Category Archives: Silver Gelatin Prints


Where does inspiration come from for your personal work? For me, it comes not only from the world around me, but also from images I see, particularly in my journeys as a collector. I read voraciously (my house movers can attest to that when they brought 50-odd boxes of books up two flights of stairs), I collect vintage anonymous vernacular work, I go to openings, and I consume as much visual media as I can.

I was looking around for additional pieces to add to my collection of Tom Thumb images when I came across this little gem –


And by little I do mean little – it’s 3 x 2 1/2 inches, smaller than a carte-de-visite. I was fascinated by the brilliance of the composition – even though this was most likely taken with a little box camera using 127 size film. The photographer posed the subject in such a way as to achieve near perfect symmetry of the subject’s form, contrasting with the dynamic sweep of the backdrop fabric. The style and lighting reminded me of the modern work of a photographer I admire – Reuven Afanador.

Reuven Afanador - Sombra - Ballet Dancer

Reuven’s work has a very ‘vintage’ feel to it, and this body of images is highly reminiscent of 19th century wet-plate work.

Finding this little photo of the bodybuilder inspired me to shoot a new series working with the same kind of backdrop and lighting. Ideally with a daylight studio, but I’ll take what I can find right now as I’m studio-less.

Boy in Toreador Suit, Mexico City, August 20, 1949

Boy in Toreador Suit, Mexico City, 1949
Boy in Toreador Suit, Mexico City, 1949
Photographer's imprint, verso, Boy in Toreador Suit
Photographer’s imprint, verso, Boy in Toreador Suit

Here’s a cute photo of a teenage boy in a toreador suit, taken in Mexico City, August 20, 1949. The photographer’s stamp on the back of the print specifies the exact date, which is inordinately helpful. I just wish I could read his name, though – the script on the front AND the typeface used for his name on the back makes it impossible for me to decipher the exact spelling of his last name. Translation of the stamp:

Carlos **unza
A Photographer Whom You Can Recommend
Bolivar 57, Tel: 12.38.84
Mexico, D.F.
20 August 1949

I don’t know that this boy would actually have been a toreador – he could well have been playing dress-up for the camera. But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s legit. Google Mapping the studio address, in all likelihood this was a very posh studio in the center of Mexico City, not far from the historic district (I found THREE addresses with the same street number around the city, but the street views of the other two showed nothing that looked like commercial enterprise ever happening there). If anyone out there in cyberland knows who this photographer was, I’d greatly appreciate letting me know the exact spelling of his name and any biographical data about him. Ditto for the identity of the subject – if he was in fact a toreador, someone out there somewhere knows who he is.

I cropped out some of the card the image is mounted on because it would be wasting space on the screen to show nothing of value, and left enough to show the texture and pattern of the card decoration. It’s truly a vintage piece of the period. The stamp I converted to black and white so I could tweak the contrast in Photoshop and make it easier to read.


Aah- the wonders of google. I was trying to figure out the photographers name, and did some google searching, and came up with Carlos Ysunza as a name. Additionally, there is a currently practicing commercial photographer in Mexico City by that same name. I’ll email him and find out if he is the son of the Carlos who took this photo.

Southwest Photography – A Tewa Bowman, by W. Allen Cushman

A Tewa Bowman, by W. Allen Cushman
A Tewa Bowman, by W. Allen Cushman

Here is a circa 1920 image, entitled “A Tewa Bowman” by W. Allen Cushman, a noted photographer based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In keeping with the Edward Curtis tradition of tarting up his models with inauthentic costume bits to make a “better” photograph, Mr. Cushman put a plains Indian headdress on a southwest tribe member. And while the Tewas may have run around in loincloths on occasion (ceremonies or religious rituals), like their neighbors the Navajo and Hopi, they tended to wear shirts and leggings – the sun can be brutal when it’s out, and the cold can be equally so in wintertime – New Mexico is at similar altitude to parts of Colorado, so they get snow at higher elevations.

The image serves as a historic landmark in understanding the evolution of white man’s attitude toward native Americans. For the first several centuries of contact, the primary attitude ranged from indifference to hostility to downright genocide. By the beginnings of the 20th century, a new romanticized view of the ‘noble savage’ was taking hold, along with the growing realization that native peoples were truly dying out and vanishing altogether. In addition to the general romanticization, there is an obvious homoerotic undertone to the image. Note the smooth skin and the taut physique of the model. It’s a form of sublty emasculating the subject, making him at a time both sexually charged and non-threatening. All you’d have to do to turn this into an F. Holland Day photo would be to swap the feather headdress for a turban, and substitute an African model, and bingo.

Native American and Friend, Klamath Falls, Oregon ca. 1910-1920

Native American and Friend,Klamath Falls, Oregon
Native American and Friend,Klamath Falls, Oregon

Original print roughly 4×6, in a cardboard passé-partout with the photographer’s imprint Henline (or is it Henune – hard to tell from the typeface), Klamath Falls, Oregon. It’s another image that’s fun to speculate on the relationship between the sitters – most probably just friends, but who knows? It’s the odd-couple pairing that inserts the questions as much as anything else. Unlike other, older tintype photos of two unrelated men together, there’s no obvious physical affection occurring. Is the absence of affectionate gesture a sign of “just friends”, or is it an indicator that by the 20th century, affectionate gestures between men were no longer acceptable, even when it was “just friends”?

Sailors Crossing the Equator

A Sailor's First Crossing of the Equator
A Sailor’s First Crossing of the Equator

Here is a vintage silver gelatin print of a sailor’s ritual head shaving on his first crossing of the equator. Note the “mermaid” in long blond wig administering the shaving, and the asian sailor restraining the recipient of the haircut. This must have been a merchant ship, possibly in the Pacific, pre- WW II. In any case, a fascinating snippet of nautical culture as seen from an insider’s perspective.

Anonymous 1938 Packard

Here’s a neat anonymous vernacular photo of a man, his car and the open road – it’s in many ways the American archetype. The car is a 1938 Packard (appears to be a Packard 120, their ‘entry level’ model, sort of like a Mercedes C-Class today).

1938 Packard
1938 Packard

Despite the fact that the car is a near-luxury car, this is so emblematic of the American psyche – a man and his car on the open road, the spirit of freedom and independence. It’s also remarkable to see how far the American roadscape had come by 1938 from 1919 when then-Lt.Col. Eisenhower crossed the country in a military convoy averaging 5.6 mph, requiring 573 hours to cover 3250 miles. Less than 10% of the road surface in the US was paved in 1919. I took the same approximate route Eisenhower did, in 2000, and it took roughly 42 hours (3 1/2 days at roughly 12 hours a day).

More collectible cars – 1930 Packard (with pooch passenger)

Here’s a snapshot of a 1930 Packard Big Eight roadster (I’ll give a fudge factor of -1 to -2 years, but I’m pretty confident it is a 1930). Notice the golf bag door in the rear fender, and the terrier sitting on the convertible top. It’s definitely a Packard – the wheels and hubcaps are pretty definitive, but the absolute dead giveaway is the hood ornament.

1918 Ford Model T

Here’s a picture of a 1918 Ford Model T touring car. Location unknown, but from the size and style of the house, and the seeming emptiness behind it, I’d venture a guess that this is a rental cabin near a beach or inland body of water – it appears to be wintertime though, from the clothes the subjects are wearing.

1918 Model T Ford
1918 Model T Ford

I’ve got a few more car images coming in the next few days – a bunch of my favorite make, Packard. I’ll post ’em when I get ’em.

Fun with old cars

Yet another topic to collect – old car photos. I’ve had an obsession with cars since I was a kid – my dad had a 1955 Ford Thunderbird that he restored, and that sparked the passion. In high school, I drove a 1962 Nash Metropolitan until my parents decided it was unsafe and made me get a used Honda instead. Which turned out to be far more unsafe than the Met, because it was capable of going fast :). For your appreciation, here’s a 1920s Packard, and a 1911 Cadillac.

Early 1920s Packard, at the United Cigars store
Early 1920s Packard, at the United Cigars store


1911 Cadillac
1911 Cadillac

The Packard photo is clearly a snapshot, having been made with a smaller camera and printed by machine on thin gaslamp or other silver gelatin paper. The Cadillac photo is more of a formal portrait, contact printed and mounted on heavy card stock, taken with an 8×10 view camera. The owner would have been extremely proud of his car to have taken that photo, as the level of effort and expense to do it were considerable. And in November of 1911, he would have been justifiably proud of that car – Cadillacs have always been expensive luxury cars, but in 1911, a car like that would have been a truly rare thing and extremely expensive. By the early 20s when the Packard photo was taken (the car looks like it is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1923-25), not only was photography more accessible to a mass market, so were cars – even Packards were more commonplace, and they were direct competitors to Cadillac, if not considered superior. Packard was one of the three “P’s” of the great automobile manufacturers of the 1910s and 1920s – Packard, Peerless and Pierce Arrow. By the 1930s, Peerless was gone, and Pierce Arrow was on the ropes, to vanish as a manufacturer by the onset of WW II (although their 12-cylinder engine continued on in production in one form or another into the 1980s as the power plant for fire trucks).

Crowning Acquisition

From the auction listing:

Very rare and stunningly beautiful, ca1905 large format, sepia tone Photograph of a Native American Navajo Indian seated atop a rock ledge or butte overlooking a vast plain. This outstanding, Art Photo style Photograph measures approx. 13 3/4″ x 18″ and is mounted on its original, photographer’s card mount (overall size of card mount is 14 1/8” by 18 ¼’).

This stunningly beautiful, large format Photograph pictures a young, native American Brave seated atop a rock ledge overlooking an expansive plain. The Brave is bare chested and wears only a loin cloth, numerous strings of bead necklaces and silver bangle bracelets on his right wrist. While the young Navajo Brave is in sharp focus the plain below is seen slightly out of focus creating a wonderful, artistic contrast and composition. The Photo presents the Native American subject in a surrealistic, romanticized manner that was typical of many of the Images produced by Carl Moon.

This Photograph is not signed by the photographer and the only identification is the designation “H88” in the negative at the extreme lower left hand corner. The Photo is in the style of the widely acclaimed Photographer of Native American subjects Karl Moon but we have been unable to confirm Moon as the artist who produced this stunning Photograph. The subject of the image is not identified in any way (as to Tribe or Name) and we are not experts in the identification of Native American Tribal affiliations. We believe the young Brave to be Navajo but are not 100% sure. If anyone can help us to definitively identify the photographer this stunningly beautiful Image or can supply any information regarding the identity or Tribal affiliation of the Photograph‘s subject, the information would be greatly appreciated.

Carl (or “Karl” as he sometimes spelled his name) Everton Moon was born in 1879 at Wilmington, Ohio. He became interested in Native American at an early age. After High School Moon served in the National Guard and decided on photography as a vocation. After apprenticing for 6 years he opened a studio in Albuquerque, New Mexico to begin photographic “art studies” of the Southwestern Indians. Over the next few decades Carl Moon became renowned nation wide and his work was exhibited at The National Museum in Washington, D.C., the American Museum of Natural History, New York and at the invitation of President Theodore Roosevelt, at The White House.

Over the years he formed friendships with his subjects that enabled him to spend weeks at a time in tribal villages, learning about their culture. He set up a photographic studio and began making his first collection of photographs and paintings of the Pueblo Indians. For the next seven years he was in charge of the Fred Harvey Headquarters at the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

This Photograph may be one of Moon’s Grand Canyon Images but we simply have been unable to find any information about this Photo or any other examples in any online data base.

This very rare and stunningly beautiful, large format Carl Moon-style, Native American subject Art Photo is in very good condition. The Photograph exhibits sharp focus, strong contrast and rich tonality – the rich warn tones of this beautiful Image is an example of the very best of the early 20th century Native American Art Photos.