While I’m on the topic of military themed images, I thought I’d do a (for the most part) no-words review of the military images in my collection.
Laurence Irving is the son of Henry Irving, the famous actor and theater owner who inspired one of Bram Stoker’s characters in Dracula (and for whom Bram Stoker worked). Laurence had a short life and tragic end, perishing in 1914 in a maritime disaster on the St. Lawrence River (an irony that I’m sure was lost on him). I’m guessing that in this photo he must have been in his 20s, so this would have been taken sometime in the 1890s.
Also fascinating is the photographers’ description of the studio address: 20 UPPER Baker Street, 20 doors north of Baker Street Station. Which puts it across the street more or less from 227 B Baker Street, the fictive home of Sherlock Holmes.
I have a photo of his father, Henry Irving, already in my collection:
Into every life a little rain must fall now and again. Here is the latest arrival to my collection – a pair of British soldiers posing atop a cheetah skin rug. I’m not sure of the date – perhaps some military history buffs out there will be able to identify the time period more precisely (my best guess is between 1890-1910, perhaps as old as the 1880s) but more likely in the 19th century. In any case, the seller shipped it in a plastic sleeve that was loose, and held down with tape. The card either through direct action of the seller or carelessness got attached to the tape, and a big chunk of the emulsion lifted off the card. FORTUNATELY, A: I didn’t pay a lot for the image, and B: the big chunk stayed intact, so it is possible it can be re-attached without being too terribly obvious.
This ‘restoration’ is a purely photoshop restoration, quick-and-dirty with my limited photoshop skills. You can see what the card SHOULD look like with the chunk re-attached.
When I bought this, I saw it as a wonderful example of that genre of homosocial images of men being affectionate that you saw so very much of in the 19th century but faded out by World War I and pretty much disappeared by World War II. This very much has the feel of two soldiers of the Raj, or given the cheetah pelt, somewhere in Imperial Africa. Although probably it was in a London studio. These kinds of photos disappeared as changing attitudes toward men and women and their relationships evolved. The rise of urbanization, factory work, and the buddings of gender equality transformed the personal social sphere, particularly for unmarried people, and what had previously been mono-gendered changed to become heterogenous. With that heterogeneity came the rising expectation of directing your affections, at least in public, toward the “appropriate” gender. Even if the homosocial relationships didn’t go away, the practice of documenting them was suppressed.
Here is an “Imperial” Carte-de-visite by Mathew Brady’s New York studio. It’s called an “imperial” because it is the size of what later came to be called a cabinet card (roughly 4 1/2 x 6 inches), whereas typical carte-de-visites are 2 1/2 x 4-ish (roughly the size of a modern business card).
Whoever this gentleman was, he’s obviously quite dapper and very fashionable. I’m sure he’s someone famous and important, but I don’t know Victorian American personalities as well as I should. As a photographer, I’m wondering if either this was made with the same camera and lens as was used for the smaller images, or if this was shot by Brady himself instead of one of his assistants, because the depth of field is so shallow that at this size, his hand and leg closest to the camera are obviously out of focus. If this was shot by Brady himself, perhaps his eyesight was bad enough at this point that he didn’t realize the hand and knee were out of focus. If that was not the case, then it’s possible the fault lies with the lens – when you focus anything closer, the depth of what is in sharp focus in the image decreases. In order to project an image roughly 4 times the size using the same lens, you have to focus much closer and the depth of field will be noticeably shallower.
If anyone out there has an opinion or better yet some historical fact to prove/disprove either or both possibilities, I’d greatly appreciate hearing from you.
Yet another in my collection of circus freaks from the late 19th Century. In this scan of the card I’ve deliberately tweaked the scan of the back of the card to make the imprinting more readable. You’ve got to love the fact that their ages were left blank, to be penciled in, but their height and weight were printed. It makes me very suspicious of all three figures – Victorian-era circuses were known for intentionally over/under-stating data to make their particular freaks seem all the more extreme as a draw to customers. “Barnum’s fat man weighed 325 lbs! Ours weighs 450!” when in reality Barnum’s fat man was 275 and theirs just breaks 280. Ditto for giants – many of the circus giants were described as being somewhere between seven and eight feet, when in fact they were a bit north of 6’6″. It would have been hard for the average Victorian to gauge, as they often were paired on stage with little people, and the average height in 1870 was around five feet six inches, as opposed to five feet 10 today, so someone standing six feet nine would have looked even taller. Tom Thumb’s height bounced around in official descriptions of the time as well, frequently knocking three to six inches off his actual height (at his passing at age 45, he was 3 feet 4 inches tall).
Frank Wendt was the successor to Charles Eisenmann, taking over Eisenmann’s studio in 1893 upon his death, and running it in New York City until 1898, when he moved to New Jersey. Wendt is best known for photographing circus freaks, but he also worked with the general theatrical trade and more mainstream portrait customers as well. For more information about Wendt, check out Frank Wendt Photographs: The Wondrous World of Frank Wendt
In honor of my latest acquisition for my collection (posted immediately below), I’m going to recap my 19th century Native American images collection.
The new image is a school class photo from Springfield, South Dakota. I find the image fascinating and remarkable by virtue of the racial diversity in the school group. Though the class is mostly Native American, there are white and African-American girls in the class as well. I think the teacher who inscribed the card on the verso is the woman in the center of the photograph.
The inscription reads: “With best wishes, Your loving teacher, Mary B. Benedict, North Walton, Delaware Co. New York. Alice & Lucy Cougar”. I’m assuming that Alice & Lucy Cougar are two of the Native American girls in the photo, but which two I’m not sure.
I’m not sure on the date on this one – it could well be early 20th century, but I’m including it because it is non-exploitative. If anything it is similar in spirit to the school class group in depicting interaction between Native and non-Native Americans in apparent social equality.
This last one is probably the oldest image of a Native American I own, and will most likely remain so, as images this old are quite rare. Most imagery of Native Americans is from the west and mid-west, as Native populations had been largely subsumed and/or eradicated from the east coast by the time photography arrived.
The other two “Art” photos of Native Americans I have are, albeit sympathetic, exploitative portrayals of Native American men in the line of “Noble Savage/Vanishing Tribe” imagery meant to play on the sympathies (and perhaps the subconscious erotic sentiments) of an Eastern, caucasian audience. The reason I say erotic sentiments is that they depict handsome young Native men wearing signals of exotic “nativeness” (headdress, jewelry), but little else. The signs of “nativeness” may or may not be any degree of authentic or relevant to the individual wearing them. The George Eastman photo here is heading that direction in that the costumery the subject wears may not be of any one particular tribe, much as Edward Curtis would do when he felt a photo needed a little something – he would hand his sitter some wardrobe accessory that they might never have otherwise worn and got them to don it for the picture. In that regard, photos like Curtis’ and Eastman’s work are not “documentary” in a strict sense, but they are often the only record that exists of a person or a culture, so they do have record value.
While the Carl Moon “Navajo Brave” may be wearing authentic Navajo jewelry, he’s not wearing much else, and the loincloth is not exactly practical daily wear. I could be wrong, but the “New Mexican Native Couple” image shows what I believe would have been far more typical attire for that region of the country. Native Americans may be blessed with a higher melanin content in their skin, but that’s still not a good reason to run around near naked all day at 5000′ elevation under a blazing sun.
The “Tewa Bowman” is another in the same vein – what little accoutrements he wears may be authentic or may not, but to the intended audience for the image it is irrelevant because they neither know nor care; the bow and feathered headdress point to “Indian-ness” and the comeliness and physical condition of the sitter make him “noble” in the same spirit of a Grecian marble nude.
These images leave a complicated, conflicted legacy. They purport to be records of a vanishing culture, yet the record they leave is at best fuzzy and at worst totally inaccurate. The 20th century “save the noble savages” images took the problematic record images one step further. By the dawn of the 20th century, there was a growing awareness in Anglo civilization that Native cultures and peoples were truly vanishing, and the attitude began to shift from approval of that fact to a sense of loss and a desire to intervene in that downward spiral. These “art” images fed a market for Anglos who had no first-hand knowledge of Native culture and felt some degree of racial guilt. Even if the base motivation was in the right place, the images exploited Native subjects to feed a market, wether through distortion of identity, sexual exploitation, or both.
Here is a Japanese carte-de-visite sized cabinet card of a young soldier, possibly a recent graduate from military academy and newly commissioned officer. This appears to be circa 1900, so it could be from as early as the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, or somewhere in between. He’s quite dashing looking in his uniform, and he has the look of someone anxious about his future (thus the wartime attribution). Any uniform and military experts out there who can correct my timeline are more than welcome to chime in. And if anyone knows anything about the studio, information as always will be greatly appreciated. Looking at the back of the card, it was once glued into an album, and only a numeric marking in pencil exists on the back, so whoever removed it from the album has eliminated a prime means of identifying the sitter.