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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is a link to the DC photographers’ map. I’ve got some more photographers written down somewhere that I’ll be adding to the map soon. I found addresses on a CDV for Alexander Gardner’s studio, but oddly enough there were A: two addresses not adjacent but still proximate to each other, and B: neither one was the address I thought it was. There is still the remains of a wet-plate era portrait studio that you can see from the alley behind the National Council of Negro Women’s headquarters in the 800 block of Pennsylvania Avenue. Even though it’s not a portrait studio, I’m including Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office on the map as a point of interest because it, like so many of these studios, was presumed lost for decades but only recently re-discovered, and is chronologically and geographically contemporaneous with the studios I’m tracking. At some point I’m sure either the patrons or the staff of her bureau availed themselves of the photographic archives of the studios in the neighborhood to help in finding missing soldiers after the war.
Also interesting – Alexander Gardner began his career in Washington working as Mathew Brady’s studio manager. At some point they had a falling out and Gardner opened his own studio. I didn’t realize it was literally next door to Brady’s.
I can also now definitively place Schroeder & Rakeman’s studio in Northwest DC, having found another photographer making reference to the “Market” at Pennsylvania Avenue, which is where the Navy Memorial is currently located.
Another little CDV added to the collection, from Schroeder & Rakeman, 344 1/2 Seventh Street. It’s nice to find an image that is identified, even if the subject remains anonymous after the naming. I’ll have to do some digging around to find out who this might have been. Obviously the photo was made post- civil war, as it shows the dome of the US Capitol completed in the painted backdrop. I did look up a map of Washington DC from the 1850s to see if I could find the ‘N.L. Market’ referenced in the photographers’ back stamp. While the building (or place – the market could have been a permanent outdoor location), the address is part of what is now called the “Market Square” office/condo complex, including the Navy Memorial. Another option for the studio would be at 344 1/2 Seventh Street, SE. Which ironically enough puts it within a block of Eastern Market. I can find no reference to Eastern Market as anything other than Eastern Market, however, which throws this location for the studio into doubt.
I’ve found some more photographers to add to the map of New York. Again, you’ve got to love some of these self-descriptions of their businesses. Also interesting is the case of C.D. Fredericks, who ran studios in New York, Paris and Havana. Makes you wonder how he managed three studios in such far-flung cities at a time where steam-powered trans-atlantic crossings were just coming in to being, there was no telephone, and the airplane was still an opium-smoker’s dream.
I’ve reorganized the list in geographic order, with the assorted Lower Manhattan addresses first, then the ascent of Broadway, followed by the odds and outliers, including one in Brooklyn.
|STUDIO NAME||ADDRESS||DATES OF OPERATION|
|R.A. Lewis||152 Chatham Street *||unknown|
|R.A. Lord||164 Chatham Street *||unknown|
|K.W. Beniczky||#2 New Chambers Street, corner of Chatham *||unknown|
|Vaughan’s Gallery||228 Bowery||unknown|
|H. Merz||E. Houston & Essex Streets||unknown|
|Bailey’s Photograph Gallery||371 Canal Street||unknown|
|O.O. Roorbach, Publisher of Dramatic Photographs||122 Nassau Street||unknown|
|Mathew Brady||643 Bleeker Street||(1859-1860)|
|Jaquith, Daguerrian Parlor||98 Broadway||unknown|
|S.A. Holmes, Daguerreotype Studio||289 Broadway||unknown|
|Josiah Thompson, Daguerreotypist||315 Broadway||1849-1853|
|J. Gurney & Sons, Daguerreotype Studio||349 Broadway||unknown – early|
|Mathew Brady||359 Broadway||(1853-1859)|
|E. Anthony, Publisher, Brady’s National Portrait Gallery||501 Broadway||unknown|
|W.C. Wemyss, Dealer in Photographs, Books, &c.||575 Broadway||unknown|
|C.D. Fredericks & Co
587 Broadway, New York
31 Passage du Havre, Paris
108 Calle de la Habana, Havana
|Anson’s Daguerreotype Gallery||589 Broadway||unknown – 1850s|
|Chas. K. Bill||603 Broadway||unknown|
|J. Gurney & Sons||707 Broadway||unknown – mid|
|Mathew Brady||785 Broadway||(1860-)|
|Bogardus||872 Broadway||late 1870s|
|T.J. Maujer, Passepartout & Carved Walnut frame manufacturer, Dealer in Photographs, Artist’s Materials, &c.||953 Broadway & 183 5th Avenue||unknown|
|J. Gurney & Sons||5th Avenue & 16th Street||unknown – late|
|Loud’s Celebrated Album Cards||unknown||unknown|
|Fernando Dessaur||145 8th Avenue||unknown|
|Estabrook’s Ferrotypes||379 Fulton Street, Brooklyn||unknown|
* addresses no longer exist. New Chambers Street & Chatham Street are now approximately where New York City Civic Center and Police Headquarters are now located.
Stereoviews are not something I routinely collect, because there’s gazillions of them out there (I know, gazillion is such a technical term) and they’re already by themselves a hot collectible. I couldn’t resist this one though because I see pretty much the same view from my office’s conference room window every day. The Lutheran church with the statue in front hasn’t changed, but on the left is now the National City Christian Church, and on the right, the trees are gone and replaced by the Washington Plaza hotel. The landscaping in the circle is completely different, as is the traffic pattern around the circle. I think the land area of the circle island is much smaller, to accommodate additional traffic lanes.
I have done a bit of digital restoration on this scan because the original stereoview has seen better days.