camera Craft, his gum prints deemed “for which he has gained a warranted renown”. Gum printing was indeed so important to the artist that he listed “Gum Printer” as his occupation for the 1920 U.S. Census.

 

14-california-henry-ravellLeft: “Pine and Cypress, Pebble Beach”: Henry Ravell, American: 1864-1930. Vintage gum print ca. 1915-20. (Museum of Wayne County History accession #Pi 176a with verso sticker additionally listing number 17 and $3.00) Middle: “Big Splash” (California coastline) Henry Ravell, American: 1864-1930. Vintage gum print ca. 1915-20. (Museum of Wayne County History accession #Pi 176m with verso sticker additionally listing number 122 and $12.00) Right: “Untitled Marine Landscape” (Mexico or California): Henry Ravell, American: 1864-1930. Vintage multiple colored gum print ca. 1907-1920. (Museum of Wayne County History accession #Pi 176n with verso sticker additionally listing number 156 ) All: Courtesy Museum of Wayne County History, Lyons N.Y.

 

The Albright Art Gallery was an important venue for Ravell’s work, considering the groundbreaking exhibition it previously hosted in November, 1910: the International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography. Organized by the Photo-Secession under the direction of Alfred Stieglitz, it was “the first exhibition held at an American museum that aimed to elevate photography’s stature from a purely scientific pursuit to a visual form of artistic expression.” Even nine years later, in 1919, at a time when museum shows devoted to the work of a singular photographer anywhere in the world were still few and far between and remained so decades later, it’s refreshing in the present to read observations by one curator remarking on Ravell’s 93 framed photographs displayed at the Albright gallery for Academy Notes, the mouthpiece for The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy:

“THE collection of photographs by H. Ravell—which was on view in the gallery during the last week in February and all of March—is very unique and valuable. These photographs are technically known as gum-prints and have all the painter’s quality in their execution. They do not impress one as photographs but rather as work directly from the artist’s brush. The photographs were made by H. Ravell who is now in Santa Barbara. Many of the pictures were taken near Carmel, California, a seashore of much variety where the fantastic cypress trees with their twisted dramatic forms produce wonderful compositions against sea and sky.” …This is but a short description of the remarkable exhibition of photographs shown at the Albright Art Gallery. It was seen by many art lovers and appreciated especially by all of those interested in artistic photography.” (4.)

 

15-ox-cart-sunset“Ox Cart- Sunset”: Henry Ravell, American: 1864-1930. Vintage gum print ca. 1900-10. Image: 27.0 x 32.6 cm presented loose within dark brown paper folder with overall support dimensions of 58.8 x 36.7 cm. Wearing a traditional sombrero hat, (Sombrero de charro) the driver of this ox or bullock cart pauses atop a full load of what looks like hay or silage. This Mexican scene may date to around 1905-consistent with a different view by the artist of an ox cart published that year in “Art in Photography” by the the Photo Era Publishing Company of Boston. From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

A reevaluation of Henry Ravell’s body of work is important to consider in the present given the broad acknowledgement of his talent by major institutions and the popular press for the benefit of many large audiences over 100 years ago. An important pictorialist photographer who was also a  painter, Henry Ravell was a striver and apprentice graduate inspired by his father’s steady trade in the New York state village of Lyons who embraced a love for craft and mastery of art. Together, these skills gave him the passion to embrace adventure in capturing the beauty in far-off Mexico and southern California for the ages.

 

Four original gum prints in the PhotoSeed Archive can be seen here, each listing an expanded biography, timeline and major institutional holdings for the artist.

 

 

Afterword | Notes

 

A conundrum on internet research into Henry Ravell’s artistic output reveals itself quickly. The bottom line is that most every painting on the web attributed to Henry Ravell the photographer is not by him. Instead, through PhotoSeed’s research and purchase of the small painting: “The Ripers”, (The Reapers) the true identity of this artist can now be revealed as Henry Etienne Ravel. (1872-1962) Born in Naples Italy to French citizens, Henry Ravel immigrated to America in 1906 and became a naturalized US citizen in 1920. A transportation clerk by trade in the early 1920’s, his paintings- many done in Europe- date from ca. 1930’s-1950’s. What causes the confusion is that like Henry Ravell the photographer, who signed his photographs  “H. Ravell”, Henry Ravel the painter also signed his work similarly, but as “H. Ravel” Numerous examples of his paintings show up on Google searches-unlike the real and quite rare examples of watercolors done by Ravell the photographer. I’ve included links to some of these paintings on the page showing “The Ripers”. As always- buyer beware and do your homework!

 

 

1. C. Ravel won a $3.00 premium for “Best Daguerreotypes” during the Annual Fair of the Madison County Agricultural Society held at Morrisville, (N.Y.) on the 15th, 16th and 17th days of September,1857 according to a newspaper account in the Cazenovia Republican. Shout out to the Pioneer American Photographers 1839-1860 website.   Langdon’s List of 19th & Early 20th Century Photographers additionally list Ravel working in Manlius, New York in the 1859 N.Y. State Business Directory.

2. See: The Lyons Republican & Clyde Times: Lyons, N.Y. Thursday, March 21, 1940. Article excerpts: HENRY RAVELL: “Resided in Lyons for twenty-eight years, died in Los Angeles California, January 20, 1930. This account was written by his sister, Mrs. Florence Ravell Lothrop, of 721 Fifth Street North, St. Petersburg, Florida.: “Henry had no special training in any school or under any masters except my father, Charles Herring Ravel, who was born in Boston, England, and became one of the first photographers in the United States. His forbears came over with William the Conqueror to England, which accounts for the one “L” in the name. My mother was annoyed because most people called her Mrs. Rav’-el and persuaded my father to add “L”, so the family adopted that spelling of our name.…Henry studied and experimented all his life. His photographic subjects were portraits, landscapes, street scenes, trees, cloud and moonlight effects. His Mexican Cathedrals were especially noteworthy. He used both oils and water colors, but his favorite work was photography, and the gum print process. This process was original with an Austrian who refused to make it known, but Henry experimented until he developed it, and later gave the formula to the world. I remember seeing around his studio, pans of water about three inches deep. The photo-print was put into the water and pigments of paint dropped on it, this gave the effect when completed of a soft beautiful painting. My description to an artist will seem crude but that is as I recall it.…Henry never taught, that is, acted as a teacher in any school, and I do not know what societies he belonged. He exhibited in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Salon about 1907. From the thousands of photographs submitted, three of his were among the 237 accepted. His work was exhibited at the Salmagundi Club, New York City; Thurber’s and Anderson’s Galleries in Chicago, Los Angeles, California, and many, many other places. Fifteen of his photographs are at the Metropolitan Museum, New York City. Seven are Mexican subjects and eight are California trees. These were selected by Forest Lockwood.(sic) After Henry’s death at Los Angeles, California, in 1930, a request came for him to send an exhibit to the Fifth International Photographic Salon of Japan held at Tokyo and Osaka in May, 1931.”

3. In the December, 1908 issue of Boston’s Photo-Era, a short article titled “Gum-Prints In Colors” appeared, linking Ravell’s gum prints as being similar to “a collection of prints by the same process, probably with modifications” to work done by the Hofmeister brothers and Müller. These German works were shown at the offices of The British Journal of Photography in London’s Strand from September 28- October 24, 1907. 

4. See: Academy Notes: The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy: Albright Art Gallery: Buffalo, New York: vol. XIV: Jan.-Oct. 1919, p. 67 



Heaven on Earth

America’s birthday is best defined by the natural beauty of her National Parks, undisturbed by man’s folly.

blog-gates-of-yosemite-arthur-c-pillsbury“The Gates of Yosemite”: Arthur C. Pillsbury, American: 1870-1946. Vintage bromide print c. 1915-20 (from original negative c. 1906-10) Image: 26.4 x 34.1 | 27.2 x 35.0 cm. Support: original framing: 37.9 x 45.8 hardboard primary mount | frame: stained hardwood: 40.7 x 48.5 x 1.5 cm. From the 1914 volume Yosemite and its High Sierra by John H. Williams, the following passage is reproduced along with this photograph “The Gates of Yosemite”: “Soon, quitting the narrow, cluttered wildness of the lower river, the newcomer is face to face with the ordered peace and glory of Yosemite itself. Gratefully, silently, he breathes the very magic of the Enchanted Valley. For here, fully spread before him, is that combination of sylvan charm with stupendous natural phenomena which makes Yosemite unique among Earth’s great pictures. He sees the cañon’s level floor, telling of an ancient glacial lake that has given place to wide, grassy meadows; fields of glad mountain flowers; forests of many greens and lavenders; the fascination of the winding Merced, and, gleaming high above this world of gentle loveliness, the amazing gray face of El Capitan, while Pohono drops from a ‘hanging valley’ superbly sculptured, and so beautiful that he may well deem it the noblest setting Nature has given to any of her famous waterfalls.” From: PhotoSeed Archive



I am America

 “I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me—black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me.” ― Muhammad Ali

 Remember his name: George Floyd

new-blog-ali-underwater-fist-1961“Left Hook” (Muhammad Ali training underwater): Graeme Phelps "Flip" Schulke, American: 1930-2008: Fine Halftone ca. 1994 on manilla cardstock from original 1961 copy or source negative or print: 14.6 x 21.6 cm. (overall) Used here as a promotional gallery card for the New York City based James Danziger show: “Sport Stories: Sports photographs from 1900 to today”- February 18 - March 12, 1994. “Left Hook” was one of a series of photographs of boxer Muhammad Ali (then known as Cassius Clay) training underwater taken by American photojournalist Flip Schulke in the swimming pool of Miami’s Sir John Hotel in August, 1961. The photograph was first published of the then 19 year-old fighter in the September 8, 1961 weekly issue of Life magazine as part of a two-page spread titled “A Wet Way to Train for a Fight”. Schulke, an accomplished underwater photographer, donned Scuba gear and an underwater camera to make these photographs, learning three years later to his delight that Ali did not know how to swim at the time: “Boy, to con Life magazine! I never had an inkling that I had been taken. …To me, it shows his genius.” the photographer said for his volume “Muhammad Ali: the Birth of a Legend, Miami, 1961-1964” published in 2000. Photograph © Flip Schulke Archives. Gallery card from collection of PhotoSeed site owner signed by Schulke in 1999.

 

new-blog-ali-underwater-1961“Ali Underwater”: Graeme Phelps "Flip" Schulke, American: 1930-2008: Gelatin Silver print ca. 1999 from original 1961 source negative: 31.5 x 21.1 | 35.2 x 27.9 cm. Flip Schulke’s iconic photograph of boxer Muhammad Ali holding his breath while assuming a traditional boxing stance was one of a series of the world champion (then known as Cassius Clay) training underwater in the swimming pool of Miami’s Sir John Hotel in August, 1961. “For the picture of him standing on the bottom of the pool, he just sank down and stood on the bottom. It’s hard to do. I didn’t ask him to do it, I didn’t put any weights on him or anything. He exhaled all of his air-that’s the only way you can sink down.” the photographer said for his volume “Muhammad Ali: the Birth of a Legend, Miami, 1961-1964” published in 2000. Flip Schulke was a close friend of American Civil Rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. , and he spent more than a decade covering the movement for national magazines including Life, Time and Newsweek. These photographs were featured in three volumes by him: "Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Documentary, Montgomery to Memphis" (1976); "King Remembered" (1986); and "He Had A Dream" (1995). Other volumes by the photographer include "Underwater Photography for Everyone" (1979); "Your Future in Space: The U.S. Space Camp Training Program" (1986); "Muhammad Ali: the Birth of a Legend, Miami, 1961-1964" (2000); and "Witness to Our Times: My Life as a Photojournalist" (2003). Photograph © Flip Schulke Archives. Framed photograph from PhotoSeed Archive.

Earth Bowl

If for a moment we could look down and imagine our Earth fitting within a fish bowl, could we then realize the importance our fragile world depends on us all in feeding and caring for its’ survival? Please try. Today,  join us in celebrating 50 years of Earth Day.

blog-arthur-hammond-goldfis“Child Gazing in Fish Bowl”: attributed to Arthur Hammond, American: born England: 1880-1962: hand-colored gelatin silver print mounted to album leaf, ca. 1910-1920: 23.8 x 18.5 | 25.0 x 32.7 cm. From a personal album of nearly 100 photographs attributed to Hammond dating from around 1910-1940. Born in London, Hammond arrived in America at Ellis Island on July 31, 1909 and quickly established his own studio in Natick Massachusetts by 1912-joining and exhibiting with the nearby Boston Camera Club. By 1920, he had authored the foundational book "Pictorial Composition in Photography" and became a leading voice for pictorialism in America through his position as associate editor of American Photography magazine that lasted 30 years from 1918-1949. From: PhotoSeed Archive