View Full Version : Some updates to my blog on collecting antique images

11-29-2011, 11:43 AM

I posted some new images in my collection on my blog, and I'd love to get some feedback on folks' thoughts about them. I've been finding these images in various places from antique shops to eBay. Lately I've been finding images with really interesting/odd compositions that have me scratching my head as to what was going on in the photographers' head when they were taken. The daguerreotype I kinda get, but it still looks like something that should have been shot as a horizontal composition to more fully fill the frame with the sitters. As composed, it feels more post-modern than Victorian, intended to be deadpan/ironic. Is this just a less-than-skillful composition, or is it a flash of brilliance one hundred and sixty plus years early?


The carte-de-visite came from Alexander Gardner's studio in Washington DC - this was hardly a run-of-the-mill, anonymous generic wet plate portraitist traveling through the hinterlands doing penny-pictures. The head clamp visible in the corner of the room would seem sloppy and casual, and it would be understandable that it could be left in by accident at some other lesser studio. But there it is, in the corner, and sufficiently distinct from the group that it calls attention to itself. This says to me it was intentional, and that it was acceptable to the sitters because it was left in despite the fact that there are eight customers who would have to be pleased with it. I've seen the feet of head clamps showing in other CDVs I have before, or even a smidge of the head-clamp peeking out from behind an ear or the curve of a neck before, but never the entire clamp, so blatantly positioned and unused. Seeing it here to me would be like seeing a light stand, flash head and umbrella in a Monte Zucker portrait. Does anyone have any insight on this? Is my take completely off-base, or is there some historical fact that I'm missing?


11-29-2011, 12:18 PM
Very interesting question, specifically about the head clamp.

As for the daguerreotype, I think that a lot of folks not so versed in composition would think that placing the faces right smack dab in the vertical-middle made the most sense. There are some Brady portraits like this that I've seen, and it looks awfully balanced to my eye.

As for why it wasn't rotated on the horizontal... who knows, maybe his camera & tripod literally wouldn't allow for it.

11-29-2011, 12:36 PM
Could the Gardener one be a composite?

11-29-2011, 12:43 PM
i think the headclamp in the corner is something like " my customers are better than that, so there ! "
i like how no one is facing the same way, almost like the pose of all the sitters is also
a thumb to the nose of convention ..

11-29-2011, 01:14 PM
AJ- I sincerely doubt the Gardner photo is a composite. I've seen enough CDVs to have a pretty good sense of these things, and that group looks too consistent in lighting and posing to have been pasted together from individual images. Also bear in mind the size of the image - the original is only about 2 inches by 3 inches.

John - I agree, the Gardner group portrait is absolutely masterful in the overall group composition, which makes me think the head clamp is intentional. I also noticed that only one of the sitters, the right-hand-most woman, is facing the camera directly. I would love to find out who this group was. Even if I could only identify one of them for certain, it would probably point in the direction of who the rest of them are.

Holm- I think the most curious thing about the daguerreotype is the absolute plain-ness of the set. It's just the two people. I've seen lots of dags with plain backgrounds, and lots with some kind of set as well. Maybe this one seems all the more striking because there's just so much plain background visible. Regardless, the image is a striking one to me (which is why I bought it).