Norval H. Busey, Photographer and Painter

This cabinet photograph of an unidentified man was taken in the studio of Norval Hamilton Busey (1845-1928) at the corner of Charles and Fayette streets in Baltimore, possibly in the early 1870s.

Bucking the trends of the time toward elaborate backdrops and props, Busey allows the subject’s strong features and clear, direct gaze to confront the viewer without adornment or pretense.

Busey’s only concession to the pressures of professional trends was to use the bold script signature popularized by New York’s phtographer-to-the stars Napoleon Sarony.

Born in Virginia to Methodist clergyman Thomas H. Busey in 1845, Norval Busey settled with his family in Baltimore between 1850 and 1860. According to Maryland historian Ross J. Kelbaugh’s biography of Busey, the young man worked for photographers Stanton & Butler until 1867, when he opened his own studio in York, Pennsylvania.

By 1870, Busey had returned to Baltimore with his wife, Emma, and their three daughters, Blanche, Rosamund, and Emma. In 1900, Busey, now a widower, had relocated to New York city, where he opened a gallery and associated with the artists of the Salmagundi Club.

Busey, who is said to have studied in Paris under Bouguereau, was ultimately more interested in painting than in photography. A number of his portraits of members of the Duke family hang in the Duke University Lilly Library, including Benjamin N. Duke, his wife, Sarah Pearson Duke, and their children, Angier and Mary.

Busey also showed the works of other artists in his photography studio and gallery, including Arthur Quartley’s seascapes.

He died at the Hinsdale, Illinois home of his fourth daughter, Ina Hamilton Butler, second wife of Chicago publisher Burridge Davenal Butler, on May 20th, 1928. He is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery, Baltimore. Busey’s only son, Norval H. Busey, Jr., became an attorney.

Cult of the Carte: Celebrity Cartes de Visite

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From the 1860s on, people collected small, calling-card size card photographs like this one and kept them in albums. Portraits of the prominent, celebrated, and infamous, from theater to religion and politics to military heroes, were sold cheaply in shops such as the stationery business, Selby & McCauley,  on the reverse of this carte de visite (right). A carte de visite that sold well was called a “sure carte.”

Images of celebrities were advertised for sale in ladies’ magazines and special albums were made specifically to hold collections of cartes.

Some photography historians have argued that the American photographer’s focus on portraiture helped to create our culture of celebrity obsession.

Unfortunately, this 1860s celebrity is not identified, but the photographer, Stephen Israel of Israel & Co., believed so firmly in the value of this image that he filed for copyright in 1863.

Israel indicated the subject’s gravitas and intellectual stature by using a backdrop of a well-to-do man’s private library. The subject is posed with his right hand inserted into his coat, a convention that became a sign of a gentleman’s good breeding. Widely used in portraiture, and made famous by a painting of  Napoleon,  the convention was carried on in nineteenth century photography.

For more on the origin and meaning of the “hand-in” pose, visit Tom Holmberg’s article, “Why is Napoleon depicted with his hand in his coat?”, part of The Napolean Series, a site dedicated to all things Napoleonic.

To learn more about the history of photograph-collecting, visit Canada’s McCord Museum. You can even assemble your own virtual album from the site’s voluminous image library.

Do you recognize the man in this photograph? Email me at waldonia2000 [at] gmail [dot] com.

The Posing Question

The maker of this cabinet card photograph is identified on the back as R. T. Jones & Co., 101 N. Gay Street. The studio may only have been in business from 1874 to 1875.  The couple’s style of dress, however, suggests perhaps a late 1870s to early 1880s date.

Posing the client to best effect was a topic of frequent discourse in photographic journals and manuals. For couples, the convention of seating the man with the woman standing by his side emulated the conventions of portrait painting.

In his March 1908 article “The Posing of Ladies” (The Professional and Amateur Photographer), the Austin, Texas photographer and frequent journal contributor Felix Raymer (1870-1924) argued that “the most pleasing effects are those where the position suggests naturalness and not posing. . . . Naturalness is a total lack of posing.”

To achieve this artificial naturalness, the “operator,” as the photographer was called, ought to break up straight lines into pleasing, serpentine “S” curves. This could be achieved by turning “the head slightly in an opposite direction to the body.” Men, whose clothing tended to create straight lines, should especially be posed so as to break up such lines into curves.

Here, the operator’s attempt to break up straight lines and create a natural effect resulted in  an image in which the man and woman, gazing in different directions, appear oddly disengaged from one another.

Stanton & Butler

Historian Ross Kelbaugh has documented the Stanton & Butler partnership as a brief one: 1867 to 1871.  Kelbaugh’s Directory of Maryland Photographers 1839-1900 locates their studio first at 79 W. Fayette Street and then at 14 N. Charles Street.

So far I have only found one cabinet card photograph by the duo. This albumen card photograph is  a “carte imperial,” another and perhaps earlier name for a cabinet card. Their sensitive portrait of a weary elderly woman is identified as Sally (Sarah) Hopkins McElderry.

If my research is correct, Sally Hopkins McElderry was born about 1809 in Maryland and died about 1897. She married Henry McElderry (1809-1877), a well-to-do Baltimore coal merchant, and bore him eight children.

More Babies

Babies were rarely photographed with a parent. This unusually lively portrait of a infant and mother, photographed by George E. Day between 1896 and 1902, captures a mother’s happiness and pride. The baby seems bemused.

Faster exposure techniques developed toward the end of the 19th century enabled photographers to capture more candid expressions and attitudes. Photographers often used the term “instantaneous” to attract mothers.

The oversized mount with its less obtrusive studio advertising also indicates a late-century origin.

Babies, Babies, Babies

While I’ve yet to come across a carte de visite of an infant, the era of the cabinet card photograph brought about an explosion of baby portraits.

For some reason, most babies were photographed solo. The prodigy was usually dressed in an extremely long white garment, probably a christening gown.

Here is a typical cabinet card photograph of a baby by the Julius Hebbel Studio. Hebbel babies were often photographed on one of his elaborate wicker seats.

A William Ashman Woman

Born in Maryland in 1863, William Ashman (1863-1902) learned his trade from his uncle, William M. Chase. After a stint with David Bachrach’s studio, Ashman left to start his own portrait business in 1877.

The studio continued to operate under the management of Ashman’s associate, Oregon M. Dennis, after Ashman’s death in Saranac Lake, New York.

This is my favorite Ashman cabinet portrait. He has posed her so that light throws the lines of her face into relief, illuminating  a middle-aged woman’s subtle, fading beauty.

William Ashman is buried in Druid Ridge Cemetery, near Pikesville, in Baltimore County, Maryland.

The Retouching Debate

We take retouching for granted today. When retouching of the positive image was introduced in the 1850s, it was a controversial practice. In the 1870s, as the practice of retouching negatives became widespread, retouching “became one of the major controversies of the decade” among photographers (Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. 1).

Retouching stimulated trade by giving portrait photographers a new tool for producing flattering images and hiding technical defects.

The practice required skill, however. The eyes of the gentleman in the albumen cabinet photo above, taken sometime after David Bachrach brought his brother into his business in 1875, demonstrates how bad retouching could ruin a portrait–even at a studio that became as highly regarded as Bachrach & Bro.

In his memoirs, David Bachrach recalls that he began sending out retouching work around 1872 when his nascent studio began making enough–about $200 a week–to support a printer and a receptionist. Before 1872, Bachrach did his own retouching (“Over Fifty Years of Photography,” Part IV, in The Photographic Journal of America, March 1916). Perhaps we cannot hold him wholly responsible for this crude effort.

Ross Kelbaugh

Everything I have learned or will learn about early photography and photographers in Maryland is based on the invaluable work of Ross J. Kelbaugh.

He has been collecting Maryland photographs and researching Maryland photographers for decades. If you want to know anything about early Baltimore and Maryland photographers, if you want to know anything about Maryland photography in the Civil War, or about photography and the Civil War in general, he’s your guy.

I have three of his excellent books so far:

The Civil War in Maryland: An Exhibit of Rare Photographs documents the exhibition Kelbaugh curated at the Maryland Historical Society in 2006.

An Introduction to Civil War Photography is a brief, clearly written, profusely illustrated soft-cover that does exactly what it says.  I’ve read it three times already.

Directory of Maryland Photographers 1839-1900 is the bible for Maryland vintage photo collectors. Kelbaugh painstakingly gathered and collated information about Maryland photographers and studios using a variety of sources. This hard-cover labor of love, which includes reproductions of rare photos from Kelbaugh’s own collection and biographies of some of the most important photographers, is an essential reference work. I read it cover-to-cover as if it were a novel. I refer to it at least once a day.

You can buy Ross Kelbaugh’s books directly from him at his website,

Richard Walzl’s Photographic Emporium

This illustration from Richard Walzl’s journal The Photographer’s Friend, October 1872 depicts Walzl’s establishment at 46 North Charles Street in Baltimore.

Richard Edmund Walzl (1843-1899), a German immigrant, is believed to have opened his first photographic gallery in Baltimore in 1862 and moved to this location in 1872.

Walzl was an energetic entrepreneur. He studied photography under Robert Vinton Lansdale and William H. Weaver. Walzl was not content to sell photographs, however. He sold photographic supplies, published journals and books on photography, and involved himself in Baltimore’s public affairs.