Art Nouveau Verso (A Maryland Volunteer Fireman, Continued)

This is the back of a cabinet card photograph of an unidentified volunteer fireman (see previous post for the front).  Its flowers and vines motifs are typical of Art Nouveau, a style that flourished from 1890 to 1905.

Julius Hebbel, like many other photographers, aspired to practice “artistic photography.” From the very beginning, photographers aspired to equal or even supercede painting and drawing. Others, like David Woodward, inventor of the”solar camera,” the  first widely-used enlarger, championed photography as an aid to painting.

Here, as flowers burst from the inner frame and the painter’s palette leads the eye across a rural bridge and deeper into the drawing,  the riot of the graphic artist’s imagination threatens to overwhelm photography’s claims.

A Turn-of-the Century Volunteer Fireman

This cabinet card photograph by Julius Hebbel was probably taken sometime between 1889 and 1920, when the Hebbel studio was located at 409-411 Gay Street in Baltimore.

The diamond die-cut border, chocolate brown mount, and elaborate, art nouveau flowers-and-vines advertisement on the verso suggest a date of 1890-1905.

The photographer chose a head-and-shoulders pose on a simple cream background, allowing the fireman’s uniform and gilt-trimmed cap to provide the portrait’s only embellishment.

The youthful, unidentified sitter looks off into the distance, as if scanning the horizon for smoke.

The initials on the sitter’s woolen bib-style shirt, E. B. V. F. C., don’t  match the names of any Maryland localities, according to my contact at the Maryland State Firemen’s Association.

“More likely,” he says, “is the probability of a visiting company from another state, most likely attending the Maryland State Firemen’s Association convention, several of which were held in Baltimore.

“It was not uncommon for companies from as far as New Jersey to send apparatus and manpower for these festive occasions. The conventions of old not only held parades, but also firematic contests such as hook up teams, pumping teams, and ladder teams. These contests were a source of great pride and usually attracted companies for 100 miles or more.

“Thus, [the company] most likely was from out of state. It could be East Berlin, PA located in Adams County, PA as I believe that company dates around 1890. They do use the number. one, but actually are incorporated at the Liberty Fire Company.

“It could also be East Brunswick, NJ, founded in 1906 that actually goes by Fire District No. 1. Either of these companies, or a variety of others, could be the mysterious EBVFC.”

If you have an idea which fire company is represented by the sitter’s shirt, please leave a comment.

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.