History of photography
The recognition of the power of photography to persuade and inform
led to a form of documentary photography known as social
documentation, or social photography. The origins of the genre can
be traced to the classic sociological study issued by Henry Mayhew
in 1851, London Labour and the London Poor, although this was
illustrated with drawings partly copied from daguerreotypes by
Richard Beard and not actual photos. A later effort, Street Life in
London (1877), by Adolphe Smith and John Thomson, included facsimile
reproductions of Thomson’s photographs and produced a much more
persuasive picture of life among London’s working class. Thomson’s
images were reproduced by Woodburytype, a process that resulted in
exact, permanent prints but was costly because it required hand
mounting for each individual print. This pursuit was continued by
John Barnardo, who, beginning in the 1870s, photographed homeless
children in London for the purpose of both record keeping and
fund-raising and thus fulfilled the double objectives of social
documentation: capturing theoretically objective description and
arousing sympathy. The “before” and “after” images used by Barnardo
to demonstrate the efficacy of social intervention became a
convention in social documentation. It was taken up to good effect
by the Indian photographer Raja Lala Deen Dayal, especially in his
documentation of the good works undertaken by the nizam of Hyderabad
in the late 19th century. In 1877 Thomas Annan began a project in
Edinburgh in which he used the camera to record the need for new
housing for the working poor. He concentrated mainly on the derelict
buildings and sewerage systems rather than on the inhabitants;
eventually the images were collected for their artistic merit rather
than their social use.
Social documentation became more focused in the work of Jacob
A. Riis, a police reporter in New York City in the 1880s who
spent about four years depicting slum life. Employing cameramen at
first, Riis eventually learned the rudiments of the medium so that
he could himself portray the living and working conditions of
immigrants whose social circumstances, he believed, led to crime and
dissolution. Reproduced by the recently developed halftone process,
the photographs and drawings based on them illustrated How the Other
Half Lives (1890), Riis’s first book about immigrant life. They also
were turned into positive transparencies—slides—to illustrate Riis’s
lectures, which were aimed at a largely middle-class audience, some
of whom were said to have fainted at the sight of the conditions the
images documented. Able to convince the progressive reformers of the
time of the need for change, Riis’s work was instrumental in
effecting slum-clearance projects in New York.
In European countries especially, there was also an awakened
interest in documenting social customs during this period. Sometimes
this meant recording those European customs that were being replaced
by advancing industrialization. This interest led to the
establishment of photographic archives, such as the National
Photographic Record Association, set up in the mid-1890s by Benjamin
Stone, a British member of Parliament. Left to the city of
Birmingham, the collection included photographs taken by Stone and
others of vanishing local customs. Other times this led to an
interest in the particularities of dress and custom of those living
in distant regions. William Carrick, a Scotsman, portrayed daily
life in Russia. In addition to portraying nature and artifacts, John
Thomson, Felice Beato, and Samuel Bourne also depicted indigenous
peoples in China and India. In 1888 the journal National Geographic,
which produced photographic accounts of cultures throughout the
world, was established.
Jacob A. Riis
Jacob A. Riis, in full Jacob August Riis (born May 3, 1849, Ribe,
Denmark—died May 26, 1914, Barre, Massachusetts, U.S.), American
newspaper reporter, social reformer, and photographer who, with his
book How the Other Half Lives (1890), shocked the conscience of his
readers with factual descriptions of slum conditions in New York
Riis immigrated to the United States at the age of 21 and held
various jobs, gaining a firsthand acquaintance with the ragged
underside of city life. In 1873 he became a police reporter,
assigned to New York City’s Lower East Side, where he found that in
some tenements the infant death rate was one in 10.
By the late 1880s, Riis had begun photographing the interiors and
exteriors of New York slums with a flash lamp. Those photos are
early examples of flashbulb photography. Riis used the images to
dramatize his lectures and books, and the engravings of those
photographs that were used in How the Other Half Lives helped to
make the book popular. But it was Riis’s revelations and writing
style that ensured a wide readership: his story, he wrote in the
book’s introduction, “is dark enough, drawn from the plain public
records, to send a chill to any heart.” Theodore Roosevelt, who
would be elected U.S. president in 1900, responded personally to
Riis: “I have read your book, and I have come to help.” The book’s
success made Riis famous, and How the Other Half Lives stimulated
the first significant New York legislation to curb tenement house
evils. It also became an important predecessor to the muckraking
journalism that took shape in the United States after 1900.
Of Riis’s many other books, the most noteworthy is his
autobiography, The Making of an American (1901).
Bandit's Roost (1888) by Jacob Riis, from How the Other Half
Lives. This image is Bandit's Roost at 59½ Mulberry Street,
considered the most crime-ridden, dangerous part of New York
DOCUMENTATION OBJECTS AND EVENTS
NEARLY ALL CAMERA IMAGES that deal
with what exists in the world may be considered documents in some
sense, but the term documentation has come to refer to pictures
taken with an intent to inform rather than to inspire or to express
personal feelings (though, of course, such images may answer these
needs, too). The materialistic outlook of the industrialized peoples
of the 19th century, their emphasis on the study of natural forces
and social relation-ships, and their quest for empire promoted the
photo-graphic document as a relatively unproblematical means of
expanding knowledge of the visible world. Depictions of topography
and architecture (addressed in the previous chapter); of the
physical transformation of city and country-side; of wars,
uprisings, revolutions, and natural disasters; of sociological and
medical conditions and oddities—all were considered by
intellectuals, scientists, artists, and the generis public to be
eminently suitable themes for camera images. The photograph was
regarded as an exemplary record because it was thought to provide an
objective—that is, unaltered—view of solid fact and achievement.
This faith in the capacity of light to inscribe truth on a
sensitized plate, which lay behind the acceptance of camera
documentation, was given its most persuasive verbal argument by the
American Oliver Wendell Holmes, whose contributions to the
popularization of stereography have been mentioned earlier.
Suggesting that the "perfect photo-graph is absolutely
inexhaustible," because in theory everything that exists in nature
will be present in the camera image (in itself a dubious statement),
Holmes also felt that incidental truths, missed by participants in
the actual event, would be captured by the photograph and, in fact,
might turn out to be of greater significance. As "form divorced from
matter" but mirroring truth, documentary photographs were believed
to be such accurate catalogs of fact that they were surrogates of
reality. Specific temporal meanings might be obscure, contextual
relationships unexplained, but these images, which by a miracle of
technology had found their way into stereo-scopes and picture albums
far removed in time and place from die actual object or event,
increasingly became the data to which the public turned for
knowledge of complex utructures and occurrences. According to the
American art historian William M. Ivins, Jr., "The nineteenth
century began by believing that what was reasonable- was true, and
it wound up by believing that what it saw a photograph of, was
The need for pictorial
documentation had been recognized even before the invention of
photography. In the 1830s and '40s, publishers of periodicals in
Europe sought to enliven informational texts with graphic
illustrations directed to a diversified mass audience. The Penny
Magazine, an early starter in London, was followed by the
Illustrated London News, L'Illustration in Paris, Illttstrierte
Zeitung in Leipzig, and, in the United States, Harper's Weekly and
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. To make good their promise to
present a living and moving panorama of the world's activities and
events, these journals began in the 1850s to use the photographic
document as a basis for graphic imagery. The need to translate
photographs quickly into wood engravings to meet publication
deadlines led to the practice of dividing up an illustration into
sections and farming out the parts to a number of woodblock
engravers, after which the pieces were reassembled into a unified
block for printing. In 1857, George N. Barnard invented a process
whereby the collodion negative could be printed directly onto the
block, bypassing the artist's drawing and incidentally substituting
a more realistic facture, which the engraver then endeavored to
represent. Until the 1890s, when the printing industry began to use
the process halftone plate, documentation based on photographs
reached the public in several forms—as original albumen, carbon, or
Woodbury-type prints (stereograph and other formats), as lantern
slides, or transformed by engravers and lithographers into graphic
illustrations for the publishing industry.
Photographic documentation might be
commissioned by the government (primarily in France and the United
States), by private companies and individuals, or by publishers.
Albumen prints, more sharply defined and easier to produce in large
numbers than calotypes, were organized into presentation albums made
up for selected individuals and governing bodies, while thousands
upon thousands of stereographs reached mass audiences through the
sale and distribution activities of companies such as T. & E.
Anthony in New York, the Langenheim brothers' American Stereoscopic
Company in Philadelphia, the London Stereoscopic and Photographic
Company, Gaudin in Paris, and Loescher and Petsch in Germany.
Camera Documentation: Industrial
"Objective" documentation by camera
coincided with the physical transformation of industrialized
countries during the mid-i9th century. The role played by
photography in the campaign to restore the architectural patrimony
of France has been mentioned, but, in addition, images were
commissioned to show the demolition and reconstruction of urban
areas, the erection of bridges and monuments, and the building of
transportation facilities and roads. The industrial expositions and
fairs that were mounted every several years in Britain, France, and
the United States during this period both symbolized and displayed
the physical changes made possible by new technologies and new
materials, which were contrasted with the exotic products of
underdeveloped nations. The directors of the first important
exposition, at the Crystal Palace in London in 1851— the Great
Exhibition—were eager to document the event as well as to display
camera equipment and pictures, but the insufficiencies of Talbot's
calotype process limited the effort to a visual catalog of the
exhibits, which was included in Report by the Juries. However,
shortly after the decision was made to rebuild the Crystal Palace at
Sydenham, collodion technique made it possible to document the
entire reconstruction. Photographing weekly for about three
years—1851 to 1854—the noted painter-photographer Philip Henry
Dclamotte recorded the rebirth of the glass hall in its new location
and the installation of the exhibits. In itself, the iron structure
of Sir Joseph Paxton's huge pavilion provided interesting shapes and
forms, but Delamottc's obvious delight in the building's airy
geometry contributes to the pleasurable satisfaction these images
-rill afford, and indeed this first record is among the more
interesting documentations of the many that were made of the
industrial fairs that followed.
PHILIP HENRY DELAMOTTE. The Open Colonnade, Garden Front, c. 1853.
Albumen print. Greater London History Library, London.
From the 1850s on, the
mechanical-image maker frequently was called u.pon to record other
feats served up by the age of mechanization. The usefulness of such
records was demonstrated by the documentation of Isambard Kingdom
Brunei's British steamship Great Eastern, an enormous coal-driven
liner capable of carrying 4..000 passengers. The vivid handling of
light, form, and volume seen in views by Robert Howlett and Joseph
Cundall of this "leviathan"—made for the Illustrated Times of London
and the London Stereoscope Company—was praised because it embraced
real rather than synthetic situations. Contrasting these works with
artistically conceived and reenacted studio compositions that were
being turned out at about the same time (see Chapters), critics
suggested that the true measure of camera art was in the sensitive
Treatment of actuality.
ROBERT HOWLETT (?). The "Great Eastern" Being Built in the Docks at
Millwall, November 30,1857.
Albumen print. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
Soon after mid-century,
photographers were called upon to record the building of rail routes
in France and the United States, both latecomers in this endeavor
com-pared with Britain. One such commission, initiated by the French
rail magnate Baron James de Rothschild, went to Fdouard Denis Baldus,
who in 1855 and 1859 followed the building of the north-south line
from Boulogne to Paris, Lyons, and eventually to the Mediterranean
ports. These large-format prints, exemplified by Pont de la
Mulatiere, were made up into "presentation albums," one of which was
given to Queen Victoria; they also were exhibited at the major
industrial expositions where they were ac-claimed for elegant
clarity of vision and superb tonal range. Gallic respect for order
and precision also characterizes an image of engines in the
roundhouse at Nevers, taken between 1860 and 1863 by the
little-known French photographer A. Collard, whose work for the
Departement de Fonts et Cbaussees (Department of Bridges and Roads)
resulted in impressive views that emphasized the geometric
rationality of these structures.
EDOUARD DENIS BALDUS. Pont de la Mulatiere, c. 1855.
Albumen print. International Museum of Photography at George Eastman
House, Rochester, N.Y.
A. COLLARD. Roundhouse on the Bourbonnais Railway, Nevers, 1860-63.
Albumen print. International Museum of Photography at George Eastman
House, Rochester, N.Y.
Baldus, whose other commissions
included the previously mentioned reportage on the Rhone floods and
a documentation of the building of the new Louvre Museum was
entirely committed to the documentary mode. His images established
the paradigm documentary style of the era in that he brought to the
need for informative visual material a sure grasp of pictorial
organization and a feeling for the subtleties of light, producing
works that transcend immediate function to afford pleasure in their
formal resolution. When increasing commercialization—the need to
mass-produce albumen prints for indiscriminate buyers of
stereographs and tourist images—made this approach documentation
financially untenable, Baldus turned to re-printing his negatives
and reproducing his work in gravure rather than alter the high
standards he had set for himself. His attitude may be compared with
that of William England, a highly competent British photographer who
traveled widely to provide his publisher with images for
stereoscopes and albums. As John Szarkowski has pointed out,
England's view of the Niagara Suspension Bridge has something for
everyone—scenery, human interest, an engineering marvel, and the
contrast between old and new means of transportation. Nevertheless,
though well-composed and satisfying as a document, it lacks the
inspired tension that put Baldus's work onto another plane of visual
experience, perhaps because its aim was simply to provide the kinds
of information the public wanted in the clearest fashion.
WILLIAM ENGLAND. Niagara Suspension
Albumen print. Museum of Modem Art, New York.
The character of new engineering
materials and construction methods that were altering the appearance
of Europe at mid-century seems to have had a special appeal to
photographers called upon to document bridges and railway
construction. To select only one example, Two Bridges, a work by
Louis Auguste Bisson whose portrait firm sought to expand with such
documentary commissions, explores the geometries of are and
rectangles to enhance the contrast between the traditional stone of
the past and the modern metal span. At times, fascination with the
design properties of construction materials became so pronounced as
to almost obscure the utilitarian purpose of the structure; in an
1884 image of the building of the Forth Bridge in Scotland by an
unknown photographer, the angled beams take on an animated life of
their own, swallowing up the small figures in the foreground.
Photographs of industrial activity
that included the work force also were made, although often they
were less formally conceived. Taken for a variety of purposes—as a
record of engineering progress, as material for illustrators —many
such records were not deemed important, with the result that in time
the names of the makers or the particulars of their careers became
lost. Yet these images, too, can exert a spell through a formal
structure that converts mundane activity, such as work, into
evocative experience. Few images in either Europe or the Americas
were concerned with the actual conditions of work, an interest that
did not manifest itself photographically until late in the century.
AUGUSTE ROSALIE and AUGUSTE BISSON. Two Bridges, n.d.
Albumen print. Bibliotlieque Nationale, Paris.
UNKNOWN PHOTOGRAPHER (probably
Scottish). Construction of the forth Bridge, c. 1884.
Gelatin silver print. Collection Centre Canadien d''Architecture/
Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal.
Fortunately, Europeans did not heed
Holmes's quintessentially American view that the artifacts
themselves might be dispensed with as long as their images remained;
intead, their goal was to disinter and relocate actual objects.
Though frequently wrenched from historical context and incorrectly
restored, these works confirmed a sense of continuous history for
Europeans experiencing the unsettling advance of industrialization.
The excavation, transportation, and restoration of this cultural
booty produced some visually stimulating camera images. Almost even,
aspect of industrial Europe's romance with the past, from the
pilgrimage to ancient lands, to the installation of the object in a
modern setting was captured by the camera. And while by mid-century
European museums already had become the repositories of statuary and
decorative objects from all over the ancient world, the growing
popular interest in archeology and its finds must be attributed in
some measure to the camera.
Monumental contemporary works of
statuary also provided subjects for photographers intrigued by the
contrast in scale afforded by such pieces. The documentation of the
production of the Statue of Liberty in France, by Albert Fernique,
and its installation in the United States was just one of a number
of such picturizations of an activity that was going on in other
industrial countries. too. One suspects that the amusing contrast
between the lively figures of the real workmen and the grandiose
inertia of the idealized effigy, seen in this work and also in Alois
Locherer's record of the construction and transport of the mammoth
statue Bavaria, constituted at least part of the appeal of such
HENRI Ascending the Great Pyramid, c. 1878. Phototype from L'Egypte
et la Nubie, 1888.
Charles Edwin Wilbour Library of Egyptology, Brooklyn Museum.
PHILIP HENRY DELAMOTTE. Setting up the Cobssi of Rameses the Great,
Albumen print. Greater London History Library.
ALBERT FERNIQUE (?). Construction of the Statue of Liberty, Workshop
View, Paris, c. 1880.
Albumen print. Rare Books and Manuscripts Division, New York Public
Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.
ALOIS LOCHERER. Transport of the Bavaria (Torso), 1850.
Albumen print. Agfa-Gevaert Foto-Historama, Cologne, Germany.
Camera Documentation: United States
Camera documentation of industrial
progress in North America differed significantly from that of
Europe, primarily because of America's lack of historical
monument-and its attitude to photography in general. Drawn largeh
from the ranks of graphic artists, mid-century Europcar.
photographers were influenced by attiaides instilled in them about
art in general, but in the "new world" sound academic training in
the arts was limited. With few exceptions, Americans regarded
photography as a business and the camera as a tool with which to
record information. Neither poets nor reformers, many photographers
in the United States were unconcerned with subtleties, endeavoring
instead to present material objects in a clear-cut and competent
fashion without involvement in the artistic effects of light and
shade or unusual compositional angles. This said, it still is
curious that in a country so consumed by interest in mechanical
devices, few images that take advantage of the forceful geometry of
engineering structures were made. From the daguerreotype era to the
end of the century, when Americans photographed bridges, railways,
machinery, and buildings—emblems of the growing industrialization of
the nation—their major concern was to be informative rather than
inspirational. The choice of camera position in Brooklyn Bridge
Under Construction (by an unknown photographer) diminishes the scale
and beauty of the pylons in order to direct attention The
transformation of Paris from a medieval to a modern city, ordered by
Prefect of the Seine Baron Haussmann (who took office in 1853),
provided an exceptional opportunity for urban camera documentation.
Old buildings and neighborhoods scheduled for demolition were
photographed in collodion in the 1860s by Charles Marville. a former
illustrator, whose early work in the waxed-papet process appeared in
many of Blanquart-Evrard's publications. These images display a
poignant regard for the character and texture of vanishing ways,
indicating again that documentary records might be invested with
poetic dimension. Working on his own (after recovering from the
disappointing events of 1839, in which his own paper process was
suppressed), Hippolyte Bayard made decorous views of the streets and
buildings of Paris. In all major cities, the urban milieu offered
photographers a chance to capture the contrast of old and new and
also to document aspects of anonymous street life, producing views
that after 1859 were much in demand by the buyers of stereographs.
UNKNOWN PHOTOGRAPHER. Brooklyn Bridge under Construction, c. 1878.
Albumen print. New-York Historical Society, New York.
CHARLES MARVILLE. Tearing Down the Avenue of the Opera, c. 1865.
Albumen print. Musec Carnavalet, Paris.
Another aspect of Victorian
photographic activity concerned the appropriation of the physical
remains of the past. Popular interest in archeology, initiated in
the 18th century with the finds at Troy, Pompeii, and Herculaneum,
was further stimulated by the acquisition of works unearthed by
19th-century European scholars and diplomats investigating ancient
cultures in Egypt, Greece, and the Near East, often while pursuing
Typical of the many views of this project, the image falls short of
embodying the daring energy which the bridge itself still
symbolizes. In comparison, Canadian William Norman's 1859 photograph
of the framework and tubing of the Victoria Bridge creates an
arresting visual pattern that also is suggestive of the thrust and
power of the structure. As F. Jack Hurley points out, 19th-century
photographs of American industry concentrate on depicting the
individuals responsible for "taming, dominating and bending to their
wills ... the vast virginity of the continent" rather than on the
expressive possibilities inherent in structural and mechanical
WILLIAM NOTMAN. Victoria Bridge, Framework of Tube and Staging,
Looking in, May, 1859.
Albumen print. Notman Photographic Archives, McCord Museum, McGill
However, there are exceptions: in
the years following the Civil War, photographic documentation of the
western rail routes—in particular the construction of track-beds and
spans and the laying of rails—resulted in images of decided visual
impact. Inspired by the grandeur of the wilderness, the
photographers, among them Alexander Gardner, Alfred A. Hart, William
Henry Jackson, Andrew Joseph Russell, and Charles R. Savage,
recorded not only actual construction but settlements along the way,
unusual vegetation, geological formations, and Indian tribal life.
The best-known of these images—a work by Russell of the joining of
the cross-continental tracks at Promontory Point, Utah Territory, in
1869 —is in the mainstream tradition of American documentation, with
workers and dignitaries the focus of the celebratory occasion, but
in other works, typified by Russell's The Construction of the
Railroad at Citadel Rock, landscape predominates—the understandable
effect of an attitude that regarded the western wilderness with
near-religious awe. Many of Russell's images emphasize curving rails
and intricately constructed bridge spans, foreshadowing the
hand-ling of similar themes by William Rau, official photographer of
the Pennsylvania and Lehigh Valley railroads at the end of the
century. The clean, formal organization of track-beds and rails in
Rau's images suggests that industrial might had emerged without
trauma or exertion—a view that was to gain ascendancy in visual
expressions of machine culture in the 1920s. As was true of western
scenic photographs, railroad images were sold in stereo-graph and
large-format, used to make up presentation albums, shown in
photographic exhibitions, and copied by engravers for the
RUSSELL. Meeting of the Rails, Promontory Point, Utah, 1869.
Union Pacific Historical Museum, Omaha, Neb.
ANDREW J. RUSSELL. The Construction of the Railroad at Citadel Rock,
Green River, Wyoming, 1867-68.
Albumen print. Western Americana Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and
Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.
WILLIAM RAU. New Main Line at Duncannon, 1906.
Gelatin silver print. J. Paul Gettv Museum, Los Angeles.
Newsworthy Events and Instantaneous
Large-format documentary images
required that human figures, when included, remain still during
exposure, as can be seen in the posed stance of the workers in the
Russell photograph. Recording events that were in a state of flux on
this size plate would have resulted in blurring sections of the
image, an effect that 19th-century viewers regarded as a sign of
imperfection. In fact, during the 1840s and '50s, in order to
present occurrences in which there was continuous, if not very
rapid, action, it was necessary to restage the scene, as was done
for the daguerreotypes by Southworth and Hawes taken in the
operating room of Massachusetts General Hospital in 1848.
Nonetheless, the inadequacy of the earliest technology had not
prevented daguerreotypists from attempting to capture images of
fires, floods, and storms—catastrophes over which people have little
control but show strong interest in. George N. Barnard was able to
make a daguereotype during an actual conflagration that took place
in Oswego, New York, in 1851. Even after glass plates took over,
however, on-the-spot news photography was difficult because the
photographer had to arrive on the scene armed with chemicals and
equipment to sensitize the plates before they could be exposed in
the camera. Luck obviously played a great role in mid-19th-century
documentation of such events, which frequently were translated into
engravings in the illustrated press.
ALBERT SANDS SOUTHWORTH and JOSIAH
JOHNSON HAWES. Operating Room, Massachusetts General Hospital, Woman
Daguerreotype. Massachusetts General Hospital News Office, Boston.
GEORGE N. BARNARD. Burning Mills, Osweao, New Tork, 1851.
International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House,
With the perfection during the
1850s of shorter focal-length (41/2 to 5 inches) stereographic
cameras, accompanied by the publication in 1856 of Sir David
Brewster's manual on stereography, photography became capable of
freezing certain kinds of action. "Instantaneous" views made in
stereograph format began to appear around 1858; among the earliest
in America was a series taken of long stretches of lower Broadway,
commissioned by the E. and H. T. Anthony Company, of which this
street scene is a typical example. In Great Britain, William England
and George Washington Wilson began to market "instantaneous" images
of crowded street scenes while Adolphe Braun and Hippolyte Jouvin
were involved with the same kind of imagery in France. In addition
to the stereograph cameras produced in all three countries, small
singlelens apparatuses designed to arrest action began to appear,
but despite these refinements, collodion technology still was
burdensome, preventing action photography of the sophistication and
speed to which modern viewers are accustomed.
EDWARD ANTHONY. New Tork Street Scene,
One-half of an albumen stereograpt Collection George R. Rinnan.
HIPPOLYTE JOOVIN. Porte St. Denis, Paris, c. 1860.
Albumen stereograph. Collection Ivan Christ, Paris.
Documentation: Daily Life and
Curiosity about the everyday lives
of the world's peoples predates the invention of photography, but as
industrial nations involved themselves in imperialist adventures
around the globe, the camera emerged as a most apt tool for
satisfying the thirst for sociological information that emerged.
Between 1855 and about 1880, collodion/albumen technology made it
possible for resolute photographers, both amateur and professional,
to follow their countrymen to Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the
Near East in order to record, besides scenery, aspects of daily life
and ethnic customs. Though under the impression that these
documentations were "objective"—that is, truthful records of what
exists—those behind the cameras were guided in their selection and
treatment of material both by a sense of being emissaries of a
"higher civilization,"7 as John Thomson called it, and by the desire
for commercial success. Nevertheless, despite assumptions of
superiority, the close observation of indigenous customs altered
ethnocentrie attitudes and in some cases even evoked admiration for
elements of so-called "backward" cultures among photographers.
India under British rule provided
the greatest opportunity to satisfy the desire for this kind of
imagery on the part of occupying residents and folks back home.
Among those portraying native life in the areas where Britons
maintained interests in the jute, tea, and teak industries were
Felice Beato (a naturalized British subject of Italian birth whose
biography has recently emerged), Samuel Bourne (whose catalog
listings included "Groups of Native Characters'), and John Burke,
who worked in the Punjab and in Kashmir before recording the course
of the Second Afghan War. The now little-known William Johnson, a
founder of the Bombay Photographic Society, published his views of
Indian teachers, vendors, and workers periodically in 1856 in The
Indian Amateur's Photographic Album and then in a single volume
containing 61 photographs. Group of Cotton Carders has a mannered
quality common to many such staged indoor scenes of the time,
whereas the out-of-doors settings that served as the locales for
Captain Willoughby Wallace Hooper gave his images of lower-caste
Hindu life and famine victims a more natural-looking aspect.
WILLIAM JOHNSON. Group of Cotton C from The Indian Amateur's
Photographic Album. 1856.
Albumen print. India Office Library and Records Department, British
Known or unknown, British
photographers sent to oversee or to document colonial activities in
other parts of the empire on which "the sun never set" sent home
views of the native peoples of South Africa, Australia, and New
Zealand, as well as of India. The effects on Western viewers of
scores of camera pictures of scantily clad, sometimes tattooed or
painted humans of color from unindustrialized parts of the world are
difficult to determine. No doubt as a group these images stimulated
19th-century positivists in their quest for anthropological
information, but whether they reinforced dominant stereotypes
against nonwhites or made viewers more conscious of individual
differences among subjected peoples depended in part on the
indi-vidual photographer's attitude and approach and in part on the
context in which they were seen.
In China, posed studio photographs
simulating typical occupations appeared on cartes-de-visite made in
the port cities during the 1850s, but actual views of street life
did not reach the West until John Thomson issued Illustrations of
China and Its People in 1873-74. The 200 photographs reproduced in
heliotype with descriptive texts—the result of nearly five years
spent in Hong Kong, Formosa, and on the mainland—include, besides
portraits and scenery, images of people engaged in mundane
activities, among them Itinerant Tradesmen, Kiu Kiang Kiangsi. This
image may suggest a staged view, but its sharpness and detail were
meant to convince 19th-century viewers of the reality of a scene
happened upon by accident.
JOHN THOMSON. Itinerant Tradesman, Kiu Kiang Kiangsi, c. 1868.
Albumen print. Philadelphia Museum of Art; Purchase of Stieglitz
Views of everyday life in Japan
(based on photographs) appeared in the Illustrated London News soon
after the country was opened to Western exploitation by Commodore
Matthew C. Perry; on that occasion, a camera was given to the
shogun. The peripatetic Felice Beato arrived in Japan about 1863,
and five years later his Photographic Views of Japan with Historical
and Descriptive Notes appeared; one of its two volumes is devoted to
"Native Types." Though similar in intent to Thomson's views of
China, many of Beato's portrayals depict aristocrats, military men,
laborers, vendors, and geisha posed in the studio holding emblems of
their rank or trade. Gracefully composed against simple backgrounds
and delicately hand-colored by Japanese artists, these works suggest
the influence of the decorative ukiyo-e woodblock depictions of
daily life. Similar amalgams of sociological information and
artistic effect designed to attract travelers constitute the work of
Baron Reteniz von Stillfried, an Austrian who settled in Yokohama in
1871, bought Beato's studio, and produced, with a partner and
Japanese assistants, an album entitled Views and Costumes of Japan.
The genre was further refined by the Japanese photographer Kusakabc
Kimbei, an assistant to von Stillfried who took over the latter's
studio around 1885-Following the Meiji Restoration of the late
1860s, which introduced modern industrial ideas to Japan,
photography began to spread; by 1877 there were 100 photographers in
Tokyo alone, working mainly for the wealthy.
BARON RETENIZ VON STILLFRIED. Rain
Shower in the Studio, c. 1875.
Albumen print. International Museum of Photography at George Eastman
House, Rochester, N.Y.
KUSAKABE KIMBEI. Drill of Japanese Fire Brigade, c. 1890.
International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House,
Baron Raimund von Stillfried
Also known as Baron Raimund von
Stillfried-Rathenitz (6 August 1839 - 12 August 1911), was an
Austrian photographer. After leaving his military career Stillfried
moved to Yokohama, Japan and opened a photographic studio called
Stillfried & Co. which operated until 1875. In 1875 Stillfried
formed a partnership with Hermann Andersen and the studio was
renamed, Stillfried & Andersen (also known as the Japan Photographic
Association). This studio operated until 1885. In 1877 Stillfried &
Andersen bought the studio and stock of Felice Beato. In the late
1870s Stillfried visited and photographed in Dalmatia, Bosnia, and
Greece. In addition to his own photographic endeavours, Stillfried
trained many Japanese photographers. In 1886 Stillfried sold the
majority of his stock to his protégé, the Japanese photographer
Kusakabe Kimbei, he then left Japan.
BARON RETENIZ VON STILLFRIED.
Kamibashi Bridge, the Otani River
BARON RETENIZ VON STILLFRIED.
A woman scooping water
Tribal peoples played similar roles
for those intrigued by exotic customs in the western hemisphere. In
the United States, railroad, survey, and frontier photographers—
including Gardner, Jackson, and John K. Hillers (first official
photographer for the Bureau of Ethnology)—documented Indian life in
the course of other work. To the nordi, Humphrey Lloyd Hime included
"native races" in his portfolio on the Assiniboine and Saskatchewan
expeditions in 1858. As the open lands and simple life of the West
began to attract escapees from densely setdcd industrialized regions
(and nations), straightforward documentation of Indian life became
tinged with idealizing intentions. Individuals such as Adam Clark
Vroman, a California bookseller who first accompanied a party of
ethnologists to the Southwest in 1895, used the camera to emphasize
the dignity, industriousness, and charm of the Hopi and Zuni as well
as to depict their customs and ceremonies. Besides donating images
to the Bureau of Ethnology archives, Vroman employed them in slide
lectures and publications. Ten or so years later, the photographic
logging of archaeological excavations was introduced by the Harvard
professor George Reisncr.
ADAM CLARK VROMAN. Hopi Maiden. c. 1902.
Platinum print. Private Collection.
In the same era, Edward S. Curtis,
an ambitious commercial photographer in Seattle, felt moved to
record vestiges of the culture of what he perceived as a "vanishing
race," eventually creating a 20-volume survey of the customs,
habitations, and dress of the Indians of North America. Supported
initially by financial help from the investment banker J. P. Morgan,
Curtis saw tribal life through a veil of cultural preconceptions
that at times led him to introduce into his documentation
traditional costumes and artifacts no longer in general use. Working
at a time before standards for ethnological photography had been
formulated, Curtis treated this subject matter aesthetically,
softening forms and obscuring detail to emphasize his overall
concept of the mythic nature of American Indian life. Often haunting
in character, these images of Native American life could be
considered within the framework of Pictorialism rather than of
documentation. Similarly, Portrait of Mother and Child, Ungava
Peninsula, one of some 1,500 still photographs by the filmmaker
Robert Flaherty (whose wife, Frances, often worked with him),
combines sociological information with a heroicizing vision that
celebrates the unspoiled essence of Inuit life.
EDWARD S. CURTIS. The Vanishing Race, c. 1904.
Platinum print. San Francisco Museum of Modem Art; extended loan of
Van Deren Coke.
ROBERT FLAHERTY. Portrait of Mother and Child, Ungava Peninsula,
Gelatin silver print. Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa
Scientific and Medical
The second half of the 19th century
was also an era of expanding use of photography in connection with
scientific documentation. The first daguerreotype microphotographs,
by John Benjamin Dancer in the 1840s, reduced a 20-inch document to
1/8 of an inch using a camera with a microscope lens. Other early
experiments in both calotype and daguerreotype produced micrographs
of bones, teeth, butterfly wings, and seed pods that were harbingers
of the contributions anticipated when the camera was harnessed to
the microscope. However, the daguerreotype was too unwieldy and the
calotype too indistinct to be of great service to science, even
though a textbook and atlas based on micro-daguerreotypes taken by
Jean Bernard Foucault was issued by Alfred Donne, the chief clinical
physician of a Paris hospital, in 1845. With the development of the
glass-plate negative, along with the refinement of microscopes,
lenses, and shutters, evermore-minute analyses of unseen and barely
seen forms and structures became possible. An important contribution
in this advance was Human Physiology by Professor John William
Draper, whose portrait experiments were discussed in Chapter 2.
Published in 1856 with woodcuts based on photographs, it was,
according to Harper's New Monthly Magazine, the first "attempt... on
an extensive scale to illustrate a book on exact science with the
aid of photography." Not long afterward, the first text on the use
of photography in microscopic research was written by a German
physiologist, Joseph Gerlach, according to Alison Gernsheim (one of
the first writers to investigate the historical uses of the camera
in medicine). A Photographic Atlas of the Nervous System of the
Human Frame was projected for publication in Munich in 1861.
Used at first in England and
Germany to provide before-and-after records, camera images soon
began to illustrate medical texts on diverse problems, from skin
lesions to glandular and skeletal aberrations. In 1858, the London
Photographic Journal prophesied that every medical school soon would
be furnished with a library of photographic illustrations of
disease, and by 1861 the medical profession acknowledged that
stereographs and the stereoscope had become "important adjuncts to
the microscope for representing the appearance of different phases
In the study of mental instability,
photography assumed administrative, diagnostic, and therapeutic
functions. Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond's 1852 portraits taken in a mental
asylum have been mentioned, but photography already had been used a
year earlier as a component of a concept known as "moral
treatment"—an intervention that sought to provide confined mental
patients with antidotes to boredom and nonconstructive activity by
showing them lantern slides. In what may have been the first use of
photographic rather than hand-painted slides, the Langenheim
brothers collaborated with the chief physician of the Philadelphia
Hospital for the Insane in this magic-lantern therapy.
The Documentation of Wars and
War coverage did not really become
feasible until the collodion era. It was obvious from the first that
the slow, one-of-a-kind daguerreotype was ill suited for war
coverage, although some portraits of army personnel were made by
this method. The laborious procedures of the calotype process,
although used by Bayard to depict the barricades set up in Paris
during the revolution of 1848 and by British Army surgeon John
McCosh to record episodes in the wars between British and native
troops in India and Burma in the mid-19th century, made it, also, a
difficult technique for successful battlefield photography.
Collodion glass-plate photographers showed themselves capable of
exceptional documentation of actuality in relation to military
conflicts, perhaps because they recognized that such events were of
unusual historical significance. Though somewhat static by modern
standards, compelling images of imperialistic adventures, civil
disorders, and revolutionary uprisings often go beyond the
description o surface appearance to express in visual terms the
psychological and physical trauma that such conflicts occasion.
HIPPOLYTE BAYARD. Remains of the Barricades of the Revolution of
1848, rue Royale, Paris, 1849.
Albumen print. Societe Franc,aise de Photographic Paris.
The awkwardness for the
photographer of transporting an entire darkroom and of processing
the plates on the battlefield is hard to imagine. This incumbrance
was balanced, however, by the wet plate's capacity for sharply
defined images that could be easily duplicated—factors that made the
commercialization of such photographs possible. Still, those working
in collodion concentrated on portraying war-related activities
rather than action under fire, in part for logistical reasons but
also because documentary images were expected to be in sharp focus,
a virtual impossibility for photographers using the collodion
process in the midst of battle. The documentation of army life by Le
Gray made at an encampment of soldiers during peacetime reflects the
near religious exultation with which Napoleon III regarded his army
camp at Chalons.
GUSTAVE LE GRAY. Souvenirs du Camp de Chalons au General Decaen,
Albumen print. Collection Paul F. Walter, New York; Museum of Modern
Art, New York
Photography entered the arena of
war on the wings of politics. Ironically, the first large group of
sustained images that have survived was commissioned because the
British Establishment wished to present evidence to controvert
written reports by William Russell, correspondent for The Times of
London, detailing the gross inefficiency of military leaders during
the Crimean War. The images were made by Roger Fenton, a founder of
the elitist Photographic Society of London, during four months spent
with the British Army at Sebastopol on the shores of the Black Sea.
Bankrolled by a Manchester publishing firm and blessed by Prince
Albert, Fenton arrived at Balaclava Harbor in March, 1855, with two
assistants, five cameras, 700 glass plates, and a horse-drawn van
(formerly that of a wine merchant) converted into a darkroom.
Working at times in insufferable heat, with plates constantly being
ruined by dust and insects, and besieged by the curious crowds of
soldiers that flocked around begging for portraits, he complained of
getting little done, but by the time he arrived back in England he
had produced some 360 photographs.
To modern eyes, these images,
especially the portraits, may seem static and contrived. This was
partly the result of the limitations of collodion—exposures required
from about 3 to 20 seconds—but their character also reflects
Fenton's commission to present British Army personnel and ordnance
in the best light. Lt. Col. Hallewell—28th Regiment—His Day's Work
Over, an almost bucolic scene despite the embattled surroundings in
which class hierarchies are still—incredibly—observed, is typical of
many of the portraits. At the same time, Fenton acknowledged a
broader mission. Noting that despite the arduous-ness of the project
he could not leave until he had "secured pictures and subjects most
likely to be historically interesting," he made views of the harbor
and deserted battlefields that are visual expressions of the
suffering and destruction, of the longing for home, of which he
wrote so movingly.
ROGER FENTON. Lt. Col. Hallewell—28th Regiment—His Day's Work Over,
Albumen print. National Army Museum, London.
James Robertson, the British
Superintendent of the Mint at Constantinople, who for 15 years had
been making occasional scenic photographs of the Near East, took
over in the Crimea after Fenton returned to England. The 60 or so
images he produced after the British had conquered Sebastopol arc
well-composed but far less artful documents of ruins, docks,
left-over ammunition piles, and hospital facilities. Among the
evidences of the disastrous incursions wrought by foreign forces on
the landscape is a view by Robertson of Balaclava Harbor showing an
army encampment in what formerly had been a magnificent wooded
wilderness. Both Fenton and Robert-son's photographs were assembled
into presentation albums for British and French royalty, were
exhibited in London and Paris, and sold individually in these cities
and New York; in addition, they provided material for engraved
illustrations in the London press.
JAMES ROBERTSON. Balaclava Harbor,
Crimean War, 1855.
Albumen print. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Photographs of desolation and
destruction, among them Fenton's own Valley of the Shadow of Death,
had a profound effect on viewers used to artistic depictions of
wartime heroics. They were completely unlike drawings made by
artists sent to the Crimea, which Fenton criticized for their "total
want of likeness to reality. The absence of uplifting tone in camera
documentations was especially shocking because the images were
unhesitatingly accepted as real and truthful; indeed, discussing
Fenton's Crimean pictures in a review of 1855, an Art Journal critic
held that the "palpable reality" of which the camera was capable
could be matched by no other descriptive means. Robertson's
photographs received fewer accolades, and one wonders if the warmer
reception of Fenton's work was a consequence of his friendships
among the British upper class. However, by the time Robertson's
images were exhibited, the war was about over, and public sentiment
in Britain had turned from concern to indifference, with the result
that even Fenton's work did not sell to the extent anticipated by
ROGER FENTON. Valley of the Shadow of
Albumen print. Science Museum, London.
No full-scale wars occupied
Europeans for the remainder of the century, but uprisings, mutinies,
and imperialist adventures were fairly continuous on the Continent,
and in Africa, the Far East, and Latin America. Returning from the
Crimea to Constantinople, Robertson and his former partner, Felice
Beato, traveled east to record the aftermath of the Indian Mutiny of
1857, in which the Indian Sepoy regiments rebelled (unsuccessfully)
against the British garrisons and, ultimately, against British rule
in India. In addition to an interest in architecture, social
customs, and landscape, Beato apparently was fascinated by scenes of
devastation. In China in 1860 he documented the destruction of the
Taku forts near Tientsin (Tianjin) during the Second Opium War,
then, in Japan, die fighting at Shimonoseki Strait, and, during the
1880s, he turned up on the battlefields of the Sudan. Carefully
composed and printed, his photographs present the aftermath of
battles somewhat in the manner of ghoulish still lifes, an approach
that has been characterized as ""distant and detached." However,
considering the state of photographic technology, the fact that
Beato was an outsider representing an oppressor nation in both China
and Japan, and that the public was as yet unused to such
photodocumentation, the reproach may be irrelevant; these images
must have evoked a powerful response that current jaded perceptions
can no longer imagine. Others whose approach to war documentation
was also that of a "distant witness," but whose work has less visual
interest, were John Burke, working in India and Afghanistan in the
1870s, and Sergeant Harrold, photographing for the British Royal
Engineers in Abyssinia between 1868 and 1870.
FELICE BEATO. Embrasure, Taku Fort, 1860.
Albumen print. National Army Museum, London.
Between 1855 and 1870, camera
images of wars and insurrections generally were accepted as
truthful, if painful, mirrors of reality, but after the Paris
Commune of 1871, other issues emerged in connection with
documentations of politically controversial events. One involved the
uses to which such photographs might be put, a problem that arose
when portraits of the Communard leaders, made during the brief
two-and-one-half months of their ascendancy, were used afterward by
political opponents to identify and round up participants for trial
and execution. The other problem concerned authenticity; documents
purported to be of Communard atrocities were later shown to be fakes
(pi. no. 206) issued by the Thiers government that took power after
the fall of the Commune. Though not the first time that photographs
had been doctored, the acknowledgment that documentary images could
be altered marked the end of an era that had believed that such
photographs might be pardoned anything because of their redeeming
UNKNOWN PHOTOGRAPHER. Communards in Their Coffins, May, 1871.
Albumen print. Gemsheim Collection, Humanities Research Center,
University of Texas, Austin
EUGENE APPERT. The Massacre of the Arcueil Dominicans, May 25, 1871.
Albumen print. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.
Documenting the Civil War in the
The American Civil War was the
first conflict to be thoroughly photographed, with cameramen on hand
from the early Union defeat at Bull Run in 1861 to the final
surrender of the Confederate forces at Appomattox in 1865. The
thousands of photographs that issued from this enterprise were
considered by William Hoppin, a prominent member of the New-York
Historical Society at the time, to be "by far the most important
additions to the pictorial history of the war." Hoppin went on to
suggest that because successful views of action were not possible
under battle conditions, most of the images were of the dead or
dying, but, in fact, photographers documented a broad range of
behind-the-lines activities. In today's terms, the frontal poses and
clearly defined detail in the majority of images have a static
quality that has been ascribed, generally, to the limitations of
collodion technology. However, ideological factors also were
significant; in order to accept the photograph "as an unmediated
medium of picture-making," viewers expected the image to appear
technically unflawed, to be clear, inclusive, and finely detailed—
indeed, to present itself as reality itself.
There can be little disagreement
that the extensive coverage and excellent quality of Civil War
photography stemmed largely from Mathew Brady's visionary belief in
the role of the camera as historian, even though it is now
acknowledged that he actually made few of the images that bore his
name. Convinced, as were most people at the time that the conflict
would be of short duration, Brady claimed to have obeyed an inner
"spirit" that commanded him to leave his lucrative portrait business
to demonstrate the role that photography might play in the conflict.
In truth, his connections with influential Northern politicians made
it possible for him to outfit a wagon darkroom and participate in
the First Battle of Bull Run in July, 1861.From then on, Brady
regarded himself as an "impresario" —organizer, supplier, and
publisher—for a corps of about 20 men, among them the former
employees of the Brady portrait studios, Gardner and Timothy
O'Sullivan. Using 16 x 20 inch, 8 x 10 inch, and stereograph
cameras, these men photographed bridges, supply lines, bivouacs,
camps, the weary, the bored, the wounded, and the dead—just about
everything except actual battles, which would not have been sharp
because exposure time was still counted in seconds. Published as
Incidents of the War, and sold by Brady and the Anthonys, the images
appeared with the Brady imprint only. This angered Gardner (and
others) and led to the establishment in 1863 of an independent corps
and publishing enterprise that credited the images to the individual
photographers. Although most cameramen working during the Civil War
were attached to units of the U.S. Army, George Cook, a
daguerreotypist in Charleston who had managed Brady's New York
studio in 1851, photographed for die Confederate forces.
MATHEW BRADY. Landing Supplies on the James River, c. 1861.
Albumen print. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
GEORGE COOK. Charleston Cadets Guarding Yankee Prisoners, 1861.
Albumen print. Cook Collection, Valentine Museum, Richmond, Va.
Much scholarship has gone into
separating the work of the various Brady field operatives, with the
result that our knowledge and appreciation of individual
contributions have increased, but the effect of die enormous body of
work—some seven to eight thousand images—is and was independent of
considerations of attribution. The extensive coverage also reflected
the increased need by the contemporary media—the weekly illustrated
journals Harper's and Frank Leslie's—for images of catastrophic
events. By reproducing on-the-spot graphic illustrations, and hiring
artists to transform photographs into wood engravings, these
magazines brought the battlegrounds into comfortable drawing rooms
for the first time. As die documentation proceeded, readers of the
illustrated press and purchasers of stereograph views were made
acutely aware of what the New York Times called "the terrible
reality." A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, taken by
O'Sullivan (printed by Gardner) and later included in Gardner's
Photographic Sketchbook of the Civil War, is a pictorial evocation
rather than merely an illustration in that it encapsulates the tone
of Lincoln's sorrowful words commemorating the battle. It brought
home the anonymity of modern warfare, in which it was realized that
shoeless soldiers, their pockets turned out, "will surely be buried
unknown by strangers, and in a strange land." The haunting stillness
of Ruins of Richmond, made toward the end of the war and frequently
attributed to Gardner, is a quintessential evocation of the
desolation occasioned by four years of death and destruction.
TIMOTHY H. O'SULLIVAN (originally
printed by Alexander Gardner). A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg,
Pennsivania. July. 18
Albumen print. Rare Books and Manuscript Division, New York Public
Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.
UNKNOWN PHOTOGRAPHER. Ruins of Richmond, 1865.
Albumen print Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Civil War reportage owed its
successes also to the readiness of the military to accept
photography as a new visual tool, hiring photographers other than
"Brady's Men" to work with various units. Barnard, the
well-respected former daguerreotypist, worked with Brady briefly and
then was attached to the Military Division of the Mississippi, where
he documented the aftermath of General Sherman's march across
Georgia in 1863; three years later he published a selection of
images as Photographic Views of Sherman's Campaign. The surpassing
"delicacy of execution . . . scope of treatment and . .. fidelity of
impression," noted by a reviewer for Harper's Weekly, are evidences
of Barnard's commitment to a style that included the printing-in of
sky negatives when he believed they might enhance the truthfulness
of the image. One such photograph, a view of die deserted rebel
works occupied by Sherman's forces following the battle that
delivered Atlanta to the Union Army, is especially moving as an
emblem of the nation's psychological and physical exhaustion.
Sometime around the surrender of
the Confederate Army at Appomattox, April 10, 1865, Gardner took
what would be the last portrait of Lincoln. Following the
assassination, he photographed the President's corpse four days
later, and arranged to make portraits of those involved in the plot.
Gardner was on hand July 7, 1865, with camera set up on a balcony
overlooking the Arsenal Penitentiary courtyard, and from this
position he made a sequence of exposures of the hangings of the
conspirators—one of the earliest photographic essays on a specific
event of political or social significance. The views that issued
from this seminal documentation constitute a bleakly powerful story.
War photographers of the collodion
period were interested in objectivity and craftsmanship. Through
choice of subject, position, and exposure, they attempted to preseni
accurately the localities, events, and methods of war, in the light
of what they conceived to be the national interest. While close-ups,
blurring, and distortion—the modern stylistic devices used by
contemporary photographers in conflict situations—would have been
antithetical to both the goals of the photographers and the desire
by the public for clear pictorial records, there still was a need to
invest the images with dramatic qualities consistent with their
objectives but transcending temporal limitations. One frequently
used approach was to incorporate silhouetted forms and figures
within the frame; the stark Ruins of Richmond and Gardner's General
John F. Hatrtranft Reading the Death Warrant illustrate how this
stylistic device serves to isolate and emphasize certain forms while
investing the image with a sense of timelessness.
GEORGE N. BARNARD. Rebel Works in
Front of Atlanta, Georgia, 1864.
Albumen print. Stuart Collection, Rare Books Division, New York
Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.
Photographic Documentation and
Pictorial documentation of the
Crimean and Civil wars was commissioned also of graphic artists by
periodical publications on both sides of the Atlantic. In fact, the
illustrator Alfred Waud, a competent if uninspired drafts-man,
accompanied Brady on his first foray. Today, the most renowned of
the Civil War "sketch artists" is Winslow Homer, at the time a young
unknown sent by Harper's Weekly to cover front-line action in 1861.
Besides turning out on-the-spot drawings that engravers converted
into magazine illustrations, Homer collected material that he
developed into paintings to create the only body of work of
consistently high caliber with the Civil War as theme. His
unconventional realism and his preference for mundane scenes that
express the human side of army experience imbue these oils with a
nonheroic modernity similar to that found in many camera images of
the war. Although there is no evidence that Homer used actual
photographs in his compositions of camp-life, his painting, A
Trooper Meditating Beside a Grave, evokes the same sense of direct
experience visible in Three Soldiers, a stereograph by an unknown
Homer aside, there is no question that soon after their appearance,
photographic documentations, with their keen sense of being an
on-the-spot witness to reality, affected the course of the graphic
arts in terms of theme and treatment. Though the camera lens might
seem to be a more efficient tool than the brush for excising
discrete moments of reality, the urge to recreate the daily dramas
of ordinary people and the political events of the time on canvas
also moved painters—especially the group in France known as
Realists. That these artists consciously sought to emulate
photography, to capture "the temporal fragment as the basic unit of
perceived experience," as American art historian Linda Nochlin has
observed, can be seen in the Execution of Maximilian, an 1867 work
by Edouard Manet. Availing himself of news reports and using actual
photographs of the shooting by firing squad as a basis for this
work, the painter endeavored to deheroicize and demythicize a
political occurrence that artists had classically treated with
reverence. By emphasizing what the eye sees rather than invoking
timeless moral or religious truths, both Realist painters and
documentary photographers provided the public with alternative
concepts about valor on the battlefield, triumph in death, and the
sanctity of life.
It is a paradox nevertheless that
documentary photographs are most memorable when they transcend the
specifics of time, place, and purpose, when they invest ordinary
events and objects with enduring resonance. Sensitivity to the
transforming character of light, to the way it structures, reveals,
and dramatizes, enabled 19th-century photographers to infuse
gesture, expression, and, especially, portions of the built and
natural world with feeling. In transmuting bits and pieces of an
uninflected, seamless reality into formally structured entities,
these pioneers of the medium demonstrated the unique potential of
the camera to illuminate as well as record.
UNKNOWN PHOTOGRAPHER. Three Soldiers, 1860s.
One-half of an albumen stereograph. Library of Congress, Washington,
"Gentleman photographer" might be
an apt description of Roger Fenton, although his images are neither
effete nor languid. His outlook, associations, and activities were
re-flections of his firmly established position in the comfortable
reaches of British society in the mid-1800s. For about 15 years,
starting in the late 1840s, he was in the forefront of activity in
the medium, producing art photographs and documentation, traveling
widely, and organizing activities to promote photography. In 1862,
without explanation he suddenly renounced all interest, sold his
equipment and negatives, and returned his mind to the legal
interests that had occupied him before photography.
From his youth, Fenton's interest
was in art rather than in his family's textile and banking
businesses. After graduating from college, he pursued training in
Paris in common with other aspiring painters, studying with the
French salon artist Paul Delaroche in 1841. This fortunate choice
led to an acquaintanceship with photography and with several other
young artists who were interested in the new field, including Le
Gray. Eventually, Fenton returned to England and trained also for a
more practical career in law, but he retained an interest in
painting, exhibiting at the Royal Academy, and in photography,
dabbling in the calotype.
In 1847, he joined with Frederick
Archer, Hugh Welch Diamond, Robert Hunt, and William Newton to form
the Photographic Club of London (also called the Calotypc Club).
Three years later, he proposed the establishmen: of a formal
society, modeled on the French Societe heliographique, that would
meet regularly, publish a journal, and maintain a library and
exhibition rooms. This entity. The Photographic Society of London
(later the Royal Photographic Society), was finally inaugurated in
1853, after the relaxation of a part of Talbot's patent, with Sir
Charles Eastlake as president and Fenton as honorary secretary.
Fenton's influential associations brought about the patron-age of
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert for the new society. In addition,
he was a member of the Photographic Association, a professional
body, and sat on committees to consider problems related to the
fading of paper and copyright laws.
Fenton also photographed. In 1853
he made a number of portraits of the royal family; a year later he
traveled to Russia to document the building of a bridge in Kiev,
stopping to make calotypcs in St. Petersburg and Moscow, as well, On
his return, he was employed by the British Museum to document
collections of classical art and drawings. For a good part of 1855,
he was involved with the Crimean War project, presenting his
pictures and experiences to the crowned heads of Britain and France
and trying to regain his health after a bout with cholera. The next
returned to his post at the museum.
From this time until 1862, he was involved with art photography,
with landscape documentation, with a publication devoted to
engravings made from photographs, and with stereography. After
providing 21 images for a work entitled Stereoscopic Views of
Northern Walesy he contributed regularly to Stereoscopic Magazine, a
publication founded by Lovell Reeves that lasted for about five
years. Aside from the documentations and landscapes already
mentioned, he turned out images of models posed in exotic costumes
and mannered still lifes, some replete with the overdecorated
crockery dear to Victorians.
Fenton did not explain or justify
his abrupt renunciation of photography, but a number of factors
probably were involved. On the technical side, the instability of
paper images continued to present problems; an album of his
photographs done for the British Museum faded for no apparent
reason. Perhaps of greater importance, in view of his own excellent
craftsmanship that has kept most of his work remarkably well
preserved, was the changing attitudes toward the medium that became
apparent as collodion technology turned photography into business.
His arrangements with the British Museum reflected the fact that the
photographer was considered by many to be an artisan with little to
say over the sales of images. Further-more, photographs hung in the
1862 International Exhibition had been relegated to the machinery
section, despite a spirited campaign in the photographic press to
consider them as art. Like contemporaries in France who also
with-drew (Le Gray, Baldus), Fenton may have found these events too
discouraging. In some ways, Fenton's activities are of as great
interest as his images. While he made fine landscapes and still
lifes, and some compelling views of the Crimean conflict, his
campaigns to promote photography are indicative of the concern
displayed by many young camera artists about the rapid
commercialization of the field. In organizing photographic
societies, they were attempting to control and maintain standards
that would prevent the medium from being used as a purely mechanical
picture-maker. This elitism was only partially successful, as first
collodion, then the dry plate, and finally the snapshot camera
pushed photographic practice in the opposite direction, making the
battle for standards a recurring feature in the history of the
ROGER FENTON. Col. Doherty, Officers and Men, 13th Light Dragoons
Roger Fenton (March 20, 1819 -
August 8, 1869) was a pioneering British photographer, one of the
first war photographers.
Roger Fenton was born in Heywood, Lancashire. His grandfather was a
wealthy Lancashire cotton manufacturer and banker, his father a
banker and member of Parliament. Fenton was the fourth of seven
children by his father's first marriage. His father had 10 more
children by his second wife.
In 1838 Fenton went to University College London where he graduated
in 1840 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, having studied English,
mathematics, literature, and logic. In 1841, he began to study law
at University College, evidently sporadically as he did not qualify
as a solicitor until 1847, in part because he had become interested
in studying to be a painter. In Yorkshire in 1843 Fenton married
Grace Elizabeth Maynard, presumably after his first sojourn in Paris
(his passport was issued in 1842) where he may briefly have studied
painting in the studio of Paul Delaroche. When he registered as a
copyist in the Louvre in 1844 he named his teacher as being the
history and portrait painter Michel Martin Drolling, who taught at
the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, but Fenton's name does not appear in the
records of that school. By 1847 Fenton had returned to London where
he continued to study painting now under the tutelage of the history
painter Charles Lucy, who became his friend and with whom, starting
in 1850, he served on the board of the North London School of
Drawing and Modelling. In 1849, 1850, and 1851 he exhibited
paintings in the annual exhibitions of the Royal Academy.
Fenton visited the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in London in 1851
and was impressed by the photography on display there. He then
visited Paris to learn the waxed paper calotype process, most likely
from Gustave Le Gray, its inventor. By 1852 he had photographs
exhibited in England, and travelled to Kiev, Moscow and St.
Petersburg making calotypes there, and photographed views and
architecture around Britain. He published a call for the setting up
of a photographic society.
In 1855 Fenton went to the Crimean War on assignment for the
publisher Thomas Agnew to photograph the troops, with a photographic
assistant Marcus Sparling and a servant and a large van of
equipment. Despite high temperatures, breaking several ribs, and
suffering from cholera, he managed to make over 350 usable large
format negatives. An exhibition of 312 prints was soon on show in
London. Sales were not as good as expected, possibly because the war
had ended. According to Susan Sontag, in her work Regarding the Pain
of Others (ISBN 0-374-24858-3) (2003), Fenton was sent to the
Crimean War as the first official war photographer at the insistence
of Prince Albert. The photographs produced were to be used to offset
the general aversion of the British people to an unpopular war, and
to counteract the antiwar reporting of The Times. The photographs
were to be converted into woodblocks and published in the less
critical Illustrated London News and published in book form and
displayed in a gallery. Fenton avoided making pictures of dead,
injured or mutilated soldiers.
Due to the size and cumbersome nature of his photographic equipment,
Fenton was limited in his choice of motifs. And because of the not
very photosensitive material of his time, he was only able to
produce pictures of unmoving objects, mostly posed pictures. But he
also photographed the landscape, including an area near to where the
Light Brigade - made famous in Tennyson's "Charge of the Light
Brigade" - was ambushed, called The Valley of Death; however,
Fenton's photographs were taken in the similarly named The Valley of
the Shadow of Death. Two pictures were taken of this area, one with
several cannonballs on the road, the other with an empty road.
Opinions differ concerning which one was taken first. Filmmaker
Errol Morris wrote a series of essays canvassing the evidence. He
concluded that the photo without the cannonballs was taken first,
but he remained uncertain about who moved the balls onto the road in
the second picture - were they deliberately placed on the road by
Fenton to enhance the image, or were soldiers in the process of
removing them for reuse?
Several of Fenton's pictures, including the two versions of The
Valley of the Shadow of Death, are published in The Ultimate
Spectacle: A Visual History of the Crimean War by Ulrich Keller.In
1858 Fenton made studio genre studies based on romantically
imaginative ideas of Muslim life, such as Seated Odalisque, using
friends and models who were not always convincing in their roles.
Fenton is considered the first war photographer for his work during
the Crimean War, for which he used a mobile studio called a
"photographic van". In recognition of the importance of his
photography, Fenton's photos of the Crimean war were included in the
collection, 100 Photos that Changed the World.
As unlikely as it may at first
seem, Mathew Brady was in some ways the New World counterpart of
Roger Fenton. Differing in background, class position, training, and
range of subjects, Brady nevertheless shared with Fenton a sense of
mission as well as high critical esteem. Son of poor Irish farmers,
Brady arrived in New York City from upstate, probably in the
mid-183os. He was introduced by the painter William Page to Samuel
F. B. Morse, from whom he may have learned daguerreotyping, although
there is no mention in Morse's papers of Brady as a student. His
early years in the city are scantily documented, but sometime in
1844 he opened a portrait studio in what was the busiest commercial
section of lower Broadway. By the late 1850s, after one failure in
Washington and several moves in New-York, he was the owner of
fashionable portrait establishments in both cities. Friend to
politicians and showmen, he was known to all as the foremost
portraitist of the era.
Brady's success was based on high
standards of crafts-manship and an unerring feeling for public
relations. To this end his luxuriously appointed studios turned out
a well-made but not exceptional product that cost more than the
average daguerreotype or, later, albumen portrait. In Brady's
establishments, the line between a painted and a camera portrait was
dim: daguerreotypes could be copied life-size on albumen paper,
inked or painted in by well-trained artists, while collodion glass
negatives often were enlarged for the same purpose. In addition to
displays of portraits of celebrities, his studios contained
stereoscope apparatus with which customers could view the latest
cards by a variety of makers. It is little wonder that the
well-to-do and influential were attracted to Brady's studios.
Brady was an entrepreneur, setting
up the studios, cajoling famous sitters, and arranging for
reproductions of his work in the illustrated press, but the actual
exposures were made by "operators," among them James Brown, George
Cook, O'Sullivan, and, Gardner. In addition, a line of assembly
workers that included many women saw to it that the firm's
daguerreotypes and, later, its albumen prints were properly finished
and presented. Nevertheless, at the time it was taken for granted
that honors for excellence in portraiture, starting with a silver
medal at the 1844- American Institute Exhibition and extending into
the collodion era, should go to Brady himself. His greatest critical
triumph was at the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851, where the
Americans swept the field. It was on the trip to Europe for this
event that Brady first investigated collodion and made the
acquaintance of Gardner, who was to be influential in the success of
his Washington portrait gallery.
Had Brady contented himself with
commercial portraiture, it is doubtful that his role in the history
of the medium would have been prominent, but he seems always to have
been aware that photography could be more than just a successful
commercial enterprise. In 1845, he proposed the publication of a
series of portraits of famous American personalities in all
professions. Issued in only one edinor A Gallery of Illustrious
Americans, with lithographs by Francpis D'Avignon based on Brady
daguerreotypes, was premature and did not sell. However, a portrait
of Lincoln. the first of many, became so well-known that the
President ascribed his election to this likeness. Taken just before
the famous Cooper Union campaign address, this work showed a
beardless Lincoln with softened features to make him appear more
When the Civil War broke out,
Brady's sense of photography's destiny finally could be tested. He
was able to demonstrate not only that war reportage was possible but
also his own personal courage in continuing the mission after his
photographic wagon was caught in shell-fire at Bull Run. In the
spring of 1862, Brady trained crews of photographers, assigned them
to various territories, had wagons especially constructed in order
to transport the photographic gear securely, and arranged for
materials and equipment to be supplied from the New York house of T.
and E. Anthony. Brady had expected to make back the expenses of his
ambitious undertaking by selling photo-graphs, mainly in stereograph
format, but after the war the demand for such images ceased as
Americans, engulfed in an economic recession, tried to forget the
conflict and deal with current realities. Debts incurred by the
project, the slow trade in portrait studios generally, and the
downfall of Brady's New York political patrons—coupled with the
panic of 1873—resulted in the eventual loss of both his enterprises.
At the same time, Brady's efforts to interest the War Department in
his collection of Civil War images were unavailing. One set of
negatives was acquired by the Anthony company as payment for the
supplies, and another remained in storage, slowly deteriorating.
When this collection of more than 5,000 negatives came up at auction
in 1871, it was bought by the government for the storage charges of
$2,840; somewhat later the sick and by-now impoverished Brady was
awarded $25,000 in recognition of the historic services he had
performed. At the time, it was impossible for most bureaucrats to
realize the significance of the Civil War project. This vast
enterprise not only had made it possible for photographers to gain
the kinds of experience needed for the documentation of the West,
but it had, for the first time in the United States, given shape to
photography's greater promise—-that of transforming momentary life
experiences into lucid visual expression.
MATHEW BRADY. Civil War, 1865
Mathew B. Brady (1822 - January 15,
1896), was one of the most celebrated 19th century American
photographers, best known for his portraits of celebrities and the
documentation of the American Civil War. He is credited with being
the father of photojournalism.
Brady was born in Warren County, New York, to Irish immigrant
parents, Andrew and Julia Brady. He moved to New York City at the
age of 17. By 1844, he had his own photography studio in New York,
and by 1845, Brady began to exhibit his portraits of famous
Americans. He opened a studio in Washington, D.C. in 1849, where he
met Juliette Handy, whom he married in 1851. Brady's early images
were daguerreotypes, and he won many awards for his work; in the
1850s ambrotype photography became popular, which gave way to the
albumen print, a paper photograph produced from large glass
negatives most commonly used in the American Civil War photography.
In 1859, Parisian photographer André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri
popularized the carte de visite and these small pictures (the size
of a visiting card) rapidly became a popular novelty as thousands of
these images were created and sold in the United States and
Europe.Brady's efforts to document the Civil War on a grand scale by
bringing his photographic studio right onto the battlefields earned
Brady his place in history. Despite the obvious dangers, financial
risk, and discouragement of his friends he is later quoted as saying
"I had to go. A spirit in my feet said 'Go,' and I went." His first
popular photographs of the conflict were at the First Battle of Bull
Run, in which he got so close to the action that he only just
avoided being captured.
He employed Alexander Gardner, James Gardner, Timothy H. O'Sullivan,
William Pywell, George N. Barnard, Thomas C. Roche and seventeen
other men, each of whom were given a traveling darkroom, to go out
and photograph scenes from the Civil War. Brady generally stayed in
Washington, D.C., organizing his assistants and rarely visited
battlefields personally. This may have been due, at least in part,
to the fact that Brady's eyesight began to deteriorate in the 1850s.
In October 1862, Brady presented an exhibition of photographs from
the Battle of Antietam in his New York gallery entitled, "The Dead
of Antietam." Many of the images in this presentation were graphic
photographs of corpses, a presentation totally new to America. This
was the first time that many Americans saw the realities of war in
photographs as distinct from previous "artists' impressions".
Following the conflict, a war-weary public lost interest in seeing
photos of the war, and Brady’s popularity and practice declined
During the war Brady spent over $100,000 to create over 10,000
plates. He expected the U.S. government to buy the photographs when
the war ended, but when the government refused to do so he was
forced to sell his New York City studio and go into bankruptcy.
Congress granted Brady $25,000 in 1875, but he remained deeply in
debt. Depressed by his financial situation, loss of eyesight and
devastated by the death of his wife in 1887, he became very lonely.
Mathew Brady died penniless in the charity ward of Presbyterian
Hospital in New York City, at five o'clock, on January 15, 1896,
from complications following a streetcar accident.
Brady's funeral was financed by veterans of the 7th New York
Infantry. He was buried in Congressional Cemetery in Washington,
Levin Corbin Handy, Brady's nephew by marriage, took over his
uncle's photography business after his death.
The thousands of photographs Mathew Brady took have become the most
important visual documentation of the Civil War, and have helped
historians better understand the era.
Brady photographed and made portraits of many senior Union officers
in the war, including Ulysses S. Grant, Nathaniel Banks, Don Carlos
Buell, Ambrose Burnside, Benjamin Butler, Joshua Chamberlain, George
Custer, David Farragut, John Gibbon, Winfield Hancock, Samuel P.
Heintzelman, Joseph Hooker, Oliver Howard, David Hunter, John A.
Logan, Irvin McDowell, George McClellan, James McPherson, George
Meade, David Dixon Porter, William Rosecrans, John Schofield,
William Sherman, Daniel Sickles, Henry Warner Slocum, George
Stoneman, Edwin V. Sumner, George Thomas, Emory Upton, James
Wadsworth, and Lew Wallace.
On the Confederate side, Brady photographed P.G.T. Beauregard,
Stonewall Jackson, James Longstreet, Lord Lyons, James Henry
Hammond, and Robert E. Lee. (Lee's first session with Brady was in
1845 as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, his final after the
war in Richmond, Virginia.)
Brady also photographed Abraham Lincoln on many occasions. His
Lincoln photographs have been used for the $5 dollar bill and the
After the Civil War, many of the plates Brady used became the glass
in greenhouses, and the pictures were lost forever.
Photojournalism-The Execution of
the Lincoln Conspirators
The events that followed the
assassination of Abraham Lincoln the Presidential Box at the Ford
Theater on the night of April 14, 1865, provided sensational
pictorial material for graphic artists and photographers. Sketch
artists for the weekly magazines turned out drawings of the theater
interior, the death scene, the funeral cortege, and the capture of
those involved, but it is the photographs of the individual
conspirators, and above all of the hanging of four of them on July
7th, that remain by tar the most vivid representations of this
tragedy. The portraits, other than that of Booth, who perished in an
ambush during his capture, were made by Alexander Gardner,
presumably aboard the ironclad monitors Montauk and Saugns, where
the conspirators were held while awaiting trial by a military
tribunal. For the views of the actual execution, Gardner set up his
camera on a roof overlooking the gallows erected in the courtyard of
the Arsenal (or Old) Penitentiary and made a sequence of seven
exposures of the preparations for and the hanging of George
Atzerodt, David E. Herold, Lewis Payne, and Mary E. Surratt. This
series appears to be the first photographic picture story of an
event as it happened, and was all the more remarkable because of the
secrecy surrounding the affair. While it was not possible at the
time to reproduce these images by halftone in the popular press,
this group of photographs signaled the important role that
sequential images would play in news reporting in the future.
(1821 – 1882)
Gardner was an American photographer. He is best known for his
photographs of the American Civil War and his portraits of American
President Abraham Lincoln.
Gardner was born in Paisley, Scotland, in 1821. He became an
apprentice silversmith jeweler at the age of fourteen. Gardner had a
Calvinist upbringing and was influenced by the work of Robert Owen,
Welsh socialist and father of the cooperative movement. By adulthood
he desired to create a cooperative in the United States that would
incorporate socialist values. In 1850, Gardner and others purchased
land near Monona, Iowa, for this purpose, but Gardner never lived
there, choosing to return to Scotland to raise more money. He stayed
there until 1856, becoming owner and editor of the Glasgow Sentinel
in 1851. Visiting The Great Exhibition in 1851 in Hyde Park, London,
he saw the photography of American Mathew Brady, and thus began his
interest in the subject.
Gardner and his family moved to the United States in 1856. Finding
that many friends and family members at the cooperative he had
helped to form were dead or dying of tuberculosis, he stayed in New
York. He initiated contact with Brady and came to work for him,
eventually managing Brady's Washington, D.C., gallery.
Unfortunately, the most famous of Gardner's work has been proven to
be a fake. In 1961, Frederic Ray of the Civil War Times magazine
compared several of Gardner's photos showing Confederate snipers and
realized that the same body has been photographed in multiple
locations. Apparently, Gardner was not satisfied with the subject
matter as it was presented to him and dragged the body around to
create his own version of reality. Ray's analysis was expanded on by
the author William Frassanito in 1975.
Abraham Lincoln became an American President in the November, 1860
election, and along with his appointment came the threat of war.
Gardner, being in Washington, was well-positioned for these events,
and his popularity rose as a portrait photographer, capturing the
visages of soldiers leaving for war.
Brady had had the idea to photograph the Civil War. Gardner's
relationship with Allan Pinkerton (who was head of an intelligence
operation that would become the Secret Service) was the key to
communicating Brady's ideas to Lincoln. Pinkerton recommended
Gardner for the position of chief photographer under the
jurisdiction of the U.S. Topographical Engineers. Following that
short appointment, Gardner became a staff photographer under General
George B. McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac. At this
point, Gardner's management of Brady's gallery ended. The honorary
rank of captain was bestowed upon Gardner, and he photographed the
Battle of Antietam in September 1862, developing photos in his
Gardner worked for the photographer Mathew Brady from 1856 to 1862.
According to a New York Times review, Gardner has often had his work
misattributed to Brady, and despite his considerable output,
historians have tended to give Gardner less than full recognition
for his documentation of the Civil War.
Lincoln dismissed McClellan from command of the Army of the Potomac
in November 1862, and Gardner’s role as chief army photographer
diminished. About this time, Gardner ended his working relationship
with Brady, probably in part because of Brady's practice of
attributing his employees' work as "Photographed by Brady". That
winter, Gardner followed General Ambrose Burnside, photographing the
Battle of Fredericksburg. Next, he followed General Joseph Hooker.
In May 1863, Gardner and his brother James opened their own studio
in Washington, D.C, hiring many of Brady's former staff. Gardner
photographed the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1863) and the Siege of
Petersburg (June 1864–April 1865) during this time.
He published a two-volume work: Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book
of the Civil War in 1866. Each volume contained 50 hand-mounted
original prints. Not all photographs were Gardner's; he credited the
negative producer and the positive print printer. As the employer,
Gardner owned the work produced, like any modern day studio. The
sketchbook contained work by Timothy H. O'Sullivan, James F. Gibson,
John Reekie, William R. Pywell, James Gardner (his brother), John
Wood, George N. Barnard, David Knox and David Woodbury among others.
A century later, photographic analysis suggested that Gardner had
manipulated the setting of at least one of his Civil War photos by
moving a soldier's corpse and weapon into more dramatic positions.
Among his photographs of Abraham Lincoln were the last to be taken
of the President, four days before his assassination. He also
documented Lincoln's funeral, and photographed the conspirators
involved (with John Wilkes Booth) in Lincoln's assassination.
Gardner was the only photographer allowed at their execution by
hanging, photographs of which would later be translated into
woodcuts for publication in Harper's Weekly.
Gardner was commissioned to photograph Native Americans who came to
Washington to discuss treaties; and he surveyed the proposed route
of the Kansas Pacific railroad to the Pacific Ocean. Many of his
photos were stereoscopic. After 1871, Gardner gave up photography
and helped to found an insurance company. Gardner stayed in
Washington until his death.
ALEXANDER GARDNER. Edward Spangler, a Conspirator, April, 1865.
Albumen print. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
ALEXANDER GARDNER. Samuel Arnold, a Conspirator, April, 1865.
Albumcr. print. Library of Congress, Washington. D.C.
ALEXANDER GARDNER. George A Atzerodt, a Conspirator, April, 1865.
Albumen print. International Museum of Photography at George Eastman
House, Rochester, N.Y.
ALEXANDER GARDNER. Lewis Payne, a Conspirator, in Sweater, Seated
and Manacled, April, 1865.
Albumen print. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
ALEXANDER GARDNER. General John F. Hartranft and Staff Responsible
for Securing the Conspirators at the Arsenal.
Left to Right: Capt. R. A. Watts, Lt. Col George W. Frederick, Lt.
Col. William H. H. McCall, Lt. D. H. Geissinger,
Gen. Hartranft, unknown, Col. L. A. Dodd, Capt. Christian Rath,
1865. (Cracked Plate).
Albumen print. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
ALEXANDER GARDNER. Execution of the Conspirators: Scaffold Ready for
Use and Crowd in Yard,
Seen from the Roof of the Arsenal, Washington, D.C, July 7, 1865.
Albumen print. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
ALEXANDER GARDNER. The Four Condemned Conspirators (Mrs. Surratt,
Payne, Herald, Atzerodt),
with Officers and Others on the Scaffold; Guards on the Wall,
Washington, D.C., July 7, 1865.
Albumen print. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
ALEXANDER GARDNER. General John F. Hartranft Reading the Death
Warrant to the Conspirators on the Scaffold, Washington, D.C, July
Albumen print. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
ALEXANDER GARDNER. Adjusting the Ropes for Hanging the Conspirators,
Washington, D.C., July 7, 1865.
Albumen print. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
ALEXANDER GARDNER. Hanging Bodies of the Conspirators; Guards Only
in Tard, Washington, D.C, July 7, 1865.
Albumen print. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
ALEXANDER GARDNER. Coffins and Open Graves Ready for the
Conspirators' Bodies at Right of Scaffold, Washington, D.C., July 7,
Albumen print. Library' of Congress, Washington, D.C.
NEW TECHNOLOGY, NEW VISION, NEW USERS
IN THE FIFTY YEARS that followed
the announcement that pictures could be made with sunlight,
processes and ideas were continuously tried and discarded as people
involved with the medium sought answers to the technical problems
created by the expanding aesthetic, commercial, and scientific
demands upon photography. As these needs un-folded it became
apparent that professional photographers were looking for more
sensitive film and for stable, standardized products to document an
ever-widening range of subjects; that the scientific community
required refined and specialized equipment; that artistic
photographers were seeking materials of long tonal range and
permanence. Still another constituency was added to those who made
and used camera images when at the end of the 1880s simplified
apparatus and processing methods—"push button" photography—turned
potentially everyone into a photographer. During the same period,
the persistent struggle to produce images in color in the camera was
won, even though the solution turned out to be one of limited
application. This explosion of products, techniques, and processes
(detailed in A Short Technical History, Part II) produced
significant changes in the kinds of images made and how they were
used, and as a consequence established new audiences for
photographic images. In turn, the increasing numbers of images
provided information that altered public attitudes and perceptions
By 1890, photographic technology
had taken wing. Wet collodion, in use for some 25 years before going
the way of the daguerreotype, was supplanted by the dry plate—a
silver-bromide gelatin emulsion available first on glass plates and
later on lightweight, flexible celluloid film. This material was not
only easier to use; it was more sensitive to light, thus shortening
exposure time, and eventually it became orthochromatic—corrected for
all colors of the spectrum except red (and blue, to which it was
oversensitive). Camera design also flourished; during the final
decades of the 19th century, photographers could choose from among a
variety of instruments designed for different purposes. For
professional work in the field there were view cameras in several
sizes with extension bellows, swings, and tilts; for the serious
amateur, hand-held reflex cameras. Stercographic and panoramic
apparatus was available, as were tiny detective cameras—so named
because they might be concealed in clothing or in other artifacts to
make picture-taking unobtrusive. Concurrently, manufacturers began
to produce faster lenses, shutters, exposure meters, flash
equipment—all of which gave the photographer greater control over
capturing on the negative what was occurring in actuality. At the
same time, printing papers that satisfied both artistic and
commercial purposes appeared on the market.
production of photo-graphic materials and processes—accelerated
toward the end of the 19th century for a number of reasons. Basic
among them was the continuing trend in Western capitalist countries
toward the regularization of all manufactured goods and many
services, with photography considered an intrinsic part of
industrial capacity. Another stimulus was the growth of the chemical
and dye industries, especially in Germany after its unification in
1871, which led to competition (in other countries, too) in the
manufacture of new sensitizing materials and more refined apparatus.
Possibly the most important stimulus was the realization that
photography had shown itself to be more than a craft that reproduced
what the eye could see, that its potential as a tool for revealing
scientific, sociological, and physical phenomena never actually seen
had transformed it into the most significant pictorial means in
modern industrial society. And as printing technology progressed to
make possible the direct transcription of photographic illustration
in news and informational media, the pressure for more accurate
equipment and flexible materials increased.
Photography from the Air
The expanded roles that the medium
would presently assume had been hinted at soon after mid-century as
photographers attempted to depict the physical universe from unusual
vantage points or under abnormal conditions using the unwieldy
collodion wet plate. For example, in connection with the growing
interest in "flying machines," efforts were begun in the late 1850s
to photograph from the sky, to reaffirm scientifically the vision of
artists who from the Renaissance on had imagined a "bird's-eye view"
of the earth. In 1858, Nadar became the first to succeed- producing
a somewhat murky image of Paris while stripped to the skin (for
lightness) and concealed behind a dark curtain the basket of a
captive balloon manned by the famous Goddard brothers. He spent the
next two years promoting his own lighter-than-air creation (see
Profile), but his greatest success in aerial photography stemmed
from the views of the Arc de Triomphe taken in 1868 with a multilens
camera from the basket of another balloon, the Hippodrome.
Aside from the romance associated
with the balloon-called the "ultimate engine of democracy" by the
French— the practical nature of balloon transport was demonstrated
when it turned out to be one of the two ways that mail could be
delivered to and from the besieged city of Paris during the
Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). The other way, by carrier pigeon,
involved photography in that the written messages were reduced
microphotographically and later enlarged for reading in a projection
enlarger, foreshadowing the V-mail of the second World War.
At about the same time as Nadar's
experiments— 1860—the Boston photographer James Wallace Black, a
partner in the astrophotographic research conducted at Harvard by
John Adams Whipple (see Chapter 1), ascended 1,200 feet in a balloon
tethered over the Boston Common. Black used a Voigtlander camera and
a shutter of his own contrivance to make the first aerial
photographs in America, six of which are extant. Although the
extraordinary feat of viewing the city "as the eagle and the wild
goose saw it" (pi. no. 288) was praised by Oliver Wendell Holmes,
and the photographer himself suggested that reconnaissance
photography by balloon be tried during the Civil War, no action was
taken. Despite attempts by several other photographers to make
topographical views from the air, at times with balloon and kite
cameras, the airborne camera seems not to have evoked further
interest until the 20th century.
NADAR (GASPARD FELIX TOURNACHON). The Arc de Triomphe and the Grand
Boulevards, Paris, from a Balloon, 1868.
Modem gelatin silver print from the original negative. Caisse
Nationale des Monuments Historiques et des Sites, Paris.
JAMES WALLACE BLACK. Boston from the
Albumen print. Boston Public Library, Boston.
Photography by Artificial Light
Another group of experiments
undertaken to extend the scope of the medium soon after its
invention involved artificial illumination. Electric batteries made
it possible for Talbot in 1851 to produce a legible image of a
swiftly revolving piece of newsprint and also provided artificial
light for Nadar's experiments in this realm. Using Bunsen batteries
and reflectors, Nadar first made portraits and then, in 1861, took
the complicated apparatus below the streets to photograph in the
sewers and catacombs (ancient burial grounds) of Paris. Some of the
exposures took as long as 18 minutes, necessitating the substitution
of manikins for humans, but despite having to cart lights,
reflectors, rolls of wire, and camera and collodion equipment
through narrow and humid corridors, Nadar produced about 100
underground scenes. Views of the pipes and drains, the walls of
bones, and the tomb markers that constitute the nether regions of
the city demonstrated the medium's potential to disclose visual
in-formation about a wide range of physical facts.
Commercial portraiture by electric
light using Bunsen cells was attempted by Adolphe Ost in Vienna in
1864, but it was not until the end of the following decade that the
quality of portraits made by electric light became almost
indistinguishable from those made with natural lighting. Because
electric batteries initially were both weak and costly,
photographers experimented with other chemical agents, including
oxyhydrogen flame directed against lime (limelight) and magnesium
wire. The latter substance was first put to the test in attempts to
picture mine interiors in England in 1864; soon afterward it made
possible images taken inside the Great Pyramid, and in 1866 the
American Charles Waldack employed it for a series inside Mammoth
Cave in Kentucky. This substance was also used for indoor
portraiture; a group portrait, one of a series of early experiments
with magnesium light made by John C. Browne in 1865, includes the
editor of the Philadelphia Photographer, the journal most eager to
promote new photographic technologies in the United States. In its
most common form—flash-powder (used from the 1880s on)— magnesium
emitted a cloud of acrid white smoke when ignited, and its intense
light created harsh tonal contrasts, but until the flash bulb was
invented in Germany in 1925 there was no practical alternative
portable lighting agent.
Urban nighttime views presented
another intriguing problem for photographers, but during most of the
19th century the gaslight used in street lamps was so weak in its
illuminating power that exposures of from three to four hours were
required to represent the tonalities of the night scene. In an early
experiment by Whipple in 1863, photographs of the Boston Common,
where the illumination had been boosted with the aid of electric
light, still required exposures about 180 times as long as those
taken in sun-light. Following the gradual electrification of cities
from the 1880s on, there were more frequent attempts to capture
people, carriages, and especially the street lighting itself at
night. Works by Paul Martin in London and Alfred Stieglitz in New
York in the 1890s are among the numbers of images testifying to the
fact that both documentary and pictorialist photographers were
fascinated by night scenery, especially the reflections of electric
lights on glistening pavements and the tonal contrasts between
virgin snow and velvety night sky.
The keen interest shown by Talbot
and other photographers in objects and phenomena not ordinarily
visible to the human eye, in conjunction with the increasing need on
the part of the scientific community for precise information about
microorganisms, prompted improvements in the design of equipment and
methods that enabled scientists to study such matter as the
structure of crystals and the forms of cells. At the same time,
astrophotography gained ground with the capability of photographing,
besides sun and moon, planetary bodies; by 1877 it was possible to
contemplate a complete photographic mapping of the fixed star
firmament. In the following decade.
Austrian and German photographers
succeeded in making clear images of the phases of lightning in the
night sky. Toward the end of the century, X-rays—spectral rays that
penetrate opaque structures—were discovered by Conrad Wilhclm
Roentgen (recipient of a Nobel prize in 1901) at the University of
Wurzberg, stimulating their immediate use in camera images for
medical diagnoses; within a year more than a thousand publications
about X-rays appeared.
NADAR (GASPARD FELIX TOURNACHON). Workmen in the Pans Catacombs,
Albumen print. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.
CHARLES WALDACK. Beyond the "Bridge of Sighs" from Mammoth Cave
Albumen print. New-York Historical Society; George T. Bagoe
Collection, gift of Mrs. Elihu Spicer.
The Photography of Movement
The most dramatic developments in
terms of popular acclaim occurred in the realm of motion study as
the camera began to provide artists, scientists, and the lay person
with visual evidence about ordinary matters that the unaided eye
could not see, such as walking and running. Talbot's success in
stopping action with the aid of an electric flash (mentioned
earlier) was acclaimed because it pointed the way to photographing
"with all the animation of full life . . . the most agile dancer
during her rapid movements ... the bird of swiftest flight during
its pas-sage,"' but these experiments were not followed up until the
1880s, when Austrian scientist Ernst Mach, working in Prague, made
exposures of flying projectiles, sound waves, and air streams using
electric flash as a lighting source. Incidentally, although
concerned with providing scientific information, Mach also wished
these images to be visually pleasing, arguing that aesthetic quality
in no way detracts from usefulness. Simultaneously, experimentation
in stop action photography also took off in other directions— based
on the capacity of the short-focal-length lens used on stereograph
cameras to freeze motion in street photography and the other on the
ability of successive exposures to record the discrete stages of a
Throughout the 19th century, the
need to institute proper training programs for horses and the desire
by painters of history pictures for greater accuracy in the
depiction of battle scenes had led to efforts by scientists to
graphically analyze motion; after its invention, photography became
the favored instrument for this endeavor. Beginning in 1872, the
analysis of motion by the camera was carried on for some 20 years by
Eadweard Muybridge and Thomas Eakins in the United States, by
Ericnne Jules Marey in France, and by Ottomar Anschutz in Germany.
EADWEARD MUYBRIDGE. Studies of Foreshortening; Mahomet Running,
Modern print from a wet-plate glass collodion negative. Stanford
University Art Museum, Stanford, Cal.
Muybridge's prominent role in this adventure was the result of what
he called an "exceptionally felicitous alliance" with Leland
Stanford, ex-governor of California, president of the Central
Pacific Railroad, and owner of the Great Palo Alto Breeding Ranch
(who nevertheless eventually disavowed the collaboration). Curiosity
among racing enthusiasts about the positions of the legs of a horse
running at full gallop prompted Stanford to call upon Muybridge—by
1872 the most renowned cameraman in the American West—to photograph
his trotter Occident in motion. Though not remarkably clear, the
first images from Muybridge's camera established to Stanford's
saris-faction that at one point all four of the animal's hooves left
the ground—although not, it should be added, in the position usually
shown in painted representations."
This experiment initiated a
collaboration, beginning in 1877, between Stanford and Muybridge
with the goal of providing visual information about animal movement
useful in the training of horses and human athletes. This time, the
animals were photographed as they moved in front of a calibrated
backdrop, tripping specially designed, electrically operated
shutters of 12 cameras equipped with Dallmeycr stereographic lenses
at one-thousandth of a second. News of the sensational photographs
that resulted— photographs that documented what the human eye had
never registered—appeared in the California press in 1877, in the
prestigious Scientific American the following year, and in journals
in London, Paris, Berlin, and Vienna soon afterward. Having become
an international celebrity, Muybridge lectured in the United States
and Europe, where his work was acknowledged by the French
Late in 1883, as a result of the
withdrawal of Stanford's patronage, Muybridge accepted an invitation
to continue his work at the University of Pennsylvania where he
boldly extended the cast of characters and the range of movements.
His human subjects were drawn from the teaching staff at the
university, from professional models for the female nudes (about
whose lack of grace he complained!), and from friends in the arts,
among them Eakins, whose hand he photographed in various positions.
In an elaboration of the California experiments, the move-ments
generally were performed in front of a backdrop marked with a grid
of vertical and horizontal lines and before a batten' of 24 cameras
about six inches apart in a line parallel with the grid, while
smaller groups of cameras were maneuvered into position to capture
frontal, rear, and foreshortened views, as in Woman Emptying a
Bucket on a Seated Companion. By the time the Pennsylvania project
began in 1884, advances in technology enabled Muybridge to use more
sensitive dry plates instead of collodion, and to afix a roller
shutter in front of each camera lens. These were operated by an
electromagnetic system (designed by the photographer) that tripped
the shutters in succession and at the same time operated a
chronograph or timing device. In a year-and-a-half of work,
Muybridge produced some 100,000 images analyzing the movements
involved in walking, running, playing ball, pirouetting, curtseying,
and laying bricks, among other activities. The university selected
781 plates for Animal Locomotion, an expensive publication, after
which Muybridge issued smaller editions entitled Animals in Motion
and The Human Figure in Motion.
Eakins, the American painter whose
long-standing interest in the accurate graphic representation of
movement had prompted him to correspond with Muybridge and to
purchase a set of studies of the horse in motion, applied the
knowledge he gained to the depiction of the horse's legs in his
first Philadelphia commission—the oil painting, The Fairman Rogers'
Four in Hand, in which ironically the carriage wheels arc blurred as
if moving while the horses' hooves are frozen in one phase of their
movement. In his own studies of motion, Eakins, who started to make
photographs as soon as dry plates became available, preferred to
work with apparatus that registered the successive phases of action
on one plate, as can be seen in History of a Jump, a frequently
(b Kingston-on-Thames, 9 April
1830; d Kingston-on-Thames, 8 May 1904).
English photographer, active in the
USA. He was the first to analyse motion successfully by using a
sequence of photographs and resynthesizing them to produce moving
pictures on a screen. His work has been described as the inspiration
behind the invention of the motion picture.
EADWEARD MUYBRIDGE. Eakins's Hand,
from Animal Locomotion, 1887.
Collotype. Museum of the Philadelphia Civic Center.
THOMAS EAKINS. Amelia Van Buren with a Cat, c. 1891.
Platinum print. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
THOMAS EAKINS. History of a Jump, 1884-85.
Gelatin silver print. Philadelphia Museum of Art; gift of George
Marey's contribution to the
photographic documentation of movement was made in conjunction with
his primary vocation of physiology, for which he initially had
devised graphic methods of recording skeletal and muscle movements.
After reading about Muybridge's experiments in La Nature in 1878
(and later through personal contact with him), Marey turned to the
camera as a more accurate tool for such documentation. Because he
was more interested in schematic diagrams of muscle movements than
in random, if timed, depictions of moving figures, he adapted for
his own use the fusil photographique (photographic gun)—a camera
inspired by the rotating bullet cylinder of a revolver—which Eakins
also used. Originally, Marey produced a series of separate images
with this apparatus but soon realized that more precise information
could be gained if the sequential movements appeared on the same
plate. For these timed images—called chronophotographs—Marey
employed a rotating slit shutter and experimented with a variety of
black and white garments on models who moved against similarly
colored backdrops; eventually he settled on a figure clothed
entirely in black with bright metal bands attached to the sides of
the arms and legs, photographed against a black background. This
yielded a "working geometric drawing"—a linear graph of 60 skeletal
movements per second. As was true of other kinds of instantaneous
studies, these images were to have a telling effect on concepts and
styles in art as well as on the scientific understanding of
Similar experiments in arresting
motion were made by Anschiitz, who had studied photography in
Berlin, in Munich with Franz Hanfstaengl, and in Vienna before
returning to his native Prussia. Building on a series of stills of
horses in morion that he had made with a shutter mounted in front of
the plate, Anschiitz embarked on a project to produce instantaneous
photographs of animals in the Breslau Zoo. Widely publicized, the
most famous among these images are 120 exposures of the activities
of a family of storks. By 1886 Anschiitz had adapted Muybridge's
system of using multiple cameras to the very small instruments with
which he worked, and with the aid of the Prussian ministries of war
and education he continued to photograph both animal movements and
army maneuvers, using a specially designed "Anschiitz" lens
manufactured by the Goerz Company.
Three of the photographers involved
in stop-motion experimentation envisaged the next logical step—the
re-constitution of the appearance of movement by viewing the
separate analytical images in rapid sequence. For this purpose Marey
and Muybridge turned to a range of so-called philosophical toys,
among them the Phenakistoscope (or zoetrope) and the Praxinoscope,
both of which involved rotating cylinders or disks with a sequence
of images on one moving element viewed through either
counter-rotating or stationary slots on the other. This
reconstitution of motion, suggested first by Sir John Herschel in
1867 and later by Marey in 1873, struck Stanford as a means to test
the correctness of the photographic evidence seen in the stills;
therefore Muybridge worked out the Zoopraxiscope (pi. no. 206), a
device consisting of a glass disk on which images were arranged
equidistantly in consecutive order, with a slotted counter-rotating
viewer; its function, as stated by its designer, was "for
synthetically demonstrating movements analytically photographed from
life." These first "motion pictures" were seen by the Stanford
family in Palo Alto in 1879, and two years later during Muybridge's
trip abroad they were projected for audiences of influential
European artists and intellectuals. Anschutz's endeavor in 1887 to
reconstruct movement employing an Electro-Tachyscope, a device in
which enlarged diapositives (slides), illuminated by a spark,
revolved in sequence on a disk, was limited in effect because the
small-format images were not projected but had to be viewed
ETIENNE JULES MAREY. Falling Cat Sequence, c. 1880s. Gelatin silver
National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution,
OTTOMAR ANSCHUTZ. Series of Storks in Flight, 1884.
Gelatin silver prints. Agfa-Gevaert Foto-Historama, Cologne,
Science and art became more profoundly intertwined when the camera
began to supply evidence of animal movement beyond what even the
most naturalistically inclined artist was capable of seeing.
Stop-motion photography and the various publications attracted a
wide spectrum of artists working in a variety of styles, among them
the salon painters Adolphe William Bouguereau and Franz von Lenbach,
the realist Edgar Degas, the Pre-Raphaelite John Everett Millais,
the expressionist Auguste Rodin, and the symbolist James Abbott
McNeill Whistler. As in the past, many painters used the newly
revealed informatio correct inaccurate representation and to make
their work appear more naturalistic, as was true of Jean-Lo sonier,
a French painter of prestigious historical scenes, some of which he
altered to conform to the new knowledge. Other artists became
engrossed with the idea of movement and time, integrating various
views of the same object seen in several positions as the theme of
their paintings and creating images suggestive of the fluidity of
situations and events. For example, Degas, an enthusiast who was
himself a sensitive photographer, conveyed lively animation by
painting on a single canvas the same seated dancer in a variety of
Time, movement, and change exerted
an even greater fascination on the early-20th-century European
painters who sought a new language to express the shifting realities
of their own era. Photography may have been blamed by a small group
of these avant-garde artists for a "disgraceful alteration" in
seeing, but, as Aaron Scharf has pointed out. "stop-motion camera
imagery, in particular the geometric diagrams of Marey, with their
emphasis on pattern and movement, offered Cubist, Vorticist, and
Futurist painters a fresh vocabulary." In the most famous of a
number of such examples, Nude Descending a Staircase, French artist
Marcel Duchamp adapted Marey's schema to transform the posed female
nude—conventionally an expression of immobility—into a supremely
energetic statement that proclaims its modernism while maintaining a
tie to hallowed tradition. Of all those seeking to embody the
vitality of their time in the painted image, Duchamp most clearly
recognized that photography in all its ramifications had subverted
the long-standing relationship between the artists and the
conventions of painting. Interest in the graphic depiction of
movement based on Marey's studies reached a climax among European
artists of the Cubist and Futurist movements between 1911 and 1914.
but other kinds of stop-motion photographs have continued to artists
everywhere up to the present.
Instantaneous Photographs of
Whether facing the natural
landscape or the urban scene, many photographers other than those
investigating motion for scientific reasons found that they, too,
were eager to arrest the continuous flux of life, to scrutinize and
savor discrete segments of time, and to capture them on glass plates
and, later, film. As noted, this first became possible with the
short-focal-length lenses on stereograph cameras. Roger Fenton, for
example, was able to capture the forms of flowing water and fleeting
clouds on the stereograph plate. By 1859, Edward Anthony in New
York, George Washington Wilson in Edinburgh, and Adolphe Braun and
Hippolyte Jouvin in Paris— among others—had begun to make and
publish stereograph views of the "fleeting effects'1 of crowds and
traffic on die principal streets of urban centers and, in Jouvin's
case, in marketplaces, public gardens, and at festive events.
Acclaimed because they seemed to embody "all . . . life and motion,"
these views also disclose the distinctiveness of different cultural
environments. Stereographs of city streets reveal at a glance the
profound dissimilarities between public life in New York and Paris,
for example, while others make visible the contrast between social
conditions in industrialized countries and in those being opened to
colonization and exploitation.
That this interest in the flux of
urban life engaged painters of the time as well as photographers is
apparent in canvases by the French Impressionists that seem to
capture as if by camera the moving forms of people and traffic in
the streets and parks of Paris. Besides a preference for high
horizons and blurred figures, similar to that seen in numbers of
stereographs of city streets and exemplified in Claude Monet's
Boulevard des Capucines (pi. no. 303)—a view actually painted from
Nadar's studio—the Impressionists broke with tradition in their
preference for accidental-looking arrangements of figures that
appear to be sliced through by the edges of the canvas in the manner
of the photographic plate. Certain canvases by these painters also
mimic the optical distortions of figure and space visible in
stereographs, suggesting that, as Scharf observed, "photography must
be accorded consideration in any discussion of the character of
The appeal of the spontaneous and
informal continued unabated during the last decade of the 19th
century and resulted in the extraordinary popular interest in small,
hand-held single-lens cameras that would simplify the taking of
informal pictures. Of all the apparatus developed to fulfill this
need, the most sensational was the Kodak camera, first marketed in
1888 by its inventor George Eastman.
However, this fixed-focus box did
more than make it easy for people to take pictures of everyday
events; by making the developing and printing independent of the
exposure it encouraged a new constituency to make photographs and
inaugurated the photo-processing industry.
The Kodak and the snapshot
(Herschel's term to describe instantaneous exposures) were promoted
through astute advertising campaigns that appealed to animal lovers,
bicyclists, campers, women, sportsmen, travelers, and tourists.
Freed from the tedium of darkroom work, large numbers of
middle-class amateurs in Europe and the United States used the Kodak
during leisure hours to depict family and friends at home and at
recreation, to record the ordinary rather than the spectacular.
Besides serving as sentimental mementos, these unpretentious images
provided later cultural historians with descriptive information
about everyday buildings, artifacts, and clothing—indisputable
evidence of the popular taste of an era.
The convenience of merely pressing
the buttor resulted in a deluge of largely unexceptional pictures.
Despite the suggestion today that the "aesthetic quality of the
snapshot has received less attention than it deserves," most were
made solely as personal records by individuals of modest visual
ambitions. Untutored in either art or science, they tended to regard
the image in terms of its subject rather than as a visual statement
that required decisions about where to stand, what to include, how
best to use the light. Further, since they were untroubled by
questions of print size or quality, they mostly ignored the craft
elements of photographic expression. This attitude, coupled with the
fact that "even' Tom, Dick and Harrv could get something or other
onto a sensitive plate," contributed to the emerging polarity
between documentary images—assumed to be entirely artless—and
artistic photographs conceived by their makers (and others) to
embody aesthetic ideas and feelings.
Nevertheless, whether by accident
or design, snapshots do on occasion portray with satisfying formal
vigor moments that seem excised from the seamless flow of life. For
one thing, the portability of the instrument enabled the user to
view actuality from excitingly different vantage points, as in a
1900 image made by French novelist Emile Zola from the Eiffel Tower
looking down. In its organization of space it presented an
intriguing pattern of architectural members and human figures,
foreshadowing the fascination with spatial enigmas that would be
explored more fully by photographers in the 1910s and '20s. In a
different vein, the small camera made possible the refreshing
directness visible in images of small-town life by Horace Engle, an
American engineer who used a Gray Stirn Concealed Vest camera before
turning to the Kodak. Because the camera was so easy to use, a
photographer stationed behind a window or door, as Engle sometimes
was, might intuitively manage light and form to explore private
gestures and expressions that almost certainly would be withheld
were his presence known. This urge to ensnare ephemeral time, so to
speak, also foreshadowed developments of the late 1920s when the
sophisticated small Leica camera made "candid" street photography a
serious pursuit among photojournalists. Viewed in sequence rather
than singly, snapshots some-times suggest an underlying theme or the
emotional texture of an event in the manner of later
photojournalistic picture stories and might be considered
forerunners in this sense, too.
EMILE ZOLA. A Restaurant, Taken from
the First Floor or Staircase of the Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1900.
Gelatin silver print. Collection Dr. Francois Emile Zola, Gif-sur-Yvette,
HORACE ENGLE. Unknown Subjea, Roanoke, Virginia, c. 1901.
Gelatin silver print from the original negative.
Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park.
However, despite the claim that
"the man with a box-camera has as many chances of preserving
pleasure as those blessed (?) [sic] with the more expensive
instruments," the Kodak in itself was limited in scope. But the
spontaneity it emblematized appealed to many serious photographers,
who armed themselves with a more sensitive apparatus of a similar
nature—the hand camera. Individuals of both sexes, from varying
backgrounds and classes, of differing aesthetic persuasions, who
usually processed their own work, produced the kind of imagen' that
for want of a better term has come to be called documentation.
Turning to the quotidian life of cities and villages for
inspiration, artists used the hand camera as a sketchbook,
pictorialists tried to evoke the urban tempo, and still others found
it a disarming device with which to conquer the anonymity of modern
life. Serious workers rather than snapshooters. this new breed of
image-maker sought to express a personal vision that embraced the
special qualities of the time and place in which they lived.
The invasion of personal privacy
that the small camera user could effect with ease became an issue in
the late 19th century—one that still elicits discussion today. The
question of propriety was raised when individuals and groups of
amateurs, often organized into camera and bicycle clubs, began to
photograph unwitting people in the streets and at play. Reaction ran
the gamut from the gentle satire of an 1887 cartoon in Britain's
Amateur Photographer to more strident denunciations in which
"hand-camera fiends" were admonished to refrain from photographing
"ladies as they emerge from their morning dip, loving couples,
private picnicking parties" under threat of having their cameras
"forcibly emptied." Indeed, it has been suggested that the many
images of working-class people in the streets around the turn of the
century may reflect the fact that they were less likely than
middle-class folk to protest when they saw strangers approaching
with a camera.
Street life began to attract
hand-camera enthusiasts (and some using larger equipment, as well)
partly because it offered an uncommon panorama of picturesque
subjects. Previously, photographers in search of visual antidotes
for the depressing uniformity of life in industrialized societies
had cither ventured abroad to exotic lands or had searched out
quaint pastoral villages as yet untouched by industrial activity.
They also had photographed the city's poor and ethnic minorities for
their picturesqueness. As urbanization advanced, documentarians,
Pictorialists, hand-camera enthusiasts, and even some who worked
with large-format cameras were drawn by the animated and vigorous
street life in the city to depict with less artifice the variety of
peoples and experiences to be found in urban slum and working-class
To some extent, the career of Paul
Martin, working in London from about 1884 on, typifies the changes
that occurred in the practice, usage, and character of photography
everywhere. When Martin began an apprenticeship as an engraver, he
first came in contact with photography as a useful resource for the
illustrator. He taught himself the craft from magazines that, along
with amateur photography clubs, provided technical assistance and
aesthetic guidelines to growing numbers of hand-camera enthusiasts.
Some, like Martin, were working people from moderate backgrounds who
were unable to afford expensive camera equipment or time-consuming
processes that used the platinum and carbon materials favored by
aesthetic photographers. Martin became an accomplished craftsman
nevertheless, adept at making composites, vignetting, and solving
technical problems connected with photographing out-of-doors at
night. During the 1890s, a number of his straight silver prints were
awarded prizes in competitions despite being judged at times as
lacking in atmosphere and being too "map-like."
Recent investigations have turned
up numbers of photographers of the quotidian scene, both in cities
and in rural localities. In many cases the photographers remain
unknown, despite the fact that such images frequently were
reproduced on postcards when this form of communication grew in
popularity. Among those who supplied images for this purpose were
Roll and Vert in France and Emil Mayer in Austria. Photographing
daily life attracted women, who were beginning to become involved in
photography in greater numbers. Amelie Galup and Jenny de Vasson in
France, Christina Broom in England, and Alice Austen and Chansonetta
Stanley Emmons in the United States were among the many who took
cameras into streets and rural byways, Because the images are of
scenes that take place in the home and workplace as well as on the
street, at times they may seem similar to the social imagery by John
Thomson in London and Jacob Riis in New York—social photographers
who worked in the slums of their respective cities. However, the
emotional tone in these works usually is lighthearted and the scenes
Martin claimed that he became a
street photographer because he lacked the financial means to become
a Pictorialist, but in fact, enthusiasm for "real life" cut across
class lines, appealing to a broad sector of the population that
included wealthy individuals typified by Giuseppe Primoli and
Jacques Henri Lartigue. Primoli, a Bonaparte descendant who numbered
among his circle the intellectual and cultural elite of Italy and
France, worked between 1889 and 1905 (at first with a brother) to
document the doings of beggars, laborers, street vendors, and
performers, as well as the carefree pursuits of his own social
class. Mostly amiable in tone, with open space surrounding the
figures that are the focus of attention, Primoli's images could also
be intense, as evidenced by the strong contrasts and spatial
compression in a view of a religious procession in Ariccia.
The search for the unexpected in
the tedium of daily occurrence was another aspect of hand-camera
street photography of the time. As urbanization advanced, it swept
away the distinctive physical and social characteristics of the
culture of the past, substituting undifferentiated built
environments and standardized patterns of dress and behavior.
Hand-camera users endeavored to reaffirm individuality and arrest
time in the face of the encroaching depersonalization of existence.
The French photographer Lartigue was exceptional in that he was
given a hand camera in 1901 at the age of seven and continued to use
it throughout his lifetime to chronicle the unexpected. His early
work portrayed the idiosyncratic behavior of his zany upper-class
family whose wealth and quest for modernity impelled them to try out
all the latest inventions and devices of the time, from electric
razors to automobiles to flying machines. The young Lartigue's
intuitive sensitivity to line, strong contrast, and spatial
ambiguity, as seen in a view made in the Bois de Boulogne in 1911,
evokes the insouciance of affluent Europeans before the first World
War, a quality that is visible also in many images by unnamed
photographers who worked for the illustrated press at the time.
PAUL MARTIN. Entrance to Victoria Park, c. 1893.
Gelatin silver print. Gcrnsheim Collection, Humanities Research
Center, Universitv of Texas, Austin.
GIUSEPPE PRIMOLI. Procession, Ariaia, c. 1895.
Gelatin silver print. Fondazione Primoli, Rome.
ACQUES HENRI LARTIGUE
Jacques Henri Lartigue (June 13,
1894 - September 12, 1986) was a French photographer and painter.
Born in Courbevoie (a city outside of Paris) to a wealthy family, he
is most famous for his stunning photos of automobile races, planes
and fashionable Parisian women from the turn of the century.
He started taking photos when he was 6, his subject matter being
primarily his own life and the people and activities in it. As a
child he photographed his friends and family at play – running and
jumping, racing wheeled soap boxes, building kites, gliders and
aeroplanes, climbing the Eiffel Tower and so on. He also
photographed many famous sporting events, including automobile races
such as the Coupe Gordon Bennett and the French Grand Prix, early
flights by aviation pioneers including Gabriel Voisin, Louis Blériot,
and Roland Garros, and tennis players such as Suzanne Lenglen at the
French Open tennis championships.
Although little seen in that format, many of his earliest and most
famous photographs were originally taken in stereo, but he also
produced vast numbers of images in all formats and media including
glass plates in various sizes, some of the earliest autochromes, and
of course film in 2 1/4” square and 35mm. His greatest achievement
was his set of around 120 huge photograph albums, which compose the
finest visual autobiography ever produced. While he sold a few
photographs in his youth, mainly to sporting magazines such as La
Vie au Grand Air, in middle age he concentrated on his painting, and
it was through this that he earned his living, although he
maintained written and photographic journals throughout his life.
Only when he was 69 were his boyhood photographs serendipitously
discovered by Charles Rado of the Rapho agency, who introduced him
to John Szarkowski, then curator of the Museum of Modern Art in New
York, who in turn arranged an exhibition of his work at the museum.
From this, there was a photo spread in Life magazine in 1963,
coincidentally in the issue which commemorated the death of John
Kennedy, ensuring the widest possible audience for his pictures.
By then as he received stints for fashion magazines, he was famous
in other countries other than his native France, when until 1974 he
was commissioned by the newly elected President of France Valéry
Giscard d'Estaing to shoot an official portrait photograph. The
result was a simple photo of him without the use of lighting
utilising the national flag as a background. He was rewarded with
his first French retrospective at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs at
the following year and had more commissions from fashion and
decoration magazines flooding in for the rest of his life.
His first book, Diary of a Century was published soon afterwards in
collaboration with Richard Avedon, and from then on innumerable
books and exhibitions throughout the world have featured Lartigue's
photographs. He continued taking photographs throughout the last
three decades of his life, finally achieving the commercial success
that had previously evaded this rather unworldly man.
Although best known as a photographer, Lartigue was a capable if not
especially gifted painter and showed in the official salons in Paris
and in the south of France from 1922 on. He was friends with a wide
selection of literary and artistic celebrities including the
playwright Sacha Guitry, the singer Yvonne Printemps, the painters
Kees van Dongen, Pablo Picasso and the artist-playwright-filmmaker
Jean Cocteau. He also worked on the sets of the film-makers Jacques
Feyder, Abel Gance, Robert Bresson, François Truffaut and Federico
Fellini, and many of these celebrities became the subject of his
photographs. Lartigue, however, photographed everyone he came in
contact with, his most frequent muses being his three wives, and his
mistress of the early 1930s, the Romanian model Renée Perle.
JACQUES HENRI LARTIGUE. Avenue du Bois de Boulogne, 1911.
Gelatin silver print.
Other photographers sought out
moments of extreme contrast of class and dress, as in Fortune Teller
by Horace W. Nicholls, a professional photojournalist who recorded
the self-indulgent behavior of the British upper class before World
War I. Others celebrated moments of uncommon exhilaration, a mood
that informs Handstands by Heinrich Zille, a graphic artist who used
photography in his portrayal of working-class life in Berlin around
1900. Still others, Stieglitz among them, looked for intimations of
tenderness and compassion to contrast with the coldness and
impersonality of the city, exemplified in The Terminal and other
works made soon after Stieglitz returned to New York from Germany in
Indeed, in the United States at the
turn of the century, photographers were specifically urged to open
their eyes to the "picturesqucness" of die city, to depict its
bridges and structures, to leave the "main thoroughfares and descend
to the slums where an animated street life might be seen. In part,
this plea reflected the conviction held by Realist painters,
illustrators, pictorial and documentary photographers, joined by
social reformers, educators, and novelists, that the social life of
the nation was nurtured in the cities, that cities held a promise of
excitement in their freedom from conformity and ignorance. Stieglitz,
in whose magazine the article appeared, confessed in 1897 that after
opposing the hand camera for years, he (and other Pictorialist
photographers) had come to regard it as an important means of
evoking the character of contemporary life. His suggestion that
those using the hand camera study their surroundings and "await the
moment when everything is in balance" seems to have forecast a way
of seeing that 30 years later became known as the "decisive moment."
Whether undertaken consciously or not, the endeavor to assert the
prodigal human spirit by capturing the fortuitous moment long
remained one of the leitmotifs of 20th-century small-camera
Nor was this development limited to
New York. Soon after arriving in California from Germany in 1895,
the young Arnold Genthe obeyed his "vagabond streak," as he called
it, to photograph with a concealed hand camera in the reputedly
inhospitable Chinese quarter of San Francisco. Over the next ten
years, he returned continually to the "Canton of the West" in search
of tantalizing glimpses of an unusual culture. The images range from
the Pictorial to the reportorial, a dichotomy that continued to
characterize his work. As owner of a professional studio in San
Francisco at the time of the 1906 eardiquake, Genthe documented the
aftermath of the disaster with fine dramatic clarity, but after
relocating in New York he specialized in polished soft-focus
portraits of dancers and theatrical figures.
Ethnic enclaves were not the only
source nor was the small camera the only instrument for capturing
the kinds of subjects now considered picturesque. Countless
photographers began to document aspects of the life around them
using large-plate view cameras to penetrate beyond surface
appearances. That the city could be approached as a subject using a
large-format camera and photographed with reserved grace rather than
subjective urgency can be seen in the images made by Robert L.
Bracklow, an amateur photographer of means, to document the physical
structures, architectural details, and street activity in New York
at the turn of the century. With a flair for well-organized
composition, Bracklow's photographs of slums, shanties, and
skyscrapers suggest that by the end of the 19th century both hand
and view cameras had become a significant recreational resource. For
instance, E. J. Bellocq, a little-known commercial photographer
working in New Orleans during the 1910s, was able to pierce the
facade of life in a Storyville brothel. Whether commissioned or, as
is more likely, made for his own pleasure, these arrangements of
figure and decor project a melancholy languor that seems to emanate
from both real compassion and a voyeuristic curiosity satisfied by
the camera lens.
HORACE W. NICHOLLS. The Fortune Teller, 1910.
Gelatin silver print. Royal Photographic Society, Bath, England.
HEINRICH ZILLE. Handstands, c. 1900.
Gelatin silver print. Schirmer/Mosel, Munich.
Rudolf Heinrich Zille (January 10,
1858 - August 9, 1929), German illustrator and photographer, was
born in Radeburg near Dresden, as the son of watchmaker Johann
Traugott Zill (Zille since 1854) and Ernestine Louise (born Heinitz).
In 1867, his family moved to Berlin, where he finished school in
1872 and started an apprenticeship as a lithographer.
In 1883, he married Hulda Frieske, with whom he had three children.
She died in 1919.
Zille became best known for his (often funny) drawings, catching the
characteristics of people, especially "stereotypes", mainly from
Berlin and many of them published in the German weekly satirical
newspaper Simplicissimus. He was first to portray the desperate
social environment of the Berlin Mietskasernen (literally tenement
barracks), buildings packed with sometimes a dozen persons per room
that fled from land to the rising Gründerzeit industrial metropolis
only to find even deeper poverty in the developing proletarian
Zille did not feel himself as a real artist: he often said that his
work is not the result of talent but merely hard work. Max
Liebermann nevertheless promoted him. He called him into the Berlin
Secession in 1903, put his works in expositions of the upper class,
and encouraged him to sell drawings - and at the time Zille lost his
job as a lithographer in 1910 he encouraged him to live from his
drawings alone. The Berlin "Common People" tolled him the greatest
respect, and very late in life his fame culminated in the roaring
twenties with the National Gallery to buy some drawings in 1921, the
Academy of the Arts to honour him with a professorship in 1924,
Gerhard Lamprecht to make a movie of his stories in 1925 "Die
Verrufenen", and his 70th birthday was celebrated at large in
Berlin. He died one year later.
Less known is that he was the artist of many erotic pictures which
are close to pornography but also show the life of normal people.
Some of them can be seen in the Beate Uhse Erotic Museum in Berlin.
In 1983 director Werner W. Wallroth made an East German movie based
on a musical written by Dieter Wardetzky and Peter Rabenalt. This
movie Zille und Ick (Zille and I in Berlin Dialect) isn't a real
biopic but uses parts of Zille's life for the story.
HEINRICH ZILLE. Ruckenansicht, August 1901
HEINRICH ZILLE. The Wood Gatherers,
HEINRICH ZILLE. The Wood Gatherers
HEINRICH ZILLE. Frau auf einem Karussellpferd reitend, August 1900
ROBERT L. BRACKLOW. Statue of Virtue, New York, after 1909.
Gelatin silver print from the original negative. New-York Historical
Society; Alexander Alland Collection.
ARNOLD GENTHE. Man and Girl in Chinatown, c. 1896.
Gelatin silver print. Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Universitv of
Nebraska, Lincoln; F.M. Hall Collection.
Genthe was born in Berlin, Germany
to Louise Zober and Hermann Genthe, a professor of Latin and Greek
at the Graues Kloster (Grey Monastery) in Berlin. Arnold followed in
his father's footsteps, becoming a classically trained scholar; he
received a doctorate in philology in 1894 at the University of Jena,
where he knew artist Adolf Menzel, his mother's cousin.
After emigrating to San Francisco in 1895 to work as a tutor, he
taught himself photography. He was intrigued by the Chinese section
of the city and photographed its inhabitants, from children to drug
addicts, Due to his subjects' possible fear of his camera or their
reluctance to have pictures taken, Genthe sometimes hid his camera.
He sometimes removed evidence of Western culture from these
pictures, cropping or erasing as needed. About 200 of his Chinatown
pictures survive and these comprise the only known photographic
depictions of the area before 1906 earthquake.
After local magazines published some of his photographs in the late
1890s, he opened a portrait studio. He knew some of the city's
wealthy matrons, and as his reputation grew, his clientèle included
Nance O'Neil, Sarah Bernhardt, and Jack London.
In 1906, the San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed Genthe's
studio, but he rebuilt. His photograph of the earthquake's
aftermath, Looking Down Sacramento Street, San Francisco, April 18,
1906, is his most famous photograph.
In 1911 he moved to New York City, where he remained until his death
of a heart attack in 1942. He worked primarily in portraiture and
Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and John D. Rockefeller all sat
for him. His photos of Greta Garbo were credited with boosting her
career. He also photographed modern dancers, including Anna Pavlova,
Isadora Duncan, and Ruth St. Denis, and his photos were featured in
the 1916 book, The Book of the Dance. He also was an early
experimenter with the autochrome color photography process.
ARNOLD GENTHE. Isatora Duncan
E. J. BELLOCQ. From Storyville Portraits, c. 1913.
Silver print on prinring-out paper, made by Lee Fricdlander from the
Ernest James Bellocq
(b New Orleans, LA, 15 March 1873;
d New Orleans, 1949).
American photographer. He is known
to have worked as a commercial photographer in New Orleans from 1895
to 1940 and to have photographed for local shipbuilders and in the
Chinese sector of New Orleans, although none of this work apparently
survives. His photography is known only through prints made by Lee
Friedlander from the 89 gelatin dry plate negatives found after
Bellocq’s death. These negatives date from c. 1912 and are
sympathetic portraits of prostitutes of New Orleans and interior
views of their workplaces. Known as the Storyville Portraits, 34
were shown by MOMA, New York, in a travelling exhibition in 1970–71.
Bellocq’s life was the subject of Pretty Baby (1978), a film by
The new photographic technologies
had a signal effect on the role of American women in photography.
Simplified processing enabled greater numbers of "genteel" women to
consider photography a serious avocation and even a profession,
because by the late 1880s diey were able to take advantage also of
the availability of domestic help and store-bought food, both of
which provided some relief from household routines. At about the
same time, writers in the popular and photographic press, suggesting
that the medium was particularly suited to "the gender sex," urged
women to consider "an accomplishment which henceforth may combine
the maximum of grace and fascination. Encouragement came also from
the Federation of Women Photographers and from competitions designed
especially for female photographers. Unlike the older arts,
photography did not require training in male-dominated academies,
long periods of apprenticeship, or large commitments of time to
practice, although greater involvement in the medium usually yielded
more impressive results In addition to those who became prominent in
photo-journalism and Pictorialism (see Chapters 8 and 9), many women
used both hand and view cameras to document family life and domestic
customs, recreational and street activities. Chansonetta Stanley
Emmons and Alice Austen were two such women. Images of small-town
life, typified by a scene in the village of Maryborough, New
Hampshire (pi. no. 316), were made in 1900 by the recently widowed
Emmons, who had turned to photography as a solace and a means of
augmenting a meager income. Nurtured on genre imagery, Emmons's
domestic scenes often were sen-timental and derivative, but she also
could capture evanescent moments of childhood play with refreshing
directness. Austen, originally from a well-to-do Staten Island
family, was less typical in that she not only devoted some 25 years
to a visual exploration of her own social milieu, but she also
investigated the vibrant working-class neighborhoods of lower
Manhattan (pi. no. 317) with an eye for expressive lighting and
gesture. In Austen's case, as was undoubtedly true of other women,
the camera provided a means to overcome psychological and social
barriers, enabling a shy and conventionally reared Victorian "lady"
to participate in the excitement of urban street life.
CHANSONETTA STANLEY EMMONS. Children at Well, 1900.
Gelatin silver print. Culver Pictures, New York.
ALICE AUSTEN. Hester Street, Egg Stand, 1895.
Gelatin silver print. Staten Island Historical Society, Staten
Alice Austen Collection.
In die decade before 1900, the
possibility that camera views of the city might be a salable
commodity' began to interest individuals and commercial studios.
Using view cameras and tripods as well as hand cameras,
photographers working on their own or for photographic enterprises
undertook to provide images for postcards and magazine reproduction,
for antiquarian societies and libraries, and for artists and
decorators, creating in the process a formidable number of such
visual documentations. For instance, in New York between 1890 and
1910, Joseph Byron (descendant of a family of English photographers)
was involved in a business with his wife and five children,
including the well-known Percy; they exposed and processed almost
30,000 large-format views both on commission and on speculation. A
similar pictorial record of Paris can be seen in the work of Paul
Geniaux, Louis Vert, and the Seeberger brothers. These images
comprise scenes of urban labors as well as the activities of
the bourgeoisie on their daily rounds. With exceptions, these
competent if detached records of buildings, neighborhoods, sporting
and theatrical events, people at play and at work arc interesting
mainly for their rich fund of sociological information. The most
extensive and in some judgments the most visually expressive
document of the urban experience—also of Paris—was begun just before
1900 by Eugene Atget. Using a simple 18 x 24 centimeter camera
mounted on a tripod, this former actor began to document the city
and its environs for a varied clientele that included architects,
decorators, painters, publishers, and sculptors. Aside from their
value and use as descriptive records of buildings, decor, statuary,
storefronts, costumes, and gardens, these beautifully composed
images resonate with an intense though not easily defined passion.
Rich in detail but not fussy, affecting but not sentimental, this
great body of work represents Atget's yearning to possess all of old
Paris and in so doing to embrace the authentic culture of France
that modern technology was destroying. Other large-scale commercial
documents often exhibited a patriotic character, reflecting the
growing movements for national self-determination taking place in
various parts of Europe. Forty thousand views of Irish life, which
include scenes of work and play, of city thorough-fares and serene
country landscape, were made by Robert French for the firm of
William Lawrence in Dublin. And in view of the political agitation
for independence among groups inhabiting the vast reaches of Russia,
it is not surprising to find the tradition of ethnographic images,
mentioned earlier, continuing into the dry-plate era, with
photographers from many sections documenting places and customs in
order to bolster feelings of national identity. Just as
ethnographers in Eastern Europe were determined to collect evidence
of a distinctive literature and folk music, photographers in Latvia,
Bulgaria, Croatia, and Poland contributed to this surge of
nationalism with images of national costume, typical environments,
and regional customs. Since in these less industrialized regions the
medium received less financial support from the urban populace than
in Western Europe and the United States, distinctions between
professional and amateur, between documentary and artistic were not
as codified; the same individual might fulfill all these roles,
might at the same time make commercial post cards and other
documentations and submit works to the local camera club
exhibitions. A similar ethnic consciousness emerged among black
photographers in the United States in the early 20th century.
The demand for portraits and other
kinds of pictorial records, coupled with easier access to equipment,
materials, and processing resulted in an increase in the number of
commercially successful studios run by black entrepreneurs in their
own communities. From the early days of the medium, daguerreotypes
and other camera portraits had been made by unheralded black
photographers, but these later enterprises produced images that
depicted, in addition, the social activities of upwardly mobile
urban dwellers and life in rural communities, made both for commerce
and as expressions of black pride. Addison N. Scurlock started a
portrait studio in Washington in 1904 and soon began to document
activities at Howard University where he was official photographer;
Waterfront, 1915, is suggestive of his feeling for mood and texture
when not confined to portraiture or straight documentation. James
Van Der Zee, probably the best-known black studio photographer in
the United States, began a professional career in 1915, opening an
establishment in Harlem a year later to which the well-to-do and
famous came for portraits. He also documented social activities for
the community and made genre images for his own pleasure. Had these
photographers not faced the necessity of earning a living in studio
work, both might have produced such images more frequently, a
situation that obviously was true also for the majority of
commercial photographers everywhere who were able to make affecting
documents of their social milieu only in the time spared from studio
work. Unlike white Americans, however, black photographers could not
afford the leisure and financial freedom to indulge in personal
expression nor were they able to find a niche in photojournalism,
advertising photography, or social documentation until after the
second World War. Anyone who has poked around attics, antique shops,
and secondhand bookstores is aware of the formidable quantities of
photographic post cards that have accumulated since camera
techniques were simplified in the late 19th century. The post card
format—approximately 31/4 x 5 1/2 inches—appeared in Europe in 1869
and shortly after in the United States, but it was not until after
the happy conjunction of new rural postal regulations, hand cameras,
and special printing papers that occurred shortly after the turn of
the century that the picture card became immensely popular with
Americans—individuals and commercial studios alike. Artless yet
captivating, post card images (even when turned out in studios)
display a kind of irreverent good humor in their depictions of work,
play, children, and pets, although they also could deal with grimmer
realities. In thee absence of telephones, glossy picture magazines,
and television, the photographic postcard was not merely a way to
keep in touch but a form of education and entertainment as well.
HENRI, and LOUIS SEEBERGER (SEEBERGER FRERES). Fishermen near
Washerwoman's Boats, c. 1905-10.
Gelatin silver print. Caisse Nationals des Monuments Historiques et
des Sites, Paris.
ROBERT FRENCH. Claudy River, Gweedore, County Donegal, c. 1890.
Gelatin silver print. National Library of Ireland, Dublin.
ADDISON N. SCURLOCK. Waterfront, 1915.
Gelatin silver print.
JAMES VAN DER ZEE. Couple in Raccoon
Gelatin silver print. James Van Der Zee Estate, New York;
UNKNOWN PHOTOGRAPHER (American). Untitled, z. 1900-10.
Gelatin silver post card. Private Collection.
BERENICE ABBOTT. Portrait of Eugene Atget, c. 1927.
Gelatin silver print. Witkin Gallery, Inc., New York.