History of Photography

History of Photography

A World History of Photography

The Story Behind the Pictures 1827-1991

Photographers' Dictionary



Chapter 4













Let him who wishes to know what war is look at this series of illustrations.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1863


NEARLY ALL CAMERA IMAGES that deal with what exists in the world may be considered documents in some sense, but the term documentation has come to refer to pictures taken with an intent to inform rather than to inspire or to express personal feelings (though, of course, such images may answer these needs, too). The materialistic outlook of the industrialized peoples of the 19th century, their emphasis on the study of natural forces and social relation-ships, and their quest for empire promoted the photo-graphic document as a relatively unproblematical means of expanding knowledge of the visible world. Depictions of topography and architecture (addressed in the previous chapter); of the physical transformation of city and country-side; of wars, uprisings, revolutions, and natural disasters; of sociological and medical conditions and oddities—all were considered by intellectuals, scientists, artists, and the generis public to be eminently suitable themes for camera images. The photograph was regarded as an exemplary record because it was thought to provide an objective—that is, unaltered—view of solid fact and achievement. This faith in the capacity of light to inscribe truth on a sensitized plate, which lay behind the acceptance of camera documentation, was given its most persuasive verbal argument by the American Oliver Wendell Holmes, whose contributions to the popularization of stereography have been mentioned earlier. Suggesting that the "perfect photo-graph is absolutely inexhaustible," because in theory everything that exists in nature will be present in the camera image (in itself a dubious statement), Holmes also felt that incidental truths, missed by participants in the actual event, would be captured by the photograph and, in fact, might turn out to be of greater significance. As "form divorced from matter" but mirroring truth, documentary photographs were believed to be such accurate catalogs of fact that they were surrogates of reality. Specific temporal meanings might be obscure, contextual relationships unexplained, but these images, which by a miracle of technology had found their way into stereo-scopes and picture albums far removed in time and place from die actual object or event, increasingly became the data to which the public turned for knowledge of complex utructures and occurrences. According to the American art historian William M. Ivins, Jr., "The nineteenth century began by believing that what was reasonable- was true, and it wound up by believing that what it saw a photograph of, was true."

The need for pictorial documentation had been recognized even before the invention of photography. In the 1830s and '40s, publishers of periodicals in Europe sought to enliven informational texts with graphic illustrations directed to a diversified mass audience. The Penny Magazine, an early starter in London, was followed by the Illustrated London News, L'Illustration in Paris, Illttstrierte Zeitung in Leipzig, and, in the United States, Harper's Weekly and Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. To make good their promise to present a living and moving panorama of the world's activities and events, these journals began in the 1850s to use the photographic document as a basis for graphic imagery. The need to translate photographs quickly into wood engravings to meet publication deadlines led to the practice of dividing up an illustration into sections and farming out the parts to a number of woodblock engravers, after which the pieces were reassembled into a unified block for printing. In 1857, George N. Barnard invented a process whereby the collodion negative could be printed directly onto the block, bypassing the artist's drawing and incidentally substituting a more realistic facture, which the engraver then endeavored to represent. Until the 1890s, when the printing industry began to use the process halftone plate, documentation based on photographs reached the public in several forms—as original albumen, carbon, or Woodbury-type prints (stereograph and other formats), as lantern slides, or transformed by engravers and lithographers into graphic illustrations for the publishing industry.

Photographic documentation might be commissioned by the government (primarily in France and the United States), by private companies and individuals, or by publishers. Albumen prints, more sharply defined and easier to produce in large numbers than calotypes, were organized into presentation albums made up for selected individuals and governing bodies, while thousands upon thousands of stereographs reached mass audiences through the sale and distribution activities of companies such as T. & E. Anthony in New York, the Langenheim brothers' American Stereoscopic Company in Philadelphia, the London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company, Gaudin in Paris, and Loescher and Petsch in Germany.

Camera Documentation: Industrial Development

"Objective" documentation by camera coincided with the physical transformation of industrialized countries during the mid-i9th century. The role played by photography in the campaign to restore the architectural patrimony of France has been mentioned, but, in addition, images were commissioned to show the demolition and reconstruction of urban areas, the erection of bridges and monuments, and the building of transportation facilities and roads. The industrial expositions and fairs that were mounted every several years in Britain, France, and the United States during this period both symbolized and displayed the physical changes made possible by new technologies and new materials, which were contrasted with the exotic products of underdeveloped nations. The directors of the first important exposition, at the Crystal Palace in London in 1851— the Great Exhibition—were eager to document the event as well as to display camera equipment and pictures, but the insufficiencies of Talbot's calotype process limited the effort to a visual catalog of the exhibits, which was included in Report by the Juries. However, shortly after the decision was made to rebuild the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, collodion technique made it possible to document the entire reconstruction. Photographing weekly for about three years—1851 to 1854—the noted painter-photographer Philip Henry Dclamotte recorded the rebirth of the glass hall in its new location (pi. no. 170) and the installation of the exhibits. In itself, the iron structure of Sir Joseph Paxton's huge pavilion provided interesting shapes and forms, but Delamottc's obvious delight in the building's airy geometry contributes to the pleasurable satisfaction these images -rill afford, and indeed this first record is among the more interesting documentations of the many that were made of the industrial fairs that followed.

From the 1850s on, the mechanical-image maker frequently was called u.pon to record other feats served up by the age of mechanization. The usefulness of such records was demonstrated by the documentation (pi. no. 171) of Isambard Kingdom Brunei's British steamship Great Eastern, an enormous coal-driven liner capable of carrying 4..000 passengers. The vivid handling of light, form, and volume seen in views by Robert Howlett and Joseph Cundall of this "leviathan"—made for the Illustrated Times of London and the London Stereoscope Company—was praised because it embraced real rather than synthetic situations. Contrasting these works with artistically conceived and reenacted studio compositions that were being turned out at about the same time (see Chapters), critics suggested that the true measure of camera art was in the sensitive Treatment of actuality.

Soon after mid-century, photographers were called upon to record the building of rail routes in France and the United States, both latecomers in this endeavor com-pared with Britain. One such commission, initiated by the French rail magnate Baron James de Rothschild, went to Fdouard Denis Baldus, who in 1855 and 1859 followed the building of the north-south line from Boulogne to Paris, Lyons, and eventually to the Mediterranean ports. These large-format prints, exemplified by Pont de la Mulatiere (pi. no. 172), were made up into "presentation albums," one of which was given to Queen Victoria; they also were exhibited at the major industrial expositions where they were ac-claimed for elegant clarity of vision and superb tonal range. Gallic respect for order and precision also characterizes an image of engines in the roundhouse at Nevers (pi. no. 173), taken between 1860 and 1863 by the little-known French photographer A. Collard, whose work for the Departement de Fonts et Cbaussees (Department of Bridges and Roads) resulted in impressive views that emphasized the geometric rationality of these structures.

Baldus, whose other commissions included the previously mentioned reportage on the Rhone floods and a documentation of the building of the new Louvre Museum was entirely committed to the documentary mode. His images established the paradigm documentary style of the era in that he brought to the need for informative visual material a sure grasp of pictorial organization and a feeling for the subtleties of light, producing works that transcend immediate function to afford pleasure in their formal resolution. When increasing commercialization—the need to mass-produce albumen prints for indiscriminate buyers of stereographs and tourist images—made this approach documentation financially untenable, Baldus turned to re-printing his negatives and reproducing his work in gravure rather than alter the high standards he had set for himself. His attitude may be compared with that of William England, a highly competent British photographer who traveled widely to provide his publisher with images for stereoscopes and albums. As John Szarkowski has pointed out, England's view of the Niagara Suspension Bridge (pi. no. 174) has something for everyone—scenery, human interest, an engineering marvel, and the contrast between old and new means of transportation. Nevertheless, though well-composed and satisfying as a document, it lacks the inspired tension that put Baldus's work onto another plane of visual experience, perhaps because its aim was simply to provide the kinds of information the public wanted in the clearest fashion.

170. PHILIP HENRY DELAMOTTE. The Open Colonnade, Garden Front, c. 1853.
Albumen print. Greater London History Library, London.

171. ROBERT HOWLETT (?). The "Great Eastern" Being Built in the Docks at Millwall, November 30,1857.
Albumen print. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

172. EDOUARD DENIS BALDUS. Pont de la Mulatiere, c. 1855.
Albumen print. International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Rochester, N.Y.

173. A. COLLARD. Roundhouse on the Bourbonnais Railway, Nevers, 1860-63.
Albumen print. International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Rochester, N.Y.

174. WILLIAM ENGLAND. Niagara Suspension Bridge, 1859.
Albumen print. Museum of Modem Art, New York.

The character of new engineering materials and construction methods that were altering the appearance of Europe at mid-century seems to have had a special appeal to photographers called upon to document bridges and railway construction. To select only one example, Two Bridges (pi, no. 175), a work by Louis Auguste Bisson whose portrait firm sought to expand with such documentary commissions, explores the geometries of are and rectangles to enhance the contrast between the traditional stone of the past and the modern metal span. At times, fascination with the design properties of construction materials became so pronounced as to almost obscure the utilitarian purpose of the structure; in an 1884 image of the building of the Forth Bridge in Scotland by an unknown photographer (pi. no. 176), the angled beams take on an animated life of their own, swallowing up the small figures in the foreground.

Photographs of industrial activity that included the work force also were made, although often they were less formally conceived. Taken for a variety of purposes—as a record of engineering progress, as material for illustrators —many such records were not deemed important, with the result that in time the names of the makers or the particulars of their careers became lost. Yet these images, too, can exert a spell through a formal structure that converts mundane activity, such as work, into evocative experience. Few images in either Europe or the Americas were concerned with the actual conditions of work, an interest that did not manifest itself photographically until late in the century (see Chapter 8).

175. AUGUSTE ROSALIE and AUGUSTE BISSON. Two Bridges, n.d.
Albumen print. Bibliotlieque Nationale, Paris.

176. UNKNOWN PHOTOGRAPHER (probably Scottish). Construction of the forth Bridge, c. 1884.
Gelatin silver print. Collection Centre Canadien d''Architecture/ Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal.

Fortunately, Europeans did not heed Holmes's quintessentially American view that the artifacts themselves might be dispensed with as long as their images remained; intead, their goal was to disinter and relocate actual objects. Though frequently wrenched from historical context and incorrectly restored, these works confirmed a sense of continuous history for Europeans experiencing the unsettling advance of industrialization. The excavation, transportation, and restoration of this cultural booty produced some visually stimulating camera images. Almost even, aspect of industrial Europe's romance with the past, from the pilgrimage to ancient lands (pi. no. 178), to the installation of the object in a modern setting (pi. no. 179) was captured by the camera. And while by mid-century European museums already had become the repositories of statuary and decorative objects from all over the ancient world, the growing popular interest in archeology and its finds must be attributed in some measure to the camera.

Monumental contemporary works of statuary also provided subjects for photographers intrigued by the contrast in scale afforded by such pieces. The documentation of the production of the Statue of Liberty in France, by Albert Fernique (pi. no. 180), and its installation in the United States was just one of a number of such picturizations of an activity that was going on in other industrial countries. too. One suspects that the amusing contrast between the lively figures of the real workmen and the grandiose inertia of the idealized effigy, seen in this work and also in Alois Locherer's record of the construction and transport of the mammoth statue Bavaria (pi. no. 181), constituted at least part of the appeal of such images.

178. HENRI Ascending the Great Pyramid, c. 1878. Phototype from L'Egypte et la Nubie, 1888.
Charles Edwin Wilbour Library of Egyptology, Brooklyn Museum.

179. PHILIP HENRY DELAMOTTE. Setting up the Cobssi of Rameses the Great, 1853.
Albumen print. Greater London History Library.

180. ALBERT FERNIQUE (?). Construction of the Statue of Liberty, Workshop View, Paris, c. 1880.
Albumen print. Rare Books and Manuscripts Division, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.

181. ALOIS LOCHERER. Transport of the Bavaria (Torso), 1850.
Albumen print. Agfa-Gevaert Foto-Historama, Cologne, Germany.

Camera Documentation: United States

Camera documentation of industrial progress in North America differed significantly from that of Europe, primarily because of America's lack of historical monument-and its attitude to photography in general. Drawn largeh from the ranks of graphic artists, mid-century Europcar. photographers were influenced by attiaides instilled in them about art in general, but in the "new world" sound academic training in the arts was limited. With few exceptions, Americans regarded photography as a business and the camera as a tool with which to record information. Neither poets nor reformers, many photographers in the United States were unconcerned with subtleties, endeavoring instead to present material objects in a clear-cut and competent fashion without involvement in the artistic effects of light and shade or unusual compositional angles. This said, it still is curious that in a country so consumed by interest in mechanical devices, few images that take advantage of the forceful geometry of engineering structures were made. From the daguerreotype era to the end of the century, when Americans photographed bridges, railways, machinery, and buildings—emblems of the growing industrialization of the nation—their major concern was to be informative rather than inspirational. The choice of camera position in Brooklyn Bridge Under Construction (by an unknown photographer) (pi. no. 182) diminishes the scale and beauty of the pylons in order to direct attention The transformation of Paris from a medieval to a modern city, ordered by Prefect of the Seine Baron Haussmann (who took office in 1853), provided an exceptional opportunity for urban camera documentation. Old buildings and neighborhoods scheduled for demolition were photographed in collodion in the 1860s by Charles Marville (pi. no. 177). a former illustrator, whose early work in the waxed-papet process appeared in many of Blanquart-Evrard's publications. These images display a poignant regard for the character and texture of vanishing ways, indicating again that documentary records might be invested with poetic dimension. Working on his own (after recovering from the disappointing events of 1839, in which his own paper process was suppressed), Hippolyte Bayard made decorous views of the streets and buildings of Paris (pi. no. 24). In all major cities, the urban milieu offered photographers a chance to capture the contrast of old and new and also to document aspects of anonymous street life, producing views that after 1859 were much in demand by the buyers of stereographs.

182. UNKNOWN PHOTOGRAPHER. Brooklyn Bridge under Construction, c. 1878.
Albumen print. New-York Historical Society, New York.

177. CHARLES MARVILLE. Tearing Down the Avenue of the Opera, c. 1865.
Albumen print. Musec Carnavalet, Paris.

Another aspect of Victorian photographic activity concerned the appropriation of the physical remains of the past. Popular interest in archeology, initiated in the 18th century with the finds at Troy, Pompeii, and Herculaneum, was further stimulated by the acquisition of works unearthed by 19th-century European scholars and diplomats investigating ancient cultures in Egypt, Greece, and the Near East, often while pursuing imperialistic interests.
Typical of the many views of this project, the image falls short of embodying the daring energy which the bridge itself still symbolizes. In comparison, Canadian William Norman's 1859 photograph of the framework and tubing of the Victoria Bridge (pi. no. 183) creates an arresting visual pattern that also is suggestive of the thrust and power of the structure. As F. Jack Hurley points out, 19th-century photographs of American industry concentrate on depicting the individuals responsible for "taming, dominating and bending to their wills ... the vast virginity of the continent" rather than on the expressive possibilities inherent in structural and mechanical forms.

However, there are exceptions: in the years following the Civil War, photographic documentation of the western rail routes—in particular the construction of track-beds and spans and the laying of rails—resulted in images of decided visual impact. Inspired by the grandeur of the wilderness, the photographers, among them Alexander Gardner, Alfred A. Hart, William Henry Jackson, Andrew Joseph Russell, and Charles R. Savage, recorded not only actual construction but settlements along the way, unusual vegetation, geological formations, and Indian tribal life. The best-known of these images—a work by Russell of the joining of the cross-continental tracks at Promontory Point, Utah Territory, in 1869 (pi. no. 184)—is in the mainstream tradition of American documentation, with workers and dignitaries the focus of the celebratory occasion, but in other works, typified by Russell's The Construction of the Railroad at Citadel Rock (pi. no. 185), landscape predominates—the understandable effect of an attitude that regarded the western wilderness with near-religious awe. Many of Russell's images emphasize curving rails and intricately constructed bridge spans, foreshadowing the hand-ling of similar themes by William Rau, official photographer of the Pennsylvania and Lehigh Valley railroads at the end of the century. The clean, formal organization of track-beds and rails in Rau's images (pi. no. 186) suggests that industrial might had emerged without trauma or exertion—a view that was to gain ascendancy in visual expressions of machine culture in the 1920s. As was true of western scenic photographs, railroad images were sold in stereo-graph and large-format, used to make up presentation albums, shown in photographic exhibitions, and copied by engravers for the illustrated press.

183. WILLIAM NOTMAN. Victoria Bridge, Framework of Tube and Staging, Looking in, May, 1859.
Albumen print. Notman Photographic Archives, McCord Museum, McGill University, Montreal.

184. RUSSELL. Meeting of the Rails, Promontory Point, Utah, 1869.
Union Pacific Historical Museum, Omaha, Neb.

185. ANDREW J. RUSSELL. The Construction of the Railroad at Citadel Rock, Green River, Wyoming, 1867-68.
Albumen print. Western Americana Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

186. WILLIAM RAU. New Main Line at Duncannon, 1906.
Gelatin silver print. J. Paul Gettv Museum, Los Angeles.

Newsworthy Events and Instantaneous Views

Large-format documentary images required that human figures, when included, remain still during exposure, as can be seen in the posed stance of the workers in the Russell photograph. Recording events that were in a state of flux on this size plate would have resulted in blurring sections of the image, an effect that 19th-century viewers regarded as a sign of imperfection. In fact, during the 1840s and '50s, in order to present occurrences in which there was continuous, if not very rapid, action, it was necessary to restage the scene, as was done for the daguerreotypes by Southworth and Hawes taken in the operating room of Massachusetts General Hospital in 1848 (pi. no. 187). Nonetheless, the inadequacy of the earliest technology had not prevented daguerreotypists from attempting to capture images of fires, floods, and storms—catastrophes over which people have little control but show strong interest in. George N. Barnard was able to make a daguereotype during an actual conflagration that took place in Oswego, New York, in 1851 (pi. no. 188). Even after glass plates took over, however, on-the-spot news photography was difficult because the photographer had to arrive on the scene armed with chemicals and equipment to sensitize the plates before they could be exposed in the camera. Luck obviously played a great role in mid-19th-century documentation of such events, which frequently were translated into engravings in the illustrated press.

With the perfection during the 1850s of shorter focal-length (41/2 to 5 inches) stereographic cameras, accompanied by the publication in 1856 of Sir David Brewster's manual on stereography, photography became capable of freezing certain kinds of action. "Instantaneous" views made in stereograph format began to appear around 1858; among the earliest in America was a series taken of long stretches of lower Broadway, commissioned by the E. and H. T. Anthony Company, of which this street scene (pi. no. 189) is a typical example. In Great Britain, William England and George Washington Wilson began to market "instantaneous" images of crowded street scenes while Adolphe Braun and Hippolyte Jouvin (pi. no. 190) were involved with the same kind of imagery in France. In addition to the stereograph cameras produced in all three countries, small singlelens apparatuses designed to arrest action began to appear (see A Short Technical History, Part I), but despite these refinements, collodion technology still was burdensome, preventing action photography of the sophistication and speed to which modern viewers are accustomed.

187. ALBERT SANDS SOUTHWORTH and JOSIAH JOHNSON HAWES. Operating Room, Massachusetts General Hospital, Woman Patient, 1846-48.
Daguerreotype. Massachusetts General Hospital News Office, Boston.

188. GEORGE N. BARNARD. Burning Mills, Osweao, New Tork, 1851. Daguerreotype.
International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Rochester, N.Y.

189. EDWARD ANTHONY. New Tork Street Scene, 1859.
One-half of an albumen stereograpt Collection George R. Rinnan.

190. HIPPOLYTE JOOVIN. Porte St. Denis, Paris, c. 1860.
Albumen stereograph. Collection Ivan Christ, Paris.


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