I agree about the old photos having a life of their own, especially the ones that are entirely anonymous. Oh, even the ones where the sitter's identity(ies) are known. Like the one I recently bought of Clara Barton and her married lover. There's something in their interaction, where she's looking at the camera, and he's looking off to the side, desperately NOT making eye contact, yet appearing to touch her back. You have to wonder what was going through their minds at the time of the sitting. And given how famous they were (he a Civil War hero, with multiple medals for valor and given combat promotions to Major General, and she the "angel of the battlefield" who would go on to found the American Red Cross), what Mathew Brady was thinking when he took their photo (I feel fairly certain that Mr. Brady himself operated the camera for that sitting, unlike many others that I have by his studio where the sitters are truly anonymous).
Originally Posted by Mainecoonmaniac
I also love that you can really get an insight into the photographers by looking at their work - most of it of course is merely workmanlike, routine, but every once in a while you get a real gem that really captures personality. Another one I have is from Alexander Gardner's studio in DC. I suspect again that Alexander Gardner himself was the camera operator, given the virtuosic posing - everyone is looking somewhere different, yet the group dynamic flows harmoniously, and gives you a sense of how lively a bunch of people they must have been. And then the quirk of the posing stand over in the corner all by its lonesome - what was the photographer thinking by including it? Was it a subtle way of saying "I'm so damned good I don't need that posing head clamp", or was it sloppy oversight in a test photo? But if it was a test photo, why was it trimmed and mounted on a studio card? And in the wet plate era, trying to get a group of people that large to pose well would have been like herding cats!