About Photographicus Baltimorensis

This blog is a product of my preoccupation with Baltimore’s many early professional photographers and the thousands of portraits they took of Marylanders between the 1860s and the early 1920s, when Kodak’s advances made amateur photography a viable mass diversion.

Card photographs–cartes de visite and cabinets–have long been the  stepchild of the daguerrotype, disdained for their mass appeal and commercial, novelty-driven hack-work.  The popularity of the carte-de-visite card photograph exploded with the American Civil War as a way any ordinary soldier could send home an image of himself from far away.

The larger cabinet card format, with more and more elaborate advertising back marks and studio props, emerged in the 1870s as the popularity of cartes began to flag. Cabinet card photographs remained popular into the 1920s for formal portraits that marked occasions like births, confirmations, graduations and marriages, as well as to commemorate visits. Friends often exchanged them as keepsakes.

Only a few post-daguerreian Baltimore studio practitioners get mentioned in the big histories of nineteenth century photography: Typically, Daniel Bendann (1835-1914), David Bachrach (1844-1921), and  William Chase for his outdoor stereoviews.

Bendann made his name as a dashing southern sympathizer. Although he and his brother, David, were born in Germany, their family first settled in Richmond, Virginia, and Richmond formed their sensibilities.

Bachrach and Bendann both played small roles in the Civil War. Bendann took well-known portraits of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and others. During Baltimore’s occupation by Federal troops, Bendann fell under suspicion of being a Confederate sympathizer. He was arrested and jailed for “uttering treasonable language and refusing to take the oath” of loyalty to the Union in 1862 (Baltimore SUN, 11 July 1862).

In the 1870s, Bendann marketed “Bendann Brothers Backgrounds,” negatives of a variety of backgrounds that could be spliced into any portrait. “The public admires and want ‘The Bendann Backgrounds,'” wrote Charles W. Hearn in his 1874 manual The Practical Printer, “and if business is dull this will refresh it.”

David Bachrach, also German-born, was hired by William H. Weaver to help Weaver take war photographs for Harper’s Weekly. By Bachrach’s own account, he had some close calls behind the front lines.

The Bachrach studio photographed many of the day’s well-known names. The name “Bachrach” often appeared on the society portraits in the Baltimore SUN.  Baltimore Cardinal James Gibbons was a favorite subject.

Descendants of Daniel Bendann and David Bachrach continue to operate photography and art businesses today.

If you want to know more about Baltimore’s many studio photographers, there is one indispensable work: Ross J. Kelbaugh’s Directory of Baltimore Photographers 1839-1900. You can obtain a copy from Kelbaugh at Historicgraphics.com.

Many have and will again chronicle the lives of the famous and celebrated. It’s the photographs of ordinary folk, marking the great moments of their lives, that haunt me. All too easily are their days and deeds forgotten.

Likewise, it is the hundreds of ordinary practitioners whose galleries and studios lined Baltimore, Lexington and Charles streets in Baltimore, and the main streets and squares of small towns all across Maryland, whose work I want to recover.

So, now that we’ve dispensed with the big names, on to the forgotten practitioners of the prop and backdrop, who gave the ordinary family the ability to own and exchange portraits of themselves and their children, “12 cabinets for a dollar.”

Selected Reference Books and Publications

The Architecture of Baltimore: A Pictorial History, Mary Ellen Hayward and Frank R. Shivers, Jr. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004)

Lost Baltimore Landmarks: A Portfolio of Vanished Buildings, Carleton Jones (Baltimore: Maclay & Associates, 1982)

A Guide to Baltimore Architecture, 3rd Edition, John Dorsey and James D. Dilts (Centreville, Md.: Tidewater Publishers, 1997)

Directory of Maryland Photographers 1839-1900, Ross J. Kelbaugh (Baltimore: Historic Graphics, 1988)

Where Land and Water Intertwine: An Architectural History of Talbot County, Maryland, Christopher Weeks (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984)

M. A. Root’s The Camera and the Pencil

H. J. Rodgers’ Twenty-Three Years Under a Skylight

Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900, Joan Severa (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1995)

%d bloggers like this: