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Posted April 2013 in Photographic Postcards, Publishing, Texts
Beyond the Tweets, texts and messaging saturating our present-day social media culture-recently extending even to software giving a smartphone user the ability to view a photograph just once before it disappears into the ether forever, (Snapchat et al apps) the endurance, value and cultural importance of the printed word and photograph need be considered-indeed marveled at-for the historical record and of course for posterity itself.
Consider today’s example, a postcard featuring an original cyanotype photograph of a well-dressed gentleman reading a newspaper. Addressed and posted to Harold A. Buffington of Littleton, New Hampshire in October, 1906, (1.) this simple and lasting form of communication is signed “Papa”, (2.) with the suggestion for his son to come over on Sunday for a visit in order to enjoy a slice of pumpkin pie.
Before getting to the nut graph as they say in newspaper lingo, “Papa”: aka Arthur W. Buffington, (b. 1868) begins his correspondence with a quote from a well known (at least for its time) story celebrating the importance of small town rags everywhere. It might not be surprising given his listed occupation as a printer for the 1900 U.S. Census. Owner of the Buffington Press in Littleton during this period, (they printed cookbooks among other volumes) he writes on the postcard:
The Little Country Paper
It tells of all the parties an’ the balls of Pumpkin Row ‘Bout who’s spent Sunday with who’s girl, an’ how the crops’ll grow. An’ how it keeps a feller posted ‘bout who’s up and who’s down. That little country paper from his ol’ Home Town.
This entire “story” seems to have originated around 1903 or before by someone writing for the Denver Post newspaper in Colorado. I’ve taken the liberty to include it in its entirety at the end of this post (as it originally appeared) along with another similarly titled “story” I discovered from the era . And the juicy part? “Papa” writes:
Come down Sunday. Mamma has made a whole pumpkin pie and I have only had one piece out of it. (you can divide your piece with L. O and mamma and Ray don’t like punkin very well!) Papa.
In addition to the slice of pie he presumably ate, the postcard might have even inspired Harold Buffington to get ink in his blood like his father, for he is listed in the 1940 U.S. Census as a printer for the Courier office, still known today as the Littleton Courier, a weekly newspaper published since 1889.
The Little Country Paper
When the evenin’ shades is fallin’ at the endin’ o’ the day,
An’ a feller rests from labor, smokin’ at his pipe o’ clay.
There’s nothin’ does him so much good, be fortune up or down,
As the little country paper from his O’l Home Town.
It ain’t a thing o’ beauty an’ its print ain’t always clean. But it straightens out his temper when a feller’s feelin’ mean. It takes the wrinkles off his face an’ brushes off the frown. That little country paper from his Ol’ Home Town.
It tells of all the parties an’ the balls of Pumpkin Row. ‘Bout who spent Sunday with who’s girl an’ how th’ crops’ll grow. An’ how it keeps a feller posted ‘bout who’s up an’ who is down. That little country paper from his O’l Home Town.
Now, I like to read the dailies an’ the story papers too. An’ at times the yaller novels an’ some other trash—don’t you? But when I want some readin’ that’ll brush away a frown I want that little paper from my O’l Home Town. (3.)
The following with the same title originated in the Baltimore (MD) American newspaper in 1900 or before, and may have inspired the Denver Post account of The Little Country Paper:
The Little Country Paper
It’s just a little paper-it isn’t up to date:
It hasn’t any supplement or colored fashion plate.
It comes out every Friday, unless the forms are pied;
The outside is home printed, with boiler-plate inside.
It hasn’t any cable direct from old Bombay,
But it says that “Colonel Braggins is in our midst to-day.”
It doesn’t seem to worry about affairs of state.
But tells that “Joseph Hawkins has painted his front gate.”
It never mentions Kruger or Joseph Chamberlain.
But says that “Thompson’s grocery has a new window pane.”
And that “the Mission Workers will give a festival.
And there’ll be a temperance lecture in William Hooper’s hall.”
It tells about the measles that Jimmy Hankins had.
And says that Israel Johnson “has become a happy dad.”
It says that “cider-making is shortly to commence.”
And cites the fact that Ira Todd is building a new fence.
It mentions Dewey’s coming in one brief paragraph, And says that “Charlie Trimble has sold a yearling calf.” And everything that happens within that little town The man who runs the paper has plainly jotted down.
Some people make fun of it, but, honestly, I like To learn that “work is booming upon the Jimtown pike.”
It’s just a little paper—it hasn’t much to say—
But as long as it is printed I hope it comes my way. (4.)
1. It is believed the gentleman in the cyanotype photograph reading the newspaper is also the recipient of the postcard: Harold A. Buffington, a student who would have been 20 years old in 1906. (b.: September 12, 1886 | d. March, 1976. source: Crestleaf)
2. “Papa” was Arthur W. Buffington (b. 1868) who lived in Lisbon, New Hampshire at the time he mailed this postcard
3. The Little Country Paper: Denver Post: reprinted in the Mansfield (OH) News: Saturday, October 24, 1903
4. Newspaper Verse: Selections Grave and Gay: Current Literature-A Magazine of Record and Review: New York: Vol. XXVIII: April-June, 1900: pp. 192-93
Posted April 2012 in New Additions, Texts
I’ve never bought into the hokum that “a photograph is worth a thousand words”. I’ve always thought the medium was bigger, believing the phrase has been overused in popular culture to the point it has cheapened the very essence of Photography as Memory.
This might not be earth-shattering news to the picture-taking masses, so I’ll just reiterate my feeling that any photograph-new or very old- has the ability and inner life to prove incalculable worth and embody pure memory, especially for you, if you happened to take it. Photographs are simply the personification of Memory made real. It matters little if today’s memories are in digital form, or of the vintage paper variety accompanying this post, made over 100 years ago.
When we receive sad news, shock and tears always come first. And then memories. In this case, always good ones, and then the photographs already taken invariably retrieved and revisited. This is how it went yesterday when my wife and I belatedly learned a dear friend had passed on. Georgia native Kim McCoy was a young woman who was passionate, funny, articulate: a writer with a voice that could deliver in public as well as a former journalist of conviction who used her own professional gift of words to give life and context back to her own loving family.
As is Life, intent and chance mysteriously came together, and my next post in this space would feature a preview of flower studies which will soon find their way to the site dating to 1904 taken by American photographer Louise Birt Baynes. (1876-1958) After acquiring them, I had struggled for almost a year trying to learn the identity of their maker, with chance granting me success only last week after Golden rod was found with proper attribution in a photographic journal. Several of these photographs have the added bonus of hand-written poetry on their mounts. And so for Kim, some words penned a century ago and recited anew to your memory of a life cut short at 33. One to celebrate as fully as is Nature’s own beautiful Closed Gentian, a flower that never fully opens:
“It never opened someone said,
The strange, fair, bud was all,
a bright hope only half interpreted,
and shriveling to its fall.”
Posted April 2012 in Significant Photographs, Texts
No matter the evidence, in this case-the title assigned to it: Portrait de M. Peters- I refused to believe my eyes. That’s why I initially tagged it Portrait: Woman on this site: a most strange, mysterious and striking study of a woman with frizzed-out hair—or so I thought: a hand-pulled photogravure tinted in yellow hues— which made up the final plate included in the 1894 portfolio Première Exposition d‘Art Photographique. (First Exposition of Art Photography) The work was issued by the Photo-Club de Paris that year for their very first exhibition which took place at the Georges Petit galleries in Paris from January 10-30th.
But now thanks to a chance encounter with the photo reproduced in the English journal The Studio, I now know the truth, and have subsequently updated the tag to Portrait: Men:
The Portrait from life, by Mr. Eustace Calland, is a costume study of Mr. William Theodore Peters—as Bertrand de Roaix. The photograph, we understand, is now being exhibited at Paris. Mr. Peters is the author of a forthcoming volume of verse, containing, among other numbers, the Pierrot of a Minute, a charming poem already familiar through the author’s recitation in public. (1.)
And so it was not a woman who English photographer Eustace Calland (1865-1959) depicted but a man: the American poet and actor William Theodore Peters. (1862-1904) A quick online search of Peters gave me the impression he may have been the poster child for Decadence with a capitol D exemplified by 1890’s Paris. (2.) Someone who in the immortal words of American comic Steve Martin might have well stood in for the original “One Wild and Crazy Guy.” Peters lifestyle caught up with him however, and he is reported to have died in that city in poverty- not even 40 years old.
Since it was exhibited in January, 1894 in the Photo-Club de Paris exhibit, this portrait of Peters was most likely taken sometime in 1893. Another intriguing aspect of the photograph is a cloak he wears in it. As I don’t think it is a coincidence, I’m going to connect the dots here and conclude this post by going further: this is the very cloak made famous by Peter’s friend, the English poet and playwright Ernest Christopher Dowson, (1867-1900) who finished penning the following lines in August, 1893 (3.) with the title:
To William Theodore Peters on his Renaissance Cloak
The cherry-coloured velvet of your cloak
Time hath not soiled: its fair embroideries
Gleam as when centuries ago they spoke
To what bright gallant of Her Daintiness,
Whose slender fingers, long since dust and dead,
For love or courtesy embroidered
The cherry-coloured velvet of this cloak.
Ah! cunning flowers of silk and silver thread,
That mock mortality? the broidering dame,
The page they decked, the kings and courts are dead:
Gone the age beautiful; Lorenzo’s name,
The Borgia’s pride are but an empty sound;
But lustrous still upon their velvet ground,
Time spares these flowers of silk and silver thread.
Gone is that age of pageant and of pride:
Yet don your cloak, and haply it shall seem,
The curtain of old time is set aside;
As through the sadder coloured throng you gleam;
We see once more fair dame and gallant gay,
The glamour and the grace of yesterday:
The elder, brighter age of pomp and pride. (4.)
Ten years after these lines were written Peters and Dowson were both dead, with this portrait by Calland possibly being the sole surviving image known of Mr. William Theodore Peters.
1. The Studio: An Illustrated Magazine of Fine and Applied Art: London: Offices of the Studio: Vol. II: 1894: p. 138 (photograph appears on p. 139)
2. “He was, as an irreverent American once said of him, that “rara avis in human kind,—a poet with money,” and so stole time from his verse-making to give charming little dinners, the lists of which were redolent with Lady This and Countess That, since he knew nearly every woman of title, native or sojourner, in Paris.”: excerpt: Verses Written in Paris by Various Members of a Group of “Intellectuals”: in: The Critic: An Illustrated Monthly Review of Literature, Art and Life: New Rochelle, New York: Vol. XXXIX: 1901: pp. 38-39
3. notes: Ernest Dowson Collected Poems: edited by R.K.R. Thornton: University of Birmingham Press: 2003: pp. 257-258
4. included in: The Poems of Ernest Dowson: Dodd, Mead and Company: New York: 1922: pp. 144-145
Posted February 2012 in Publishing, Significant Photographs, Texts
When photographer and photographic supply dealer Henry Greenwood Peabody of Boston compiled and self-published the oblong quarto volume The Coast of Maine: Campobello to the Isles of Shoals in 1889, he offered it for sale by subscription, advertising it along with the fact he was the sole American agent for Wray lenses in photographic journals including Anthonys.
These lenses were first manufactured in London by a gentleman named William Wray beginning in 1850. Peabody, presumably using a Wray lens or lenses outfitted on his 8 x 10” view camera, had scoured the rocky Maine coastline the year before in search of the picturesque. The published results in The Coast of Maine included 50 full size plates, done using the very fine photo-gelatine process, (collotype) a specialty of Ernest Edward’s Photogravure Company of New York. These plates, most of which show the coastline in proximity to the ocean; multiple lighthouse views but surprisingly very few boats, (Peabody was an important photographer of sailboats on the high seas) are supplemented with poetry and prose by seven writers, including the American poet and writer Celia Thaxter. (1835-1894)
Her poem Reverie had been first copyrighted as early as 1878 and published in 1880 in her collection of poems titled Drift-Weed in Boston. Although this long-form poem predates the above photo Wing and Wing by at least ten years, Peabody paired it in double columns opposite this lone sailboat photograph (in full sail) appearing in the work.
The white reflection of the sloop’s great sail
Sleeps trembling on the tide;
In scarlet trim her crew lean o’er the rail,
Lounging on either side.
Pale blue and streaked with pearl the waters lie
And glitter in the heat;
The distance gathers purple bloom where sky
And glimmering coast-line meet.
From the cove’s curving rim of sandy gray
The ebbing tide has drained,
Where, mournful, in the dusk of yesterday
The curlew’s voice complained.
Half lost in hot mirage the sails afar
Lie dreaming still and white;
No wave breaks, no wind breathes, the peace to mar:
Summer is at its height.
How many thousand summers thus have shone
Across the ocean waste,
Passing in swift succession, one by one,
By the fierce winter chased!
The gray rocks blushing soft at dawn and eve,
the green leaves at their feet,
The dreaming sails, the crying birds that grieve,
Ever themselves repeat.
And yet how dear and how forever fair
Is nature’s kindly face,
And how forever new and sweet and rare
Each old familiar grace!
What matters it that she will sing and smile
When we are dead and still?
Let us be happy in her beauty while
Our hearts have power to thrill.
Let us rejoice in every moment bright,
Grateful that it is ours;
Bask in her smiles with ever fresh delight,
And gather all her flowers;
For presently we part: what will avail
Her rosy fires of dawn,
Her noontide pomps, to us, who fade and fail,
Our hands from hers withdrawn?
Posted July 2011 in Texts
Welcome to PhotoSeed! When I was a child, my reading of English archeologist Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tut’s tomb in Egypt inspired me enough to start digging around in my own backyard. Later, as a young aspiring photographer, I came across a quote by American photographer Harry Callahan which really stuck with me: “I love art because it doesn’t have rules like baseball. The only rule is to be good. That’s the toughest thing to do.”
Along with my parents, who instilled a love of art in me at an early age, the progression of my professional life as a newspaper photojournalist combined with an innate love for art and history has lead me to the present undertaking.
What is PhotoSeed? It is a destination based on derivation. It will evolve as an online photographic compendium focusing on the historical record of “artistic photography” roughly produced from the 1880’s to about World War I. With apologies to Alfred Stieglitz and others, there will be plenty of flim-flam, and the major “isms” of this era: aestheticism, naturalism, and pictorialism, will be here in abundance.
I’m not going to consciously ignore something because I don’t care for it. Mundane and repetitive work of the period is very instructive for the time in which it was created. Taken collectively, all of the work on this site added to the general conversation of ideas that pushed photography forward. I promise to make plenty of exceptions to keep things interesting, however.
The material presented here will continue to validate my own respect for Callahan’s observation “to be good” in guiding the site’s purpose, relevance and spirit. Carter’s influence will be illuminated by the site’s ongoing “photographic archeology” which will unearth delights not known by casual photographic historians.
That’s why I’m taking the time to share with you the fruit and results of photography’s early artistic efforts. In my estimation, their gleanings still matter. These photographs can and should inspire today’s practitioners—be they armed with ubiquitous cameras built into smart phones or those keeping alive the medium’s noble processes including daguerreotype, wet plate, and film.
As for its name, PhotoSeed’s derivation stands for growth and renewal in the photographic arts at a time when taking chances with a camera was seen by many as subversive. It is my hope PhotoSeed will evoke and conjure the time and place of when this photographic record was created.
For once planted, seeds, as represented by the ideas sown by photography’s pioneers and toilers alike, required only the sun overhead to realize their potential:
“Like the sunflower, the sun was a popular symbol with art photography clubs. It represented photography’s necessary light as well as the inspiration, power and renewal associated with otherworldly presence.” 1.
And about that “mesmerization” thing? The history of photography includes a delightful account of photographic hypnotism decades before George Eastman’s Kodak mania took hold and put people around the world in a different kind of trance.
English journalist Henry Mayhew, whose series of profile vignettes first published in 1851 as London Labour and the London Poor, included one dispatch published in the third volume of the series (1861). In his “A Photographic Man” (2), Mayhew writes about a former banjo busker turned photographer who teams up with another like-minded chap and enters the exploding yet dubious shilling and sixpenny portrait (ambrotypes & ferrotypes) trade. Sometimes, the duo are able to make a little bit extra at the conclusion of a portrait session. In this respect, the mysterious and telegenic power of the camera recounted in Mayhew’s profile reveals the gullibility (and empties the pockets) of the largely working poor clientele these photographic “entrepreneurs” cater too:
“People seem to think the camera will do anything. We actually persuade them that it will mesmerise them. After their portrait is taken, we ask them, if they would like to be mesmerised by the camera, and the charge is only 2d. (2 pennies) We then focus the camera, and tell them to look firm at the tube; and they stop there for two or three minutes staring, till their eyes begin to water, and then they complain of a dizziness in the head, and give it up, saying they “can’t stand it”. I always tell them the operation was beginning, and they were just going off, only they didn’t stay long enough. They always remark, “Well, it certainly is a wonderful machine, and a most curious invention.”
Here at PhotoSeed, mesmerization is absolutely free. So sit back, relax, and try not to get too dizzy. This operation is just beginning. We hope you do stay long enough to agree the artistic results of this most curious invention are most wonderful indeed.
—David Spencer (2010)
1. Janet E. Buerger, The Last Decade: The Emergence of Art Photography in the 1890’s (Rochester: International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, 1984) 4.
2. Henry Mayhew, “A Photographic Man,” London Characters & Crooks: ed. Christopher Hibbert, (London: The Folio Society, 1996) 12: 295-303.
Posted June 2011 in Significant Photographs, Texts
Sir John Frederick William Herschel is someone to pay attention to when thinking about photography. And for no other reason? He is credited with coining the very word “photography” in the English language. (with apologies to French-Brazilian painter and inventor Hércules Florence)
Herschel—famed English astronomer and, for our purposes here, photographic pioneer—is one of the unsung heroes of what we know as modern photography. For those lucky enough to have worked in a wet darkroom, it was Herschel the scientist and chemist who discovered and corresponded with William Henry Fox Talbot that sodium thiosulphite, commonly known as “hypo”, could “fix” silver halides, and therefore was a reliable means of making a photograph permanent.
Buried next to Sir Isaac Newton in Westminster Abbey, Herschel’s genius was an ability to make science understandable to both the curious and the more educated through his writings and presentations to the established scientific bodies of the mid 19th century.
As a collector, I’ve always been drawn to the art of photography. However, I have an appreciation of the science that has always been the important backdrop for making modern photography possible in the first place, and Herschel’s role in that science. This wonderful photographic likeness of Herschel, taken by his dear friend Julia Margaret Cameron, has always been of interest to me as a collector because it combines both art and science.
A Cameron portrait of Herschel appeals on many photographic collecting levels. It is considered one of the great “head” portraits that Cameron was famous for-perhaps more so because of its brooding and mysterious nature; a symbolic likeness of a man whose life was spent on a quest for discovery and explanation of the unknown.
But It has never been my intention as a collector to purchase a photograph because it is considered one of the “greatest hits” in the history of the medium. On the contrary, I am continually surprised how much wonderful material is available of the unknown and unsung photographer, often for the price of a song. The beauty of collecting photography in our modern age is that its’ story has not been fully chronicled nor even discovered, and one of the aims of PhotoSeed will be to fill in some of these blanks for the record.
The four known portraits of Herschel were taken late in his life in 1867 by Cameron. Through much luck I was able to purchase this one, a mounted (with wood veneer overlay) albumen example at auction in 2004 from a gentleman who originally purchased it at auction in Dublin, Ireland in 2003.
Twice personally signed by Cameron, the bottom right hand corner of the mount provides the following inscription by her: “Given to Mr. Charles Hegan by Mrs. Cameron with her kindest regards.”
Naturally, I was intrigued as to the mysterious Mr. Hegan was and how he might have known Cameron. Through research, I tracked down the family who originally consigned the Herschel portrait as well as other items to the Irish auction. And this is why photographic sleuthing pays off. It turns out that in 1899 this photograph was a wedding present from Hegan to one Joseph Alfred Hardcastle. (born 1868) Never heard of him? It turns out he was Herschel’s grandson, and the photograph had stayed in Hardcastle’s family until 2003. A very nice provenance indeed.
A friend of a member of the present-day Hardcastle family in Ireland did research on my behalf, trying to figure out who Hegan was and his possible connection to Cameron, but came up empty. Later, my own research determined Hegan (Charles John Hegan) was a fellow of London’s Royal Geographical Society (elected 1873) who likely knew Hardcastle through scientific and perhaps family connections (they both attended Harrow but over 20 years apart). Ownership of the Herschel portrait makes complete sense as both Hegan and Hardcastle were devoted to scientific endeavors. On this front, Hegan travelled to South America to conduct fluvial research on behalf of the Royal Geographical Society and Hardcastle, a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society who lectured and conducted research relating to astronomy, was appointed director of the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland, but died suddenly in 1917 while in route there.
So talk about the perfect wedding gift. Hardcastle’s love was astronomy. Although only three years old when his grandfather was buried next to Newton, Herschel would have been proud of a grandson following in his own esteemed footsteps.