Trolling around on eBay (something I do WAY too much of), I came across this group of CDVs. They represent a form of travelogue by an American in the 1860s, bopping around Europe during and after the Civil War. How do I know he (assuming the gender here) was an American? The way he writes the dates – July 16, 1864 – is the Yankee way of writing dates – had it been a European, the date would have been 16 July 1864. I felt compelled to buy them because not only did I feel an affinity for this person’s being an American in foreign countries, but I had been to several of the same places. There were more images that I could have bought, but good fiscal sense called me back from the brink and I chose only those images from places I had been to (or at least near).
In chronological order-
I love how C.R. (the collector of these images) wrote his notes on the back – the haunted church with the pews that had the wood reclaimed to sell as souvenirs. I’ve not been to Scotland yet, but when I was a teenager, I spent a month with my parents living in London, and we took an extended driving trip through Wales, so I’ve seen many a ruin like this on the side of a winding country road.
Now we’re off to Italy, and the Palazzo Diamanti in Ferrara. I’ve not been to Ferrara myself yet, but I have been to Italy twice, and I loved the inclusion of people in the photo for scale, and for the fact that they’re pretty sharp and clear, something not easy to achieve when shooting wet plate collodion images of subjects who don’t know they need to sit still.
The world famous Cathedral of Pisa, from a less famous view. Most images of the Cathedral show it from the bell tower side. You can see the cathedral and the tower from the rail station at Pisa, where I changed trains en route from Genoa to Florence. C.R.’s note: ” ‘Cathedral and leaning tower’ at Pisa, with a small part of the Baptistery”.
A sight I missed out on in Genoa when I was there. The Villa Pallavicini is now home to the Archaeological Museum, and the gardens are open to the public as well. The scan on eBay did not do the image justice – the original card is in pristine condition, minus the pin-hole. The albumen print is incredibly sharp and clear, with minimal discoloration and foxing.
And here we come to the image that started my interest in this set – the “old” cathedral of Genoa. When I went to Genoa, I stayed with a friend of mine who lives all of six blocks from the cathedral, so it was a daily sight on our excursions. On this one, C.R. is rather terse, simply noting “Cathedral of Genoa”, his initials, and the year, 1868. This is another card in the group that is far better than the scan would suggest. Truly pristine.
The great and the sad thing about these cards is that they again provoke my personal wanderlust, and I’ve got a serious itch to hit the road to Italy again. And to Scotland for the first time, and to half a dozen other places! I’d love to bring one of my big cameras, say my 5×7 or the whole plate camera, and try and re-create these same images, or at the very least capture some very modern interpretations of the same scenes as they would be found today. NOT like the recent Annie Liebowitz show of her super-privileged travel photos of famous people’s homes (Freud’s office, Eleanor Roosevelt’s bedroom in ways you and I could NEVER photograph them).