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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Last week was spring break here at UND which coincides with midterm. Even though I am no longer a degree seeking student, I still measure time according to the university calendar. It has been a busy and productive first half of the semester with the production of a significant body of work.
Since graduating last May, I've been thinking about this series...perhaps even earlier as it actually utilizes aspects of other projects. I wanted to take the idea and execution of the prints that I did for the books in the MFA exhibition and put them into a format similar to the large translucent cyanotype landscapes that hung out from the wall without a frame. I reworked the hanging process to a more suitable and minimal method.
Overall, I am fairly happy with these pieces. Doing the work, the process of hanging it, and simply the look of it on the wall suggests new directions and possibilities that I hope to work on perhaps yet this semester.
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.
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.
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.
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.