I have said numerous times in the past that receiving an emvelope or package of photographs in the mail from eBay reminds me a lot of collecting baseball cards in my youth. And like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know what you are gonna get. And while photography is intimately caught up with the documentation of place and time, sometimes the poignancy of history, like Barthes prick of the punctum, is startling. This photo does that for me. It is one of many recieved in a packet sometime this spring. What I love about it is the the beautiful script that dates and a name or two of the men standing around at Lehigh. Not only is the date of the photograph given in June of 1924, but the dates of graduation of these men.
The photograph was taken by Albert Broadhead, aparently a well-known and generous 1888 alumnus of Lehigh.
"When Albert Brodhead learned of James Ward Packard’s large gifts to Lehigh, he asked then university treasurer Walter Okeson if Packard had visited Lehigh since his graduation. Okeson said no, and Brodhead replied, “It seems to me if an alumnus without any local contact with the university can do so much, that I, who have always lived here and whose father was one of the early trustees of Lehigh, should do my share.”
Brodhead’s father, Charles, for whom Brodhead Avenue is named, acquired extensive properties in what was then South Bethlehem and was involved in the iron and railroad industries. A business associate of Asa Packer, Charles was an early benefactor of Lehigh, donating the land on which the Alumni Memorial Building stands. A Bethlehem native, Albert Brodhead joined Chi Phi fraternity, the Photographer's Club, and the Electrical Engineering Society while attending Lehigh and graduated in 1888 with a degree in electrical engineering.
Brodhead spent his career managing the family real estate, most of which was located in the Bethlehem area, including the historic district, South Bethlehem, and the then-undeveloped farmlands north of Route 22. He was an organizer and director of the Northampton Country Club and belonged to several other social organizations, including the Bethlehem Club."
When he died in 1938, he left the bulk of his estate – 51 Lehigh Valley properties – to Lehigh. Subsequently, the multi-million dollar Brodhead endowment was established, and Brodhead House, the university’s first high-rise residence, was dedicated to his memory in 1979."
If you are member of Ancestry.com, you can find more info on Albert Brodhead there and here.
New Vernacular Photos
Happy Easter Monday. This past weekend my wife and I trekked down to see my family in NW Iowa. On Friday we had the priviledge of meeting up with my undergraduate printmaking professor from Northwester College, John Kaericher and his wife.
We also had the opportunity on Saturday afternoon hit a few of the antique shops around the Spirit Lake, IA region and I picked up two little photographs.
They are not all that unique or rare, but both made me chuckle. Both do display a few typical motifs, if you want to call them that. In the first image, a partially seen mother holds the child head upright. Often in pictures of children at such a young age you may find an arm or emerging from the side to help balance the wobbly child or even see the form of the mother having been draped with a cloth in the background. This one however makes no attempt to disguise the mother's presence. In the other image, a child contemplates another photograph...a motif I've mentioned before here. I doubt that this image is a mourning photograph, but it does make for an adorable image of the little girl in what looks like a velvet dress.
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Yesterday I posted a link to a great site dedicated to mourning photography. I dont think that this is a mourning photograph. But what strikes me about this wonderful little cased Ambrotype is the lace pinned in the verso cover. It is stained and stiff with age. It is pinned in with very sturdy pins. I wonder, and there is not way to know, if this little piece of lace is from the dress of the child in the photo. It would make sense given the practice of often pinning or sewing some form of memento into the the verso that is connected to the person in the image. Often a lock of hair was sewn into the cover. This practice is just fascinating to me. Why is the photograph insufficient as a reminder that there needs to be an addition of something more physical? Is it precisely that...physical?
I've had a few posts recently on some of the photographic oddities that I have collected over the past few years. There are a number of really nice sites out there that cater to these peculiar corners of photo history.
Mourningphotography.com is one such place. For those who are a bit squeamish, this might not be the site for you. But then again there is something quite stunning in the images and in the phenomena of mourning photos. As you look through the photos there you will begin to see certain motifs arise. In the photo offered here, a reduplication of a photo is made. The young girl holds a photo of the deceased person...the photo becomes a surrogate for the once living. It is a tangible reminder of that person. Here is a similar tin-type from my own collection.
Tomorrow I will post another from my own collection with an interesting variable.
Victorian String Art II
The other day I posted a similar string object. This one is about 2.5 times larger than the other and is in better condition. While this one is larger, it is still a similar but more hardy construction. This one also has pins with a significant white head on the star points to hold the threads in place. I was curious about how old the piece is so slid the now stiff threads aside and considerable fading has occurred to the piece. So I know that it is old...just not how old.
When preparing for the MFA exhibition, I was purchasing large photo lots from EBay to fill out the installation pieces. When I would get the lots I would skim through them looking for interesting photos, themes, etc that I would eventually hold back for my own collection. I found this interesting piece on one of those large lots. I've titled this posting "Vintage Photoshopping" as a joke, but there is some photographic trickery going on within the image. My hunch is that this is photographic object is really the combination of 3 different photographs cut and rephotographed and printed.
There are several clues...First, check out the infant...its placement within the photo, the strange highlight on its left side and how the dress is cut on the infants right side all suggest that this is a later addition to the photographs of the couple beneath. Second, I suspect that the images of the couple beneath are really 2 images rather than one. She appears to far forward compared to him. Also, I suspect the images come from different times based on the dress of the two...though I cannot be sure on this. And would these two even be a couple? She appears much younger than him. But there is also something amiss with the lighting...notice how in the center of the image, it is much darker, likely the cause of a little darkroom dodging and burning. Lastly, notice the shadow created from the yellowed photographic object on my whiter background. Now look within the photograph itself. To me, I see a similar shadow burned into the image below the child and in the upper left corner.
To me, all of these little peculiarities seem to add up to a touched up photo that combines multiple objects taken at different times. But why might someone have such a photo made? Could the photo have been made by the gentleman for the child after the mother had passed away? There could have been some years between which might give some reason for the disparity of age and clothing. But alas we do not know.
Victorian String Art
Over Christmas break on our trip to California, we spent a day up around Sonora. We hit a few antique stores and I happened upon this little hand-made piece. From what I can gather it falls under Victorian string art. It is roughly a star-shaped piece of cardboard with a photo affixed and wound in in some kind of thread. I am guessing that by the kinks in the thread extending above the piece, it was further wound but has become undone. The second photo shows the complexity of the string winding.
While I really dont know much about this type of art yet (as in how it was used etc.), I have found another similar piece which I will post in a few days.
Mourning Tintype Photograph
This is one of my favorite photo pieces. After you examine enough historical photos and a little more research, you begin to recognize certain motifs that seem to pop up again and again. Often studio portraits involve someone holding a book or a hat as a prop. Others have a curious addition of another photograph. Sometimes they are sitting on a table. Sometimes they are held. Sometimes they sit on an empty chair. I find these objects fascinating for many reasons, but one being the re-duplication of an image...an early form of re-photography. But why did this motif emerge? In some it seems like the photographed subject is merely contemplating the image, but others have a much emotive tale. Frequently the photograph is used as a substitute or surrogate reminder of someone who is no longer living. Were we able to zoom in more to the photo in this child's hands we may well find it to be an image of a sibling or more likely her father who is now deceased. These photos fall into an fascinating niche of photo history often called "mourning photography".
A few weeks ago I picked up these cheap little tintypes. They were advertised as carnival tintypes. Which seems to make sense since they are qualitatively different than typical tintypes with a very silvery surface and seem much cheaper in look. The card into which they are placed looks similar to the older tintype, but these look much more the part of a 20th C. product based on the script and design of the card and of course the clothing of those pictured.
I thought the set of four were unique enough to pick up the lot as I have seen only one image like this before in the same card which reads "My love for you from...)
I grew up going to flea markets and antique shops with my mother. She went for the antiques. I went with hopes of finding baseball cards. Later I found an interest in old print ads and magazines, and antiques in general. As of late, I have actually started hitting up antique shops again for a new kind of collection. My MFA work at the University of North Dakota used old vernacular photographs culled into an archive to explore how we think about objects. But since then I have taken to a deeper interest in vernacular photos, their kinds, histories, and oddities.
Last fall I took a historical research methods course, where I formulated a project centering on mourning imagery of the Victorian age. Would could become an ambitious MA thesis project has spurred me on toward thinking about teaching a history of photography and utilizing vernacular photographs as teaching aids. Geoffery Batchen, and others, have argued that photo history (like most history) has focussed on great men and great events. But Social history has turned the focus toward the perimeter and explored the common human experience. Within photo history, vernacular photo is typically excluded from the narratives that focus upon the greats of the tradition. Yet, the most common forms of photo that humanity is most familiar with, are often left out. As an educator, my hope is to include these vernacular works into the history of photography.
My recent trips to antique shops, and time surfing Ebay, I have been looking for a variety of old photographic objects that will be used as teaching aids for a future history of photo class that I hope to teach. So over the next while, I will be posting some of my own collection and other photos from my growing collection that I just love.