A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.5 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places...
These are remarkable photos of folks standing at the edge of the world in Yosemite National Park. They were made by George Fiske, a New Hampshire boy who left for San Francisco and moved to Yosemite at age 44 in 1879. He worked there for decades, producing beautiful and iconic work before running out of steam after the turn of the century, and in the end committing suicide in 1918 because as he said he lost interest in being alive.
I came to Fiske today because of the dancing ladies, hanging out at the edge of the overhanging lock, a photo made by him in the 1890's at Glacier Point in Yosemite. That led me to another photo that Fiske made of his co-author Galen Clark, made at the same place some years later at the same famous spot, in 1910.
Building on some reaching and questionable physical identification work of Sir Francis Galton, Raphael Pumpelly tried to make photographs of what scientists looked like.
At a scientific meeting of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., Pumpelly (along with Dr. (Thomas Mayo) Brewer and the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, (Spencer F.) Baird) undertook the experiment to determine whether or not there was a certain composite "type" in groups of academicians. He employed the justly-named head of the photography department at the NAtional Museum, Mr. (Thomas Mayo) Smillie, to make a series of 2-second exposures of the scientists upon a single glass plate. Two seconds per portrait was not long enough to make a defined portrait for a single sitter, but if there 15 or 30 such exposures on the same plate it was seen that collectively a strong impression would be produced. The resulting portraits are interesting in their own way, but probably not so interesting without the backstory.
The problem of course is the interpretation and what could come of classifying external characteristics for internal capacities, which would make this exercise as useful as cranial bump reading or body mole mapping.
Also it is unclear that if you didn't identify these images as composites of leading American scientists but were told that they were pictures of murderers or meat thieves or sneak burglars, it would be as easy to believe. Instead of identifying their characteristics of "intelligence" and "imaginativeness", changing the grid-of-explanation to criminality would certainly change those readings to something else.
[The original paper is available via our blog bookstore, here.]
Here are two examples of Things That Almost Were But Weren't: Photography (1839) and Television (1928). The first item contains a woodcut of a heliotype (being the first image of a photograph produced by non-photographic means); the second displays the method for receiving images of radio shows but is not a television.
First: The first published non-photographic image of a non-photograph or "sunpicture", 1839
The following images were made by Farm Security Administration/Office of
War Information photographers during World War II and are part of the
famous FSA photography series that I have written about here.
The color photographs--which were made in the first decade or so of
the use of this new medium--represented only about 1,600 of the
collection of 160,000 images in the FSA archive, and are far less known
than their black-and-white complements, many of which are new iconic
symbols for this period. The color images are beautiful works, and
somehow seem to bring these historic images a little closer to the
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Part of the Zoomology series
This is a quick follow-up to an earlier post on Solomon Butcher in which there two two photographic images that are clearly "manufactured"--one is created in the darkroom (simply adding trees in a tress-less landscape), while the other (below) is an unlabelled recreation of an event. This is in the lines of Timothy O'Sullivan and Matthew Brady dressing up their images a bit by posing the dead or giving them added bits (like muskets and so on) to enliven the picture. This one though is entirely theatre--as it happens there are very few 19th century photographs depicting a crime-in-progress. Butcher just decided to show his audience what the crime probably looked like. In any event if not for a little Zoomology the scene could've perhaps passed for real.
This is a detail from the full-plate glass negative, printed out so:
Without the enlargement it is difficult to tell what sort of instruments the ranchers were holding. But up close the wire cutters are simply suggestions of that too, being made of wood and all.
When Solomon Butcher laid his head down on his final pillow he evidently thought of himself as a half-failure. His work as a photographer in a life full of travel through the Great Plains lead to not-much-"success" save for one book1, and his work wasn't recognized for the impact that it would have in the decades to come. Perhaps he wondered if his ways were all worth it, hauling his family and his enormously heavy collection of full-plate glass negatives from one house to the next. Of course that would change in death--not the money part, but certainly the recognition. His photographs are outstanding glimpses into late 19th century American frontier life, and especially so for the work he did making images of families and their belongings in the long rolling landscape of pioneer Nebraska.
not sure exactly what Solomon Butcher told his subjects when he photographed them
outside of their frontier houses out there in the Great
Plains in the 1880’s. His spectacular
portraits included not only the family of the house, but in many cases, everything
that the family owned. Possessions were
encumbrance making your way across the country in the mid/19th century,
especially if you didn’t have very many to begin with. These families—the first generation in their
mostly sod-built houses—would’ve been farmers scratching out a minimum trade
and decent subsistence. City/town goods
would’ve been not-usual in these circumstances, and evidently whatever it was
they had of these things wound up outside, displayed around the house and on
the roof, when Mr. Butcher arrived in his photographer’s wagon.
was it, I wonder, who came up with the initial idea of displaying the
family’s possessions: did Butcher set
out with that idea, or did it happen spontaneously? I wonder what it was the families thought as
Butcher was packing up his equipment, his horse fed, his cameras stowed away,
climbing up onto the driver’s bench. Did
they wait until he was a spot on the horizon to put away their things? Did they gather everything up as Butcher
gathered up his own material, or did they just wait for the stranger to
disappear before pulling the family back together? Sitting their surrounded by
the things that they owned, did these families feel a quiet pride, or were they
embarrassed have their pictures made together with their frontier opulence?)
There's much to look at in these images, and the Nebraska Historical Society does a very good job at it here, espcially when they work at some digital magic, making some of the disappeared stuff that lurks in the shadows of the interiors of the cabins appear. What is of interest to me today are the sunburns--this issue was brought up yesterday in another post on the invention of the satirical photograph, where the self-portrait shows a man with heavily sunned face and hands, the marks of a working man with dark settling on light becomes a little remarkable.
This is seen in Butcher's photographs from time-to-time. In the series of photographs of homesteads, he often captured images of men without hats--seldom the case, I guess, in the normal routine of a day. The men's faces are deeply tanned except for where the hat is pulled down to the middle of their forehead, where we see a much lighter complexion:
Which makes sense, of course, since these were pioneers and farmers, and working pretty much all of the time outdoors.
I remember being surprised the first few times I noticed this, and then not so. This is much like seeing all of those non-smiling photographic portraits of the 19th century and wondering about the sombreness, when the general explanation for the seriousness was far simpler: given the length of time for an exposure, it was took simply too much effort to hold the same smile for a minute or three, and so the rigid face became a necessity. The brands of the faces of these men was there simply because they wore hats outdoors doing hard work in the High Plains sun.
There's a world going on in these photographs, but for right now I'm just looking at faces.The Library of Congress site has an excellent collection of this images online, and there's a lot of micro-photo inspection to be done.
Another example, here:
Which is a detail from: (Source: The Library of Congress, "Rev. and Mrs. E.D. Eubank on Clear Creek west of Lee Park, Custer County, Nebraska".)
“Nothing is falser than people's preconceptions and ready-made opinions; nothing is sillier than their sham morality...”
(atribued to) Petronius,
(Image source, Gerry Badger blog, who also has some interesting things to say about the work as momento mori.)
The road in determining who was the first person to what discovery is sometime a bit rocky--so with the invention of the computer (ask Mr. Atanatsoff), and the telephone (ditto Mr. Gray) and the television (and so to with Dr. Korn). This is also the case with photography, the rights for the discovery of the process contested in the first year following the announcement of the process.
The response to rejected claims for priority in discovery are almost (?) never recorded visually, but in he case of photography the rejected party did make a visual response, which I think was a prosimentrum of sorts, a photographic novella, and the appearance of the first use of satire in photography.
Louis Daguerre's epochal publication in the Comptes Rendus in 1839 would bring about the general recognition of the birth of photography--his process was described in that article and was immediately set to use by hundreds of adventurers people even in the first few weeks after publication. IT may well be that there are legitimate claimants working on the "photogenic" science before this time but it is Mr. Daguerre who published his findings first.
Among the many "firsts" in the first year of photography (reckoned as PD or post Daguerre
Generally though the first photographic portrait has been recognized as being the work of Robert Cornelius, who was among the earliest practioners of the new science of the Daguerreotype. This is his work, dated 1839, made in his father's gas light importing business on Chestnut Street, Philadelphia:
(Both subjects have interesting hair issues.)
is is fine and remarkable, though the images simply record the bodies of the humans that are pictured. The first human portrait with an edge, with a political or social axe too grind and point to make, an image bent on a decisive end, belongs to a man who mildly and then hotly contested Daguerere's claim to the birth of photography--Hippolyte Bayard.
Bayard (1807-1887) experimented in the photographic science before the publication of Daguerre's paper and had shared some of his successes at this early date with members of the French Academy of Sciences (the publishers of the esteemed Comptes Rendus, the vehicle for Daguerre's paper). He was even in communication with Francois Arago, who as it turns out was the champion of Daguerre, and who introduced the paper to the world. After the appearance of Daguerre's paper Bayard--no doubt somewhat envious of the attention and money/funding that Daguerre was receiving) petitioned for help from Arago to establish his own claim and a chance for the experimenter's lament (funding). He was told in no uncertain terms by Arago to cease the attention, as it would hurt the chances of Daguerre to establish his priority and have the honor of the invention of photography to stay in France. It is a longer story than this, obviously, but suffice to say, Bayard's interests were mostly ignored, his priority claims relinquished. (He was later able to collect a few thousand francs for his scientific work, but the larger prizes eluded him.
And so in 1840, full of his own defeat and thoroughly impressed by Daguerre's success, Bayard composed the (above) portrait of himself as a drowned and dead man. On the reverse he wote:
"The corpse which you see here is that of M. Bayard, inventor of the
process that has just been shown to you. As far as I know this
indefatigable experimenter has been occupied for about three years with
his discovery. The Government which has been only too generous to
Monsieur Daguerre, has said it can do nothing for Monsieur Bayard, and
the poor wretch has drowned himself. Oh the vagaries of human life....!
... He has been at the morgue for several days, and no-one has
recognized or claimed him. Ladies and gentlemen, you'd better pass along
for fear of offending your sense of smell, for as you can observe, the
face and hands of the gentleman are beginning to decay." (From Helmut Gernsheim, A Concise History of Photography, with Alison Gernsheim, London: Thames & Hudson, 1965)
It seems that the use of satire in photography was not common in the first few decades following 1839, which makes Bayard's first use of he genre in 1840 even more remarkable. Satire in general has been aroudn for thousands of years, mostly in the form of drama and literature, and then in (Western, at least) painting in the Renaissance), right up through the Brueghels and Hogarth and Chaplin's Great Dictator and Dr. Strangelove. But it seems to me that the first photographic use of the genre came with the overtaken Bayard, who at least deserves this honor of "firstness".
I just wanted to remark on the hands and head of Bayard in his self-portrait--I believe that the man is just sunburned. It si common to see in 19th century photographs of working people that--when their hat is removed and so on--we see a big sun/tan line ont heir forehead. This is particularly the case in the work of Solomon Butcher, who recorded the lives of families on the SOdbuster Fronter in the 1880's and 1890's in Nebraska.
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Part of the Zoomology series
From the photography collection at the Library of Congress, offering deep and big graphic files. The file photograph looked interesting, but on closer inspection the magnificent central figure is revealed:
"Chain gang of convicts engaged in road work. Pitt County, North
Carolina. Autumn 1910. The inmates were quartered in the wagons shown in
the picture. Wagons were equipped with bunks and move from place to
place as labor is utilized. The central figure in the picture is J.Z.
McLawhon, who was at that time county superintendent of chain gangs. The
dogs are bloodhounds used for running down any attempted escapes."
These images from the Library of Congress daguerreotype collection offer a photographic glimpse into the everyday working life of Americans 150 years ago. Not as many of these jobs are as extinct as their expectations for extinction:
This is a continuation of sort of this morning's post, "Massive 500-Daguerreotype Mosaic", though this one concentrates on the sumptuous ruination and decay that has occurred within and to some of these photographic images. I've looked closely at only five of these images, and within each of these five images there are five more. And, if you manipulated the largest downloadable file of these (which range up to about 150 megs), there are five more within the five within the five. And all that before you start to imagine the artistic fantasies int he non-representational forms, and that before adding color. So five is all that will be here, for the present.
I take no credit whatsoever for the images below--they are all from the fabulous Library of Congress site, specifically from their daguerreotype collection of portraits. I simply wanted to see what they all might look like as a continuous mosaic, and I think the result is pretty remarkable, even given the limitations of my (soon to be rectified with Wordpress) limited Typepad account.
,Each image is clickable, linked to the Library of Congress site, with full explanation and catalog entry, and also with expanded choices for expanding the image.
I found Jack Delano as a photographer for the Farm Security administration where he worked for Ray Stryker making photographs of the vastly changing America during the mid/late 1930's. He worked with a relatively small group of photographers
including Esther Bubley, Marjory Collins, Mary Post Wolcott, Arthur
Rothstein, Walker Evans, Russell Lee, Gordon Parks,
Charlotte Brooks, John Vachon, Carl Mydans, Dorothea Lange and Ben
Shahn--as a collective they produced perhaps the greatest body of documentary work this country has ever seen. Delano was in his mid-20's when he started with the FSA, a little more than a decade in the U.S. after arriving here from the Ukraine (born Jack Ovcharov in 1914). Besides his life in photography, Delano was a gifted and versatile composer. He died in 1997.
Here's an interview with Delano at the Archives of American Art (here).
Most images below are from the FSA collection at the Library of Congress (here). Another nice selection is found at the Museum of Contemporary Photography (here)
The photographer Walker Evans (1903-1975) was an ultra-light and lyrical traveler, who didn't leave a footprint in the country he moved through, though the impact of his work--the result of the travel--fastened a famously indelible image on American history--indelible, and fast, being recognized for his work with a commanding exhibition at the new Museum of Modern Art in 1938.
Evans possessed a crystaline lens which yielded both spectacular detail and subtle quietnesses. He could turn a tenement farmer's rough-hewn wooden kitchen drawer filled with roustabout cutlery into a photographic masterpiece, and then photograph the face of that farmer or that farmer's family and have it stand as an absolute testimonal to the expereince of the Great Depression in the American life. Evans made some of the core memories of that visual experience. He (along with some of the greatest photographers America has produced) worked for the government for a time during the Depression, answering to Roy Stryker at the Resettlement Administration and the Farm Security Administration, with the mission of taking photographs of America--which he did, establishing himself as one of the early and preeminent masters of documentary photography.
I was thinking of him earlier today, adn thought that I'm make a selection Walker's photographs from the magnificent collection of Farm Security Administration images at the Library of Congress. (Also, see the Museum of Modern Art for a nice appraisal, here).
(Please also see this blog's post on Women in Sports, from about the same era, here as well as here)
Strolling through the New York Public Library Digital Collection (here), I came across many hundreds of images of baseball players. What struck me with some of them were their stubborn, unabashed pride, images made of the ballplayers standing squarely in front of the camera, mostly looking directly into the lens, shoulders set squarely under that, a straight, dead-on shot. Its not just in cartoons where the full frontal is rare--my experience shows it to be uncommon almost across the board.