Collection on hiatus, but with a high note

I’ve been a little overzealous in my collecting lately, so it’s going to go on hiatus. Well, unless I come across some nice Washington DC based CDVs at bargain prices. See, collecting is an addiction. Fortunately, unless you get into the realm of hoarding, it’s one addiction that doesn’t require interventions or support groups.

Anyway, back on topic, here’s a rather special CDV worthy of being the pausing point (the pause that refreshes?). Napoleon III, last Emperor of France. Taken in London at the studios of W. & D. Downey, photographers to Her Majesty.

Napoleon III, last emperor of France
Napoleon III, Last Emperor of France

Busy weekend at the studio

Today I’m driving up to Philadelphia to pick up a studio stand – I found a great deal on an INKA stand that can handle any camera I’ve got, including the 14×17. The challenge will be getting it in the truck. Tomorrow I’ll have no problem unloading it as we’ll have several guys at the studio who can help. We’re meeting to discuss and hopefully even start building the storage units at the studio. The momentum is building and I’m getting excited about actually being able to use the space! Pictures of the storage unit and the cleaned-up studio to follow when we have something to show.

Some near-forgotten tintypes

I got these two tintypes on an online auction (NOT ebay). They finally arrived today, but I had bought them so long ago I almost forgot I bought them. They still need a bit of cleaning up. From the clothes and what looks to be a car in the background of the one photo, they’re from the first decade of the 20th century, or maybe into the early part of the 1910s. The subject looks like he might be African-American. What’s interesting about these is they seem to be amateur snapshots, but they came matted, and at this point in time, amateur tintypes would have been relatively rare, because rollfilm already existed and cameras like the Kodak Brownie (as well as far more sophisticated roll-film cameras, not to mention dry plate cameras) were widespread. They came to me from Portland, Oregon, but who knows where they were taken. I’m planning on doing a bit of cleaning to remove the tape residue and dust, and I’ll re-scan and post them when they’re tidied up a bit.

1900s Tintype, possibly African-American

1900s Tintype, possibly African-American

Two more DC portraits

African-American Gentleman, Washington DC
Anonymous Lady, Johnson's National Gallery

Two new DC portrait studio pictures from the 1860s-1870s. The African-American gentleman photo is quite interesting because it shows the relative prosperity that was possible so shortly after the Civil War for African-Americans in Washington DC. It is all the more remarkable because it exists in spite of segregation. It’s probably a window into the period of Reconstruction, before the southern states began instituting Jim Crow laws designed to economically suppress African Americans.

The woman is rather unremarkable, but the photographer’s back-stamp is what interests me – particularly the street address. When I first saw this, the address description helped clarify where another DC photo studio was located – The Schroeder & Rakeman studio. Of course the “Market” referred to no longer exists, but where it was is now a complex of buildings called “Market Square”, and is in immediate proximity to most of the other photo studios in Washington at that time.

Interesting article on CNN Asia

It’s a fascinating little vignette of a Hong Kong photo studio, still working in an all-analog workflow. I have tremendous respect for the photographer doing what he does because especially with retouching color negatives, it’s a huge challenge. Sitting and staring at a 2 1/4″ negative under a magnifying glass for hours, tweaking the little lines and creases and blemishes on someone’s face is true craftsmanship. On the one hand, it’s something I wish I knew how to do – on the other, this is one thing where the convenience of digital is highly seductive.

Anonymous CDV

Sometimes a CDV comes along that’s interesting enough even with no ID of the sitter and no ID of the photographer that they’re worth buying (to me). Here’s an example.

Anonymous handsome young man, 1870s/1880s CDV

As the seller noted, this is somewhat unusual for a CDV because it’s a frame-filling headshot. Most CDVs show full-length figures, or when they do show a headshot, they are heavily vignetted and the sitter’s face is relatively small in the image. Unlike the seller’s claim, though, I think the reason for this was not a limitation of the camera’s ability to focus closely – the studio portrait cameras used to shoot CDVs were more than capable of doing extremely tight headshots if so desired. The lenses were more the limiting factor, as earlier portrait lenses (usually of the Petzval configuration) had very shallow depth of field and produced a curved field of focus. This meant that anything out of the plane of focus (which was not a plane, but a hemispherical region) would be swirled and distorted. Not very flattering to a portrait subject – Salvador Dali and Picasso were still the better part of a century in the future. With the rise of the Rapid Rectilinear lens design, a much flatter field of focus could be achieved, thus making it possible to produce portraits that were close up yet still flattering.

More collection stuff

Over the weekend I went to a camera swap meet in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia. You know, one of those things they hold in a hotel ballroom where dealers in used gear set up tables and put out all kinds of odds and ends for sale, and some will actively buy your used cameras too. I can remember not so many years ago when these things were huge, attracting 75+ vendors in some pretty big spaces in some pretty decent hotels.

Now, though, not so much. This show is now in the basement ballroom of what is quite possibly the lowest-rent hotel in Tyson’s Corner (it hasn’t been redecorated since the 60’s). I would guess that there were not more than 20 vendors. To describe it as a flea market would be verging on charitable. There were some nice items, for sure, but most of it was glorified (and some not even glorified) junk. I did see a few momentary temptations (a beautifully preserved Nikon F with the non-metered prism, but it was so nice it looked to be a collector piece not a user), but nothing to compel my wallet to open, camera-wise. I did find some stereoviews, including this one, for $2 each.

Castell Sant'Angelo, The Vatican

I know, here I was saying I’m not collecting stereoviews, which is not entirely accurate, nor is it entirely inaccurate either. I pick up a few here and there when I see one that tickles my fancy. I’m sure that 99% of them when I die will still be worth what I paid for them, in large part because I don’t actively collect. Stereoviews were made in series, much like this one. Underwood & Underwood was one of the largest publishers of stereoviews, and they printed thousands upon thousands of them, with themes like “The Grand Tour of Europe” or “The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World” or “Vignettes from Oriental Life” showing pictures of the peoples and customs of Asia. They were the 1860s to 1910s equivalent of newsreels and National Geographic movies before motion pictures and television existed, and served to bring the world in all its variety into the homes of the working classes who could not travel and see these things, and perhaps were illiterate and unable to read about them in books and newspapers.

Each stereoview is numbered, and within individual sets, there are always some rare ones. Chasing down the rare numbers reminds me too much of collecting baseball cards, so that’s why I don’t get into it – the image is more important to me than the rarity of the paper behind it. Not that I’d ever turn down a set of Alexander Gardner’s stereoviews of the Lincoln Assassin’s execution. I’m just not going out looking for them.

Photography, Alternative Processes, Really Big Cameras, and other cool stuff

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