March of Trade's Harmonious Shades

 

The Photographic Times (1871-1915) was one of America’s earliest and most important photographic journals. By 1880, its publisher declared it the highest circulating magazine of its type in the country and by December of 1893, the first edition was stated to be 5,000 copies a week, an extraordinary number considering the inclusion by that time of  a hand-pulled photogravure or collotype frontis plate. As a researcher, it would be presumptuous of me to think it possible in the modern day to present a fully-formed history of this publication without more direct corroboration from those who made that history. But since those folks are all dead, someone had to take a stab at it.

 

blog-scovill-manufacturing-in-world-building1871-1873: The Photographic Times was first published by The Scovill Manufacturing Company, which maintained offices in this building at 36 Park Row and 4 Beekman streets in lower Manhattan. Completed in 1857 and known as the Potter or World Building, it was the home of the New York World newspaper offices and many other publications. (an adjoining building for The New York Times is at far left of frame) The sign for the Scovill Manufacturing Co. has been highlighted in red for clarity on the Park Row side. Since rebuilt, this building and block was destroyed by a massive fire on January 31, 1882 that claimed 12 lives. This detail from a circa 1870 stereoscopic view in the collection of the New York Public Library: Image ID: G91F211_034F

 

Besides the written record, the important legacy left by the journal in my estimation are its hand-pulled photogravure plates which appeared regularly from 1889-1904, the latter being included in the combined but short-lived publication The Photographic Times-Bulletin. As a collector of this material for many years, it is surprising to me how little seems to have survived given the large circulation of the Times. My overview of the publication, which appears here in PhotoSeed Highlights, might very well put you to sleep due to length, or perhaps not. In tracing the history of this journal, my journey of discovery made me realize a fact of interest to all photographers, especially with respect to the United States: the first publisher of the Times, the Scovill Manufacturing Company of New York City, with a large factory complex in Waterbury, CT, was largely responsible for the birth and progress of photographic commerce in 19th century America.

 

blog-photographic-times-manhattan-map1871-1915 timeline: The Scovill company, publishers of The Photographic Times, did business at 9 different locations in New York City over 45 years. This Google street map with inset address key covers a walking distance today of approximately 4.6 miles. Arranged chronologically from A-I, the dates and addresses for the company are as follows: 1871-1873: 4 Beekman Street 1874-1884: 419-421 Broome Street 1884-1895: 423 Broome Street 1896-1900: 60-62 East 11th Street 1900 (Fall)-1902: 3-5 West 19th Street April 1902-1903: 122-124 Fifth Ave. 1904: 75-77 Eighth Ave. December, 1904-1908: 39 Union Square West 1909-1915: 135 West 14th Street

 

 

The following visual timeline is my attempt to show off the look of the publication over the 45 years it existed under its own imprint along with the principal men involved in editing it- part of the Photographic Times Publishing Association, one of the many business interests of the parent company. During this time, Scovill’s march of trade on the island of Manhattan involved eight separate business moves over a walkable distance today of roughly 4.6 miles. To this end, part of the mission statement issued by the Time’s editors to its many readers- from post American Civil War beginnings in January, 1871 to its 1915 demise remained true over the life of the journal:

 

we shall intersperse here and there delicate half-tones and harmonious shades from sources of information which shall do you good service in your manipulations, and add to your store of useful knowledge. We have engaged talent for this end, which is competent and able to instruct.


-David Spencer  November, 2012

 

blog-washington-irving-adams-philadelphia-photographer-edwarrd-wilson-triptch1870: The Times first appeared as a supplement incorporated within the pages of the monthly Philadelphia Photographer, center, one of the first journals devoted to photography published in America beginning in 1864. Washington Irving Adams, left, (1832-1896) came up with the idea for the Times during a working lunch attended in 1869 by men associated with the Scovill Manufacturing Company. Edward Wilson, right, (1838-1903) was the founder, editor and publisher of the Philadelphia Photographer, as well as good friend to Adams. Photo credits: portraits: PhotoSeed Archive; magazine cover: HathiTrust

 

photographic-times-january-18711871: The Photographic Times appeared for the first time under the imprint of the Scovill Manufacturing Company of 4 Beekman street in New York City beginning with the January, 1871 issue. The first page of the eight-page trade monthly included an "Apology", intended to "set the photographer commercially right.” It was sent out free of charge with Wilson's Philadelphia Photographer, The Photographic World, and Walzl’s Photographic Magazine, along with an additional 500 copies mailed each month from Scovill's New York offices. Photo credit: D. Richards, Bookman: Pittsburgh, PA

 

419-421-423-broome-street-buildings-photographic-times1874 | 1884: Because of "want of room and the march of trade", the Scovill company had moved to new quarters at 419-421 Broome street by January, 1874. Located in SoHo, the building as it stands today can be seen at left in a photograph taken in June, 2012. By May of 1884, another move for the Times and the Scovill company took place right next door: the building at center with the address of 423 Broome Street, built for the company by architectural firm D. & J. Jardine. Described as a warehouse building at the time, Times editor Washington Irving Adams commented on its many benefits: "This well appointed structure, embracing seven floors and a double basement, we have erected to meet the special requirements of our business. The building, with its improved interior arrangements, will greatly enlarge our facilities and enable us to respond to the wants of our patrons in a more expeditious and satisfactory manner than heretofore. For the accommodation of our friends, a well-constructed dark-room and sky-light have been added to the many other conveniences introduced, all of which will subserve in various ways the interests of our customers." PhotoSeed Archive photograph by David Spencer

 

419-broome-street-michelle-arcila2012: Serendipity, coincidence or both? A modern day investigator peering through the front window of 419 Broome street is startled to learn the fine art of photography is alive and well nearly 140 years after this space occupied one of the leading mouthpieces of the photographic press. In the business space Aero LTD, a home furnishing store, professional photographer Michelle Arcila's work is framed and ready for sale. Her photographs "Present Tense" at left and "Olympia" share the reflected outside world of Broome street. PhotoSeed Archive photograph by David Spencer

 

john-traill-taylor-lincoln-adams-photographic-times-cover-november-18841881 | 1884 | 1885: Beginning in 1881, a new editorial direction was brought to the Times, renamed The Photographic Times and American Photographer, by Englishman John Traill Taylor, (1827-1895) left. A veteran of the British Journal of Photography, he was eventually succeeded as editor by Washington Irving Lincoln Adams, (1865-1946) right, son of the journal's founder, joining the editorial staff in 1885. At center is a rare surviving example of a Times cover from November, 1884. Photo credits: portraits: PhotoSeed Archive; magazine cover: Ebay

 

andy-monument-polaroid-union-square2012: Besides being the king of Pop art, Andy Warhol (1928-1987) was also a passionate photographer, going everywhere with his Polaroid camera-seen here around his neck in the famous (since removed) chrome-plated "Andy Monument" by sculptor Rob Pruitt in Union Square. A parallel or association with the Photographic Times? You bet. Albeit sixty years later, Warhol’s second "Silver Factory" was established in 1968 and located around the corner from the statue at 33 Union Square West, just three doors down from 39 Union Square, one of the last home offices for the Times from 1904-1908. PhotoSeed Archive photograph (June) by David Spencer

 

scovill-plate-camera-lady-amateur-how-to-make-photographs-scovill-adams-18891883: With modern dry gelatin photographic plates replacing the cumbersome wet plate (collodion) process around 1881, the Scovill company through their publications including the Photographic Times began marketing in earnest complete and affordable amateur outfits to the masses. This fashionably dressed lady amateur, appearing as early as 1883 as a wood engraving in Scovill's catalogue: "How to Make Photographs", advertised their "Amateur Photographic Requisites". For the grand sum of $10.00, a photographer could obtain "Favorite Outfit A": an adjustable 4 x 5 Scovill plate camera, "Waterbury" achromatic nickel plated lens, a Taylor folding tripod, a double dry plate holder for the camera and carrying case. After becoming the Scovill & Adams company in 1889, the firm developed other popular mass market cameras including the Henry Clay and Solograph models as well as many others. 1889 engraving from Scovill catalogue courtesy of Larry Pierce.  

 

charles-erhmann-photographic-times-18881886: Dr. Charles Ehrmann, (1822-1894) a pharmaceutical chemist by training at the University of Berlin, joined the Photographic Times as an assistant editor under John Traill Taylor beginning in 1881. His obituary penned by Frederick Beach in the American Amateur Photographer said he became the "guiding editorial spirit" for the Times after Taylor's retirement in 1886, even under Lincoln Adams, and was the journal's "chief experimentalist- investigating and writing in the pages of the Times the myriad processes then used in traditional wet darkroom photography. In the Fall of 1886, Ehrmann was named instructor in the newly established Chautauqua University School of Photography, chiefly a correspondence school, but also one where he gave hands-on instruction in photography with diplomas awarded from the summer home in upstate New York as well as the Broome street offices of the Times. This photograph of Ehrmann appeared as a full-page plate in the May 25, 1888 issue of the Times. Photo credit: HathiTrust

 

blog-photographic-times-cover-friday-august-17-1888-7k21887-1888: This is an example of a cover from The Photographic Times and American Photographer dated Friday, August 17, 1888. This was the same design used for the journal in 1887. (unknown if it was used before 1887) The quarto format journal was printed in blue and black with the artwork possibly being by the hand of Brooklyn artist William Mozart. From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

photographic-times-ad-in-january-1889-sun-and-shade1889: This year brought a complete redesign to the look of the Times. Brooklyn artist and photographer William J. Mozart, (b. 1855) who had honed his skill first as a scene painter at a Boston museum beginning in 1878 came up with the logo seen here at left, incorporated within a January, 1889 advertisement for the Times in the periodical Sun and Shade. "The magazine will be dressed in a new cover of artistic design, making, altogether, a new departure in its history, and making it as well the leading photographic journal." The weekly would also for the first time feature in every issue a full-page illustration, typically a photogravure or fine process collotype. At right is an example of the new cover by Mozart. (this issue from January, 1893). Advertisement from PhotoSeed Archive; cover: Crown Antiques & Collectible

 

boys-after-suckers-herbert-macy-april-1890-vpy1889: "Boys after Suckers" by Minnesota photographer Rev. Herbert Macy, was the photogravure frontis plate for the April 18, 1890 weekly issue of the Times. Image: 11.2 x 17.9 cm | Support: 20.5 x 28.7 cm Photogravures such as these were a major selling point for potential subscribers, with the cost of a yearly subscription being $5.00. In 1893, the editors wrote: "The PHOTOGRAPHIC TIMES had frequently brought out full-page pictorial illustrations, in addition to the cuts and diagrams which always brightened its reading columns; but beginning with 1889, it presented its readers regularly, each week, with a full-page pictorial frontispiece, reproduced by photogravure or other high grade process, and including an occasional photographic print on albumen or other sensitive paper. It thus became the first and continues to be the only photographic weekly publication in the world, containing a full-page picture with every issue." Photo: PhotoSeed Archive

 

the-photographic-times-illustrated-every-week-with-a-full-page-picture-18891889: With its new emphasis on high-grade illustrations that would be reproduced each week, other particulars and selling points, including the following quote, appeared in the 1889 Scovill & Adams company trade brochure "How to Make Photographs" : "The Editorials and Editorial Notes will be of greatest practical value, as they will be the result of actual practice and experiment, by the staff." Advertisement courtesy of Larry Pierce.  

 

walter-edward-woodbury-photographic-times-letterhead1893: In the Spring of this year, Walter Edward Woodbury, (1865-1905) seen at right around this time, joined the editorial staff of the Times, and before the end of 1894 was appointed editor by Lincoln Adams. A Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society and son of Englishman Walter Bentley Woodbury, (1834-1885) he oversaw major changes to the Times, including its transformation to a monthly and into a “high-class art magazine”. Perhaps the most noticeable change of this last aspect for a subscriber was the dramatic new cover design featuring Roman goddess Veritas holding out her lamp symbolically lighting the way for truth, designed by English bookplate artist George Richard Quested. The design was even incorporated into Woodbury's personalized Times letterhead, a detail of which can be seen here. Letterhead and portrait: PhotoSeed Archive

 

photographic-times-cover-june-19001895: The Veritas cover by Quested first used beginning in 1895 lasted through 1901, albeit in a smaller format that year. Printed in bold red ink, his design additionally featured inset portrait medallions of Science, represented by a bearded gentleman, and Art, by a fair maiden crowned by laurels. The previous weekly cover had stated: "A weekly journal devoted to the art, science and advancement of Photography" and the new monthly stated: "An illustrated monthly magazine devoted to the interests of Artistic & Scientific Photography." Sizes for cover- 1895-1900: (detail here eliminating part of borders) 29.3 x 22.5 cm; 1901: 25.0 x 17.5 cm. Cover, June, 1900: PhotoSeed Archive

 

press-reviews-in-the-american-annual-of-photography-and-photographic-times-almanac-for-1896-of-photographic-times1896: Over-the-top reviews appeared frequently in various publications published by the Scovill & Adams firm in praise of the Times. One very widely-circulated volume for these praises was their annual published since 1887 titled “The American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac”, a compendium that had attained a circulation of over 20,000 copies by 1894. This advertisement of "unsolicited opinions" appeared in the advertising section of the 1896 annual. From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

photographic-times-building-60-and-62-east-eleventh-street-new-york-city1896 | 2012: As stated early in this post, the Scovill company, known since 1889 as Scovill & Adams, moved many times on the island of Manhattan. In 1896, they vacated their headquarters at 423 Broome street and took occupancy of a brand new, seven-story building specifically built for the company off of Broadway at 60 and 62 East Eleventh Street. Seen in this artist's drawing at left published in the January, 1896 issue of the Times, the editors said: "Our New Offices will be in the same building. The editorial rooms and offices will be situated on the main floor of the building. A very complete photographic and reference library will be conveniently arranged in the editorial rooms, and on the roof will be erected a finely fitted up dark-room and skylight gallery. These will be at the disposal of all our subscribers and friends." Scovill would stay in the building until the Fall of 1900. The building, housing the company Bijan Royal Inc. on the ground floor, can be seen today at right photographed in June, 2012. PhotoSeed Archive, left; right: photograph by David Spencer

 

scovill-adams-building-60-east-11th-street-field-camera2012: More serendipity in the modern day or crazy fluke? A visit to the current first floor showroom space of antique dealer Bijan Royal at 60 East 11th street in June miraculously revealed on display this impressive looking, tripod-mounted plate camera. Quizzing a salesman produced no more details of its history however. Instead, he was keen on photo-copying the 1896 artist drawing of the building I showed him earlier while explaining my mission. Scovill & Adams in their day here made millions of dollars selling cameras like this one (even though it suspiciously appeared more ornamental than functional) as well as every conceivable photographic accessory known to man. For this space in its day formerly held one of the greatest photographic stock houses on the planet-with the Photographic Times offices in this space producing monthly the physical embodiment of the day's most important social media. PhotoSeed Archive photo by David Spencer

 

60-62-east-11th-street-scovill-adams-facade2012: A view of the facade showing the top floors of 60-62 East 11th. "The lofts will be reserved for the storage of original cases and other unpacked goods. A specially constructed dark-room for the use of their patrons and friends will be conveniently situated, and on the roof of the building there will be a commodious skylight, with light facing north, for experimental and testing purposes." During my visit, I tried my best to talk my way up to the top floor of the building to see if the skylight still existed, but to no avail. A quick search on the web indicates creative folks inhabit the seventh floor: music agency Crush Talent Management- so hooray for that. PhotoSeed Archive photo by David Spencer

 

1897-photographic-times-lithographic-poster1897: This extremely rare lithographic Photographic Times poster held and conserved by the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. was described in the April issue of the journal as follows: "We have had prepared for us a very attractive poster in seven colors. We give a half-tone reproduction of it herewith. Photographic dealers and newsagents will find this a valuable aid in obtaining subscriptions for this magazine. We will send one free on application and a promise that the same will be prominently displayed. The size of the poster is about 2x3 feet." Poster: Library of Congress

 

art-nouveau-photographic-times-department-illustrations-pa-scwarzenbach1898: In keeping with the spirit of the re-designed monthly after 1895- a "64-page artistic and scientific magazine of the very highest order" in the words of Times advertising copy from the period- illustrator P.A. Schwarzenbach supplied these decorative, Art-Nouveau inspired woodcut designs used to delineate the various departments within the editorial copy section of the journal. These specific floral designs were used during 1898 (and some before) and later into the new century. Additional Schwarzenbach designs appearing later included "Our Monthly Digest" and "The Editor's Table". Various designs, enhanced for clarity, with each approximately 6.5 x 15.5 cm ( +/-) from: PhotoSeed Archive

 

black-and-white-subject-of-race-profiling-photographic-times-rudolph-eickemeyer-down-south1900: A few thoughts on Times editorial and advertising matter having to do with race. Going through old issues from the late 19th and early 20th century, I've run into that proverbial "elephant in the room" on more than one occasion: unflattering depictions of African-Americans, typically children. Through word and image, there is plenty of reason to believe this usage was not limited to mass-market American photographic journals but extended to many imprints of the era. One case in point seen here. Through modern eyes, a Times page designer going for the cheap laugh in representing monetary decision making and its potential outcomes for the amateur photographer for an article on the conundrum of photography being an affordable hobby used a series of vignettes of children stripped along the top and bottom of a page. These expressive "studies in black… and white" conveniently featured skin colors of the opposite hue for the January, 1896 article "It Costs Too Much". A mild example perhaps but one that made me wince when I first came across it. On the other hand, photographic depictions of African-Americans showing merit and historical importance do show up in the pages of the Times-even when done in the period genre style favored by American Rudolph Eickemeyer, Jr. At right, a fine example: a full-page halftone study of an elderly former slave titled "Thoughts of Other Days" from the October, 1900 issue- itself an advertisement for his book "Down South" published that year. Dimensions for "Thoughts": 22.5 x 17.7 cm. Both images: PhotoSeed Archive

 

3-west-19th-street-new-york-city-scovill-adams1900-1902 | 2012: From the Fall of 1900 to May, 1902, some of the executive offices of the Scovill & Adams Company were behind this now unused door at 3 West 19th street, just around the corner from Fifth Avenue. A September, 1900 account in the Times said: "The Fifth Avenue number of the building is 142, and the entrance to the executive offices of the Scovill & Adams Co. of New York, is No. 3 and 5 West 19th Street. The business will be divided in Sectional Department, Wholesale Department, Publication Department, and Sample Room. The last will be a feature that will appeal to out-of-town buyers, who have a limited time to spend in New York and must necessarily inspect, in a short time, everything that is new in the photographic line."  PhotoSeed Archive photo by David Spencer

 

photographic-times-january-1902-lg-bird-cover-design1902: A new cover design was introduced for The Photographic Times beginning with this issue in January, 1902. English artist Lennox G. Bird, who went by the professional moniker Curlew, (a playful association with his last name) had entered and won the Photographic Times silver medal competition the previous year. This design was used through at least January, 1903. Cover dimensions: 25.2 x 17.5 cm Cover: PhotoSeed Archive

 

le-stryge-notre-dame-alvin-langdon-coburn-february-1902-photographic-times1902: Tissue-protected, hand-pulled photogravures like this example by American and later Welsh photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966) titled "Le Stryge; Notre Dame", continued to be featured in the Photographic TImes, albeit in the smaller format beginning with the January, 1901 issue. Printed by the Photochrome Engraving Company of New York City, Coburn's photograph features two gargoyles watching over the city of Paris from a tower parapet of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. The image was inspired by French artist Charles Méryon's (1821-1868) 1853 etching of the gargoyle at center titled Le Stryge. (The Vampire) Plate dimensions: image: 10.0 x 16.4 cm | support:17.1 x 24.9 cm from: PhotoSeed Archive

 

the-photographic-times-bulletin-harry-stacey-benton-cover-november-19031902-1904: Beginning with the April, 1902 issue, the Photographic Times was renamed The Photographic Times-Bulletin, a combining of the Photographic Times and Anthony’s Photographic Bulletin, itself a result of the blockbuster December, 1901 business deal in which Scovill & Adams joined forces with the E. & H. T. Anthony & Company in order to fight off the mighty Kodak. Lennox G. Bird's cover design from 1902 carried over to the new publication until at least January, 1903, when this design by Chicago illustrator Harry Stacey Benton (b. 1876 or 1878) was used, most likely with the February issue. This was the final cover design for the Times-Bulletin which ceased publication under this name after the December, 1904 issue-reverting back to The Photographic Times in 1905. The wood-engraved, Art-Nouveau portrait of a woman with vase of flowers is set within an elaborate ornamental frame and printed in two colors. Cover dimensions: 25.2 x 17.5 cm. From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

122-124-fifth-ave-new-york-city-photographic-times1902-1903 | 1904 | 1904-1908: Three address and two ownership changes took place for the Times-Bulletin and Photographic Times between 1902-1908. Upper left photo: from 1902-1903, the Times-Bulletin was published from this ornate building at 122-124 Fifth Ave.; the home of the combined firm of the Anthony & Scovill Company. By April of 1904, Lincoln Adams had bought out Anthony & Scovill's controlling interest in the journal, retaining the journal's name through the end of the year and moving the offices to Styles & Cash Printers at 75-77 Eighth Ave., a company he was president of. (this building no longer stands and is now occupied by an ornate bank building now turned into luxury condos) Upper right photo: from December, 1904 through 1908, the renamed Photographic Times (January, 1905) was published in a building that also no longer stands at 39 Union Square West, now the location of a McDonald's restaurant. Bottom cover: This is a representative cover of the Times from the Union Square years. Now priced at 10 cents, or a dollar a year, it featured a whimsical caricature of a photographer with camera in hand following an artist who holds his canvas and easel in pursuit of the next great vista anchored below the journal masthead. The February, 1908 cover art featured a large halftone photograph of decidedly "light" subject matter: a grouping of kittens. Reflecting this decidedly saccharine mass-market appeal, the Times guiding principal at bottom of cover also had changed to: "An Independent Illustrated Monthly Magazine Devoted to The Interests of Pictorial and Scientific Photography." Photo credits: Anthony & Scovill: Google Street View; Union Square: David Spencer/PhotoSeed Archive, cover: HathiTrust

 

135-west-14th-street-styles-and-cash-building-19061909-1915: Under The Photographic Times Publishing Association, the Times was edited and published the final six years from this building at 135 West 14th street at top left: a ten-story building erected in 1906 by architect Charles Birge for the printing firm Styles & Cash. Since remade (2004) into condos on the upper floors with a hair salon at street level, a December, 1915 advertisement in the Times for the company is at top right. Two other cover design changes for the journal took place during this period. At lower left is the issue from April, 1914 and at lower right, the final cover for the December, 1915 issue. The Styles & Cash firm was in operation in New York from 1865-1920. Photo credits: Styles & Cash: Google Street View; ad & covers: HathiTrust

 

popular-photography-photographic-times-feb-19161916:  With Which Is Merged: Beginning with the January, 1916 issue, the Times masthead was gone for good: absorbed into Popular Photography, a new journal published in Boston since October, 1912. Edited by Frank Roy Fraprie, W. I. Lincoln Adams was retained as an associate editor, although it is doubtful he had much of a hand with its affairs. Cover detail: February, 1916: Ebay

 

winter-moonlight-lincoln-adams-photographic-times-1890The Photographic Times was a labor of love for a father and son. Washington Irving Adams had the spark and drive to get the journal up and running beginning in 1870 and son W. I. Lincoln Adams dutifully took over the reigns of not only the journal but the Scovill & Adams firm upon his father's passing. In my view, the legacy they left in the form of the journal is invaluable, with their efforts along with many others giving enjoyment and continuing instruction on the art and science of photography from 1871-1915 we should continue to appreciate and investigate. This landscape study "Winter Moonlight" by Lincoln Adams was taken around 1885 and published in the Times in 1890. It is not especially memorable in my view, but does contain the kernel of adventure all photography has: "Let the landscape loving photographer of this city and neighborhood take a ramble with his camera" the Times copywriter (possibly Adams himself) declared as inspiration taken from the scene of this snow-blanketed wooded glade. Continuing the thought, "Mr. Adams is always eager to conduct a party, large or small, to the beautiful haunts about his picturesque home." As a young photographer myself, this was just the type of place I took my own camera to in search of what photography could accomplish and mean while learning most about my own self. My hunch is Adams own tramps in places like this shaped his thinking and outlook as well. Image: 14.4 x 19.7 cm | support: 20.5 x 28.7 cm. : photogravure in The Photographic Times, February 7, 1890 | issue No. 438: From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

 

Dream Girls

 My weekend adventure-mysterious airport layovers aside-celebrated my daughter’s graduation from college. And no, this certainly is not her photograph, for it most likely depicts a younger high school graduate instead, wearing a circa 1895 garment that is a true work of diplomatic fashion—incomparable to the disposable, one-zipper frock my daughter wore for her modern ceremony of pomp and circumstance.

 

james-lawrence-breese-woman-graduate-holding-diplomaJames Lawrence Breese: United States: vintage lantern slide ca. 1895-1905: "Woman graduate holding Diploma": support glass: 3.25 x 4.0": window opening: 6.4 x 5.2 cm: from: PhotoSeed Archive

 

For those in the know, the journey of higher education is never easy or predictable, for student or parent. But to those students everywhere earning the right to walk with their class on graduation day, the commencement is rightful icing on the cake and a glorious stepping stone to the next chapter. In the case of this late 19th century lantern slide portrait seen here, the fact that women in the United States had not yet earned the legal right to vote does not diminish this graduate’s pride in her accomplishment, as evidenced by her strong comportment.

 

The ceremony I attended featured all the usual bullet points, with the comic relief of microphone malfunction segueing to the esteemed retired professor remarking on how the school’s newly inaugurated football prowess in the late 1940’s trumped the fact it had previously been known as an institution of higher learning for women only. Applause all around of course, but I rather like the fact the school has foundational women bones.

 

With my own parents supporting my dream of becoming a photographer long ago, my now fatherly advice to an alumni daughter stressed the practical, but also advised exploring the road less traveled with the idea of embracing failure in order to learn.

 

Tripod not Optional

 

Commemorative events in world history recorded in the early years of photography were entirely documentary, with the brutal results being a kind of topographical portraiture not often appreciated by modern viewers, at least for the efforts expended on behalf of their makers.

 

statue-of-the-republic-stevensDetail: Frances V. Stevens: American: 1893: "Gondolier passing Statue of the Republic" in Grand Basin of the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. In background can be seen Peristyle from Liberal Arts building which overlooked Lake Michigan: vintage mounted gelatin-silver photograph: 10.8 x 9.5 cm: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Industrial and world expositions come to mind: the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris and 1876 Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia being some of the better known. Before the very early 1880’s, when the dry plate came into wide use, photographers attending these expositions would need a portable darkroom and chemicals mixed on the spot for the coating of glass plates- quickly inserted into the back of their tripod-mounted cameras in order to make an exposure. Major hurdles typically not ventured by the average photographer.

 

Enter the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, and the wide availability by then of dry plates and roll film for the teeming photographic masses. 1892 marked the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in North America and its’ commemoration from May to October the following year attracted over 27 million people from around the world. But so-called “serious” photography practiced there, along with capitalistic motive by those in charge, conspired against the dedicated photographer attending. With the exception of practical solutions for photographers in the form of railings, pedestals or fixed objects, only one attendee was allowed the luxury of lugging a camera tripod around the 600+ acre fairgrounds,  Charles Dudley Arnold, (1844-1927) designated the World’s Fair Official Photographer.

 

grand-basinDetail: Frances V. Stevens: American: 1893: "People Congregating in Court of Honor" on east side of Administration Building overlooking the Grand Basin at World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. vintage mounted gelatin-silver photograph: 9.2 x 12.1 cm: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Tripods aside, the biggest obstacle was financial, as a daily permit was required. After shelling out .50¢  for daily admission, someone intent on photographing the grandeur of the Chicago fair needed to pay an additional $2.00 for the privilege, almost $50.00 in today’s currency.  

 

“Of course, any one who pays the required $2 can obtain a permit to photograph in the World’s Fair grounds with a four-by-five (or smaller) camera, and without a tripod” ,

 

the Photographic Times helpfully informed its readership on September 22, 1893.

 

One person who had no problems with the price of a daily photographic permit was Miss Frances V. Stevens of New York City. A world traveler, she was an active and exhibiting member of the New York Camera Club as early as 1891 according to The American Amateur Photographer. Her society credentials were equally impressive, with the New York Times mentioning her in a July, 1890 article along with Louise Whitfield Carnegie, the spouse of Andrew Carnegie, one of the world’s richest people:  “Among the New York ladies who are amateur photographers are Mrs. Andrew Carnegie, … Miss Frances V. Stevens” it stated.

 

bullfrogs-on-columnDetail: Frances V. Stevens: American: 1893: at right: "Entrance to the Fisheries Arcade" (Henry Ives Cobb): a bullfrog can be seen peering out from a riot of frogs on the set of columns at right on the grounds of World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. This ornamental hand-work was made from staff, composed of plaster, cement, and jute fibers. Vintage mounted gelatin-silver photograph: 10.5 x 9.8 cm: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Six surviving examples of photographs taken by Frances Stevens, all signed by her and taken at the 1893 World’s fair, have now been added to the site. Believed to be contact-prints from cut or reduced 4 x 5” negatives, they had originally been individually framed. Improper storage has also taken a toll on the work and they each exhibit a large amount of surface staining-but not enough to preclude their artistic and historical importance from being seen here.

 

Even in the reduced format, the Stevens prints are chock full of nuance, and I’ve taken the liberty of showing details from select examples to illustrate this post. In many ways, her less scripted results by means of the smaller hand camera are extremely valuable documents-certainly in regards to artistic consideration-but equal in different ways to many of those captured by one of Charles Arnold’s 11 x 14 inch plate cameras. In consideration of preservation issues and speaking of the wonder of large glass plate negatives in general, a vast secret life waits to be uncovered by historians willing to take the time to save this material. Something crucial and I dare say almost too late for one of humankind’s greatest achievements, her invention of photography.

 

statue-of-laborDetail: Frances V. Stevens: American: 1893: "Statue of Industry" by American sculptor Edward Clark Potter (1857-1923): statue overlooks South Basin with part of the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building seen on left and Agriculture Building at right. vintage mounted gelatin-silver photograph: 9.2 x 11.8 cm: PhotoSeed Archive

 

If one were willing and intrigued by the idea however, photographic archives from newspapers around the world dating to the early 20th century can be a wonderful starting point. For those seeking evidence and inspiration with respect to digital preservation, please check out Springfield Photographs, a site concentrating on the Midwestern American experience from 1929-1935 and most worthy of your attention.

 

 

Jump for Joy

 

 Yesterday officially marked one year since I launched PhotoSeed.com as a public site and I wanted to thank everyone who has taken the time to visit or who has inadvertently stumbled upon us. To date, this site has had tremendous world-wide reach in its short life, with hundreds of thousands of page views perused by visitors hailing from a total of 163 countries & territories. In addition, PhotoSeed received a Webby, the highest industry award for a website in the Art category during a ceremony in New York City this past May.  And who knew we could count a very loyal following from those residing in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City?  I’m not a micro-focused person by any means, but the wonders of Google Analytics never cease to amaze.

 

chester-whitney-jumping-dogC.M. Whitney, (Chester Moulton) American, b. 1873: "Peter" or "A High Jumper": 1907: vintage gelatin-silver photograph: image: 19.1 x 14.7 cm | primary support: 20.4 x 15.4 cm | secondary support: 30.5 x 25.4 cm : from: PhotoSeed Archive

 

My plans and goals for the next year are many. Ultimately, I would like to devote my time to the site full-time, with the means of supporting this dream through a combination of an online sales gallery selling vintage material, licensing agreements, and, perhaps, select archival reproductions for purchase. As always, your suggestions are welcome as I approach this fork in the road, and I sincerely welcome your input and ideas going forward. As my own time allows, it is my intent to continue building on my own evolving scholarship as I assess and then post material from the vintage work making up the PhotoSeed Archive.  As I’ve said before, there is every reason to “get it right” the first time, and I don’t see it as a race.

 

And so it is my honor, delight, and satisfaction to be able to shine light and—hold for this metaphor—let the creative flowers from my photographic brothers and sisters bloom after hiding in the dark far too long. I hope you enjoy the discoveries and continue the journey with us.

 

-David Spencer

 

 

 

A Brief Moment in Time

 

Finding words. Looking back. Celebrating life. Of the canine type. In the end, all we can hope to attain.

 

-misses-selby-woman-with-dogThe Misses Selby: ca. 1900-1905: "Woman with her West Highland White Terrier": Vintage platinum photograph: image: 16.7 x 12.0 cm | support: 18.2 x 12.5 cm (unmounted) For Pepper

 

 

Faun, Fawn, Puck, Pan

 

Recently, I posted three vintage, gelatin-silver photographs taken by Anne Brigman, (1869-1950) one of the very few west-coast members of the American Photo-Secession. Not less than 24 hours later I was contacted by James Rhem, an independent scholar in the History of Photography and the published author of monographs on Ralph Eugene Meatyard and Aaron Siskind.

 

composite-blogSan Francisco resident Jan Law (1908-1994) was the subject of these photographs taken by west-coast Photo-Secession member Anne Brigman beginning around 1921. The two photographs on either side of the bottom row are of Law taken later-sometime in the mid-1920's. For the most part, the portrait style seen in this grouping represents another side of Brigman's life: that of the commercial photographer. (all photographs courtesy family of Jan Law-now privately owned)

 

James informed me he had been researching and writing a book about Brigman for some time. Like any scholar worth his salt, he was inquiring about further insight from my photographs. He wrote:

 
The mystery of the child model had interested me naturally as has the mystery of the male model (though I think I have solved that). My research has built up quite a web of names of friends and connections for Brigman and I wonder if I knew that name of the descendent (or his/her ancestor) if I could then make the connection?


Before James had contacted me, I had done some basic genealogical research for the subject in these photographs and had become intrigued when stumbling upon an image by Brigman titled “The Fawn”. This photograph, sold at auction in 2001, carried the same date, 1921, as two of the photographs in my collection. I wondered, could the young model in my photographs be the same subject depicted in “The Fawn”?

 

extasy-little-faun-blog-ws2"Extasy—The Little Faun", taken in 1921, is the title given by Anne Brigman of this ethereal portrait of Jan Law. (1908-1994) The artistic study is an intriguing example of commissioned portraiture by Anne Brigman, who was living in Oakland, CA when it was taken. Image: 25.0 x 19.3 cm | rough-surface, double-weight gelatin silver photograph glued along upper margin to primary support: 45.9 x 38.1 cm | 26.9 x 21.1 cm (outer double mount) from: PhotoSeed Archive

 

As a collector, I typically seek out provenance details on material I purchase for this archive, and in this case I was ready: I already had a name of the young boy featured in the three photographs I had purchased from his distant family member. But now, with this inquiry from James, I was spurred to do more in order to hopefully expand Brigman scholarship in general. The former owner of the three works, who will remain anonymous, had told me:

 
We think the person in the photos is my husband’s grandfather Jan Law.  My husband says he thinks the photos were probably taken in the San Francisco area.

 

the-faun-title-1c2The support verso of "Extasy—The Little Faun" (1921) is titled in graphite and believed to be by the hand of Anne Brigman. (1869-1950) The possibility exists of course that some might perceive "Faun" spelled as "Fawn". We have chosen to stick with the "Faun" of Roman mythology however since it is more consistent with Brigman's intent.

 

Connecting dots and/or figuring out what dots to follow in the first place in collaboration with others like James are all important goals for PhotoSeed in determining photography’s lost and hidden history. In a back and forth via email,  James commented further on the child model’s identity in my 3 photographs after I speculated a bit further and asked if he might be the same model depicted in “The Wondrous Globe”, a photograph appearing in Camera Work 38, published in 1912:

 
I don’t believe there are other images in the three issues of Camera Work in which AB has work that feature this model, but he is used in other images that I have never seen printed. Some interesting negatives I’ve examined at Eastman House have him in them with wings actually etched into the negative!

 

wondrous-globe-camera-work-hjcPhotographed by Anne Brigman in 1908, "The Wondrous Globe" (detail shown) appeared as a hand-pulled Japanese tissue photogravure in the Alfred Stieglitz journal Camera Work 38 in 1912. Although the subject of the photograph remains unknown, the model is depicted faun-like, sporting goat horns seen here and appearing in the same High Sierra mountain location as different versions on the George Eastman House online archive. Playing a flute, the boy is alternately titled "Piping Pan" (76:0058:0029) and for "Puck & The Bee", (76:0060:0016) he is shown with wings etched onto his back. It would almost seem the ever-changing nature of Mythology itself played the central role of Brigman re-casting this model in different ways. Detail: image: 12.1 x 19.9 cm | support: 12.5 x 20.3 cm | from: PhotoSeed Archive

 

The images I recall were made up in the mountains which raised the question for me about who this might be  .  . a child of the guide? Someone who lived in the area? Family friend? I’m not sure you’d notice these in the online view. They had not come to my notice until I was actually there going through negatives.

 

our-illustrations-brigman-in-camera-work-detail-v26Along with photographer Karl Struss, whose work was also featured in Camera Work 38, editor Alfred Stieglitz commented on some of the working and technical aspects of Anne (then known as Annie) Brigman's work, which he reproduced in the issue as five hand-pulled Japanese tissue photogravures.

 

Another query to my California contact while this was all going on with James set the record straight for me, however. This person helpfully confirmed the dates for Jan Law I was able to find online from multiples sources of the U.S. Census. Eleven years old in 1920, Jan Law was born on January 25, 1908 (originally his name was listed as John in the 1910 Census and living in Seattle, WA) and living in San Francisco along with his mother Cora (Wilcox) Law, who is listed as a widow. The 1910 census also listed Jan as having an older brother named George (born around 1905).  Law died on January 27, 1994 in Orange, California.

 

faun-diptych-mj7Left: "The Faun", by Anne Brigman from 1913 (private collection) Right: "The Fawn" as seen in online Christie's auction sale #9324 (2001). Faun or Fawn, this photograph was later copyrighted by Brigman in 1921, and carried the following auction house description: Gelatin silver print. 1921. Signed, dated and copyright insignia in ink on the recto. 9¾ x 7 5/8in. (24.7 x 19.3cm.)

 

Now, with the confirmed dates for Law and some additional research, I can say confidently he was not the subject of “The Fawn”, otherwise titled “The Faun”, according to the George Eastman House online archive. This is because the Eastman version, a variant full-frame example of this image, carries the date of 1913 as well as their full-frame copy negative of it titled: “The Faun First Edition (Not So Good) 1913”. (It comes from the series title: “Book 2, Anne Brigman”) Explaining the previous 1921 date now seemed easy enough. For some reason, perhaps to use in a future publishing project, Brigman chose to copyright this particular image eight years after she had taken it. The only Law family connection in my mind with “The Faun” would be if Jan Law’s older brother George had been used as the subject. In this case he would have been around eight years old when it was taken, but he appears much older in this photograph, in my estimation. My research also brings into play the possibility a young man photographed in 1915 by Brigman, which can be seen in the online collection of the Oakland Museum in California, could have been the subject of “The Faun”. Or not. Maybe you might know. I’ll conclude this post by letting James Rhem have the final word on this, with his cautionary insight and expertise, in my mind the principals guiding future Brigman legacy scholarship:

 
Yes, it is unlikely we shall ever know with certainty the names of these male sitters. She did call upon her sister Elizabeth’s husband for a couple of photographs, but the male children remain a bit of a mystery. Your investigation of the Law images helps create more plausible speculation about the identity. By that I mean the images I have written to you about that place the child in mountain settings far from Oakland are most likely of children who went along on these camping trips rather than locals. These trips (which I have replicated with a photographer friend in the last several years) went to remote locations in the Sierras, but they often involved groups of woman friends and sisters. So, if one were able to establish more about the degree of friendship with Mrs. Law for example it would strengthen the speculation.

 

brigman-sig-1s2A detail showing an Anne Brigman signature, embellished here with a seagull in flight, appears on the main support below the right corner of the double-mount for "Extasy—The Little Faun", a study of San Francisco resident Jan Law (1908-1994) taken in 1921.

 

…What is (to me) interesting about all of this (since establishing the identity of the boy in her art photographs is only a matter of curiosity, not important interest) is that it establishes the fact Brigman did lots of commission work. Because her life is often seized upon as an example of noble, unfettered feminist freedom, you will sometimes find it written as fact that she never did commercial — i.e. for money — work. This is absolutely not true and I have known it for years. The only thing that’s troubling about this is what a narrow and ideologically skewed idea of biography and feminist freedom it reflects. Brigman was a very free figure and very free in her enjoyment of and expression of feminine energies, but she also had a practical side and had to make a living. Also, I think in many of the examples I have seen she certainly did not feel that her portrait work was entirely divorced from her artistic work, again, especially in her photographic portraits of women.

 

annie-brigman-dryads-camera-work-w9hIn the female nude study titled "Dryads", taken by Anne Brigman in the High Sierras in 1907 and shown here in a detail from the hand-pulled, Japanese tissue photogravure published in Camera Work 44 (1913), the act of holding a pose in the great out-of-doors yielded beautiful results. For the long posing stretches however, it was surely not easy on the models, which included herself. Detail: image: 15.9 x 20.4 cm | support: 20.1 x 24.1 cm: from: PhotoSeed Archive

Neue look at Kühn

 

An objective reviewer I am not when it comes to photographers considered major figures in the emerging artistic aesthetic movement from the beginning of the 20th century.

new-york-lampost-bannerWhile a lampost banner with the Heinrich Kühn photograph "Study in Tonal Values III, (Mary Warner)" taken in 1908 is displayed along East 86th Street near the New York City museum Neue Galerie for the show "Heinrich Kuehn and his American Circle: Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen", the evolving tableau of life on the street below provides for a continual source of photographic delights. PhotoSeed Archive photograph by David Spencer

 

Instead, shameless promoter would perhaps better describe my enthusiasm for Austrian Heinrich Kühn, (1866-1944) the subject of a museum exhibition now taking place in New York City. And with that,  I heartily recommend a visit to:

 

Heinrich Kuehn and his American Circle: Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen

 

now on view at the Neue Galerie through August 27th.

 

exterior-neue-galerieOriginally finished in 1914 for the industrialist William Starr Miller II at 1048 Fifth Avenue by the architectural firm Carrère & Hastings, (responsible for the design of the New York Public Library) the Neue Galerie was first opened to the public in 2001 and specializes in German and Austrian art and design. PhotoSeed Archive photograph by David Spencer

 

It was exhilarating to be back in New York so soon after my attendance at the Webby awards, but this was a working trip for PhotoSeed, with the first half of the day spent uptown at the Neue Galerie and the rest spent downtown working on an upcoming post on the history of The Photographic Times

 

triptch-kuhnLeft: self-portrait of Heinrich Kühn from October, 1901 issue of Photographisches Centralblatt; Middle: detail: multiple-color lithograph by Munich illustrator Fritz Rehm for German dry plate manufacturer Otto Perutz; Right: detail: Peter Behrens Jugendstil calendar. (all from PhotoSeed Archive) All three artists represented here were active participants in the Munich Secession at the end of the 19th century, an important exchange of creative ideas and radical thought made real through their own works. Behrens, whose work is in the permanent collection at the Neue Galerie, later went on to be one of the founders of the German Werkbund, a German modernist arts & crafts movement founded in 1907.

 

 After emerging from the subway at 86th street from Grand Central and walking towards Fifth Ave.,  I spied a lamppost promotional banner for the show, complete with a readymade arranged beneath it: a toilet bowl cast off near the curb and the activity of the street all around it. For those game enough, New York is the kind of place where street photography could easily supplant any type of planned tourist activities, and so my inner muse, taken with the scene, made a few quick frames before venturing a short distance to the entrance of the impressive pile located at 1048 Fifth avenue-a New York landmark completed in 1914 by Carrère & Hastings- the same architectural firm that built the New York Public Library.

 

staircase-neue-galerieThe sweeping wrought-iron staircase seemed a perfect fit for whisking visitors to the third floor exhibition galleries at the Neue Galerie, where some of the breathtaking landscape work of Kühn was on display in the form of vintage, large format gum-bichromate prints. An enlarged exhibition panel above the visitors at center is taken from the photograph "Mary Warner and Edeltrude on the Brow of a Hill", ca. 1908-originally taken by Kühn on a color Autochrome Lumière plate, first introduced in 1907. PhotoSeed Archive photograph by David Spencer

 

The converted Georgian-style townhouse was originally built for industrialist William Starr Miller II (1856-1935) and purchased in 1994 by art dealer and museum exhibition organizer Serge Sabarsky and businessman, cosmetics heir and art collector Ronald Lauder. German for “New Gallery”, the Neue Galerie is a museum featuring early 20th century German and Austrian art and design, which recently celebrated it’s 10th anniversary in November, 2011.

 

4th-gallery-family-dramaThe 4th gallery exhibition space, titled "Family Drama", is taken up at right by a dark cherry-stained wood lattice panel: a re-creation of the backdrop Kühn utilized for some of his portraits. Photograph courtesy of the Neue Galerie.camera-work-33-portraitOne of many portraits Kühn used the backdrop for was for this study of Tyrolean sculptor and painter Hans Perathoner. (1872-1946) Taken ca. 1906-1907, the portrait was reproduced as a hand-pulled photogravure in Camera Work XXXIII (1911). Image courtesy of Photogravure.com

 

In doing background for this post, I learned from The New York Times that the current Kühn exhibit is only the 2nd show of photography to be featured at the museum, and is curated by Kühn scholar Dr. Monika Faber, a champion for his and other work from this period, and currently the Director of the Photoinstitut Bonartes in Vienna.

 

tea-still-life-version-iii-Tea Still-life, Version III (Teestilleben, III. Fassung) is a fine example of Kühn's still-life work showing his masterful control of light. Later reproduced as a hand-pulled photogravure by the Berlin atelier Otto Felsing and appearing in the January, 1908 issue of Photographische Rundschau , it was also most likely taken in one of his new home photographic studios on Richard Wagner Strasse, designed by Wiener Werkstätte founders Josef Hoffman and Koloman Moser. Image: (13.1 x 17.7 cm) from PhotoSeed Archive

 

A contributor to and co-editor of the essential 2010 volume “Heinrich Kühn: The Perfect Photograph,” Faber can be seen in this video describing Kühn’s role in the development of artistic photography as well as his relationships with Alfred Stieglitz, who he first met in 1904 (Stieglitz had known of Kühn since 1894) and Edward Steichen in 1907, whose atmospheric work, we learn in the video, was inspired by some of Kühn’s massive (for the time) gum-bichromate photographs featuring sweeping and expansive Tyrolean landscapes.

 

early-success-galleryThe 2nd gallery exhibition space, titled "Early Success", features a re-creation at far right of the 6th exhibition that took place at the Alfred Stieglitz gallery "291" on Fifth Avenue-from April 7-28, 1906. The Viennese and German photographers Heinrich Kühn, Hans Watzek and Hugo Henneberg-known as the Cloverleaf or Viennese Trifolium, all had vintage, massive frames on display. Photograph courtesy of the Neue Galerie.

 

Not surprisingly, I soon discovered taking pictures is off-limits in the second and third floor exhibition rooms of the museum, which made it easier for me to scribble notes and not worry about the supplemental visuals for this post, most of which I’ve pulled from the PhotoSeed Archive. Emerging on the third floor, I first ducked into gallery 5 to take in a video narrated by Neue Galerie director Renée Price on Kühn’s pioneering 1907 involvement, along with Stieglitz and Steichen, with color Autochrome Lumière plates. I talked with the guard near the entrance who smiled when I asked how many times he had already seen it. Needless to say, he probably will not take the bait to see it again here on his day off, but you of course should.

 

kuhn-landscapeOne of the original vintage framed photographs on display in the "Early Success" gallery was this landscape study titled "Twilight" (Dämmerung), which Kühn did in 1896. This hand-pulled Chine-collé photogravure version published in the important Austrian photographic journal Wiener Photographische Blätter in February, 1897 surely does the original an injustice: a bi-color gum bichromate print (enhanced with watercolor) that is certainly unique. Image: (15.6 x 11.8 cm) PhotoSeed Archive

 

The show is arranged in five galleries, with a total of 105 vintage photographs in a variety of photographic media. In addition to the aforementioned work by Stieglitz and Steichen, Kühn’s fellow Viennese Trifolium partners Hans Watzek and Hugo Henneberg are also included, as well as select examples by Photo-Secession members Frank Eugene, Gertrude Kasebier, George Seeley and Clarence White.

 

white-excursion-2White Excursion, (Weiẞer Ausflug) from ca. 1905, is a fine early example of genre landscape study by Kühn incorporating his family members taken in the Tyrol. (most likely nanny Mary Warner and daughter Edeltrude) After the 1907 introduction to the public of Autochrome Lumière plates, he would create elaborate staged scenes similar to this but with specially made clothing worn by his models in order to take advantage of the added color dimension. Image: from September, 1908 issue of Photographische Rundschau: ( 17.7 x 13.1 cm) PhotoSeed Archive

 

The two galleries I found most fascinating were the 4th gallery, which the museum assigns the collective title “Family Drama” and the 2nd gallery, called “Early Success”. In Family Drama, a massive, dark cherry-stained wood lattice panel forms the backdrop along one wall which has been installed specially for this exhibit. According to a museum guard, the panel blocks large windows overlooking Fifth Ave. The prop is a subtle and welcome touch for those familiar with some of Kühn’s portrait work, which often balances expanses of dark (the paneled background) with select highlights for the figure posed in front of it.

 

stieglitz-steichen-kuhn-eugeneThere were several examples of original vintage prints taken by American Photo-Secession founder member Frank Eugene (1865-1936) included in the show, in order to show Kühn's active participation in and acceptance by the upstart Photo-Secession (founded 1902) in America. In this study taken in 1907 by Eugene, who can be seen at far left of frame, Alfred Stieglitz, Heinrich Kühn and Edward Steichen (far right) examine Eugene's photographic work. Detail: platinum print, Yale Collection of American Literature: from: Wikimedia Commons

 

According to a caption in this gallery, these panels were originally intended to be moved around as part of a photographic studio, and were (presumably) designed by Wiener Werkstätte founders Josef Hoffman and Koloman Moser for Kühn’s Innsbruck home located on Richard Wagner Street, where he lived with his children and English nanny Mary Warner from 1906-1919 (another studio in the home featured white paneling).  Kühn’s ability to move the panels depending on exterior lighting conditions-from windows, skylights, and reflected means-were a way of giving his portrait backdrops a distinctive style.  A means to an end in order for him to maintain fastidious control of his pictorial output.

 

camera-work-galleryThe 3rd gallery exhibition space was the smallest, and was an homage to the importance of the American Photo-Secession journal Camera Work, edited and published by Alfred Stieglitz. Seen here on both sides are all twelve vintage select plates from the journal as well as a framed gum bichromate photograph: "Anna with Mirror" done by Kühn in 1902 and later published in Camera Work XIII in 1906. Photograph courtesy of the Neue Galerie.

 

Speaking of control, another photographic caption in this gallery stated Kühn went so far as to have special clothing tailored in hues of black, white and gray for his children to wear while they posed for these portraits. Later, this also applied after 1907, but with colored clothing worn by them as well as Mary Warner while he made some of his most famous images in outdoor settings using the brand-new Autochrome Lumière plates.

 

steichen-camera-work-44The distinctive cover of "Camera Work" featured Art-Nouveau typography done by American Photo-Secession founder member Edward Steichen, who was also an accomplished painter at the time he hand-designed the lettering sometime in 1902 before traveling to Paris to live and study. Detail of entire cover shown. top: logo: (8.6 x 14.0 cm) PhotoSeed Archive

 

Walking over to the adjoining 2nd gallery, Early Success, the idea of gallery repetition is repeated along the long dimension of the space. Here, the idea of the famous Stieglitz “291” gallery is hinted at, with pleated, olive-drab fabric lining the lower portion of the wall while early 20th century reproduction period spotlights are aimed toward massive examples of colored and monochrome gum-bichromate prints.

 

two-towers-stieglitz-44One of Alfred Stieglitz's signature New York photographs is "Two Towers — New York", a cityscape taken in 1911 showing his masterful balancing of shades of gray in a complex urban environment. The following description appears in "The Key Set", volume 1: "The view looks south from a stoop on the west side of Madison Avenue, toward the towers of Madison Sqaure Garden (left) and the Metropolitan Life Building (right)." This plate, with full support shown, from Camera Work XLIV, 1913 (image: 20.5 x 16.0 cm | support: 28.1 x 20.0 cm ) From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

As I counted 29 framed prints in this room alone, the 291 wall is intended to showcase an approximation of the actual work (loaned from the Stieglitz bequeath at the Metropolitan as well as other institutional and private collections) from Viennese Trifolium members Kühn, Henneberg and Watzek. It was truly an extraordinary moment to be able to see these large-scale photographs up close, further elucidated on for their time as follows in a gallery caption:

 

The scale of the prints themselves may have convinced a broader public that photographs might be an artistic medium in its own right.


Kühn of course was the star in this room, with some of his earlier successes shown dating to the mid 1890’s. The cloverleaf Trifolium ceased to exist after 1903, once Watzek died and Henneberg soon turned his attention to etching.

 

venice-steichen-44-0k9In the same year (1907) Heinrich Kühn had sat down with Stieglitz, Edward Steichen and Frank Eugene to discuss their work, Steichen's own exploration of shades of gray by means of the the camera took shape in this waterway study of a gondolier navigating a Venetian waterway. Initially titled "Late Afternoon - Venice", the work was first published in the Steichen number of Camera Work 42/43 (1913) as a duogravure before Stieglitz had it reprinted as a hand-pulled photogravure on Japan tissue for Camera Work 44, (1913) where it was simply titled "Venice". This plate, with full support shown, from Camera Work XLIV, 1913 (image: 16.7 x 20.1 cm | support: 19.9 x 28.0 cm ) From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Finally, in the third gallery, a bridge for how Kühn and his contemporaries were embraced and given credibility in the form of 12 select images from the Alfred Stieglitz journal Camera Work are shown. The small room is further anchored on one side by a large gum-bichromate print titled Anna with Mirror, a 1902 genre study by Kühn showing a young woman from behind fixing her hair while reflected in a mirror.

 

anna-bag-v7hLeft: "Anna with Mirror", taken by Kühn in 1902, was titled "Girl with Mirror" when Alfred Stieglitz included it as a photogravure plate in Camera Work XIII in 1906. A reproduction greeting card of the image was included in a boxed set purchased by this author from the Neue Galerie book store and carried home in the brown-paper bag at right, a fine example of modern typographic art for sure. Left: 19.5 x 14.4 cm: image courtesy: Photogravure.com Right: paper bag: 28.2 x 19.2 cm

 

Reproduced by Stieglitz as a photogravure in Camera Work in 1906, the Neue Galerie chose to include a reproduction of it, along with five of Kühn’s other photographs, in an affordable set of greeting cards sold in their first floor gift shop: a nice memento and excuse for future correspondence procured by this visitor on my way out to Fifth Ave.

 

 


Webby Distilled

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What’s your motivation?


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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


Heels of Progress

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

For Kim

 

 I’ve never bought into the hokum that “a photograph is worth a thousand words”. I’ve always thought the medium was bigger, believing the phrase has been overused in popular culture to the point it has cheapened the very essence of Photography as Memory.

 

closed-gentianLouise Birt Baynes: (1876-1958)  "Closed or Blind Gentian": 1904: vintage gelatin silver process photograph loosely mounted within period support. image: 20.8 x 12.6 cm | support: 29.5 x 20.1 cm

 

This might not be earth-shattering news to the picture-taking masses, so I’ll just reiterate my feeling that any photograph-new or very old- has the ability and inner life to prove incalculable worth and embody pure memory, especially for you, if you happened to take it. Photographs are simply the personification of Memory made real. It matters little if today’s memories are in digital form, or of the vintage paper variety accompanying this post, made over 100 years ago.

 

When we receive sad news, shock and tears always come first. And then memories. In this case, always good ones, and then the photographs already taken invariably retrieved and revisited. This is how it went yesterday when my wife and I belatedly learned a dear friend had passed on. Georgia native Kim McCoy was a young woman who was passionate, funny, articulate: a writer with a voice that could deliver in public as well as a former journalist of conviction who used her own professional gift of words to give life and context back to her own loving family.

 

As is Life, intent and chance mysteriously came together, and my next post in this space would feature a preview of flower studies which will soon find their way to the site dating to 1904 taken by American photographer Louise Birt Baynes. (1876-1958) After acquiring them, I had struggled for almost a year trying to learn the identity of their maker, with chance granting me success only last week after Golden rod was found with proper attribution in a photographic journal. Several of these photographs have the added bonus of hand-written poetry on their mounts. And so for Kim, some words penned a century ago and recited anew to your memory of a life cut short at 33. One to celebrate as fully as is Nature’s own beautiful Closed Gentian, a flower that never fully opens:

 

“It never opened someone said,
The strange, fair, bud was all,
a bright hope only half interpreted,
and shriveling to its fall.”