Because I've always felt a wonder at old photographs not easy to explain. Maybe I don't need to explain; maybe you'll recognize what I mean. I mean the sense of wonder, staring at the strange clothes and vanished backgrounds, at knowing that what you're seeing was once real. That light really did reflect into a lens from these lost faces and objects. That these people were really there once, smiling into a camera. You could have walked into the scene then, touched those people, and spoken to them. You could actually have gone into that strange outmoded old building and seen what now you never can - what was just inside the door.

The wonder is even stronger with old stereoscopic views - the almost, but not quite, identical pair of photographs mounted side by side on stiff cardboard, that, looked at through the viewer, give a miraculous effect of depth. It's never been a mystery to me why the whole country was once crazy about them. Because the good ones, the really clear sharp photographs, are so real: Insert a view, slide it into focus, and the old scene leaps out at you, astonishingly three-dimensional. And then, for me, the awe becomes intense. Because now you really see the arrested moment, so actual it seems that if you watch intently, the life caught here must continue. That the raised horse's hoof so startlingly distinct in the foreground must move down to the solidness of pavement below it again; those carriage wheels revolve, the girl walk closer, the man move on out of the scene. The feeling that the tantalizing reality of the vanished moment might somehow be seized - that if you watch long enough you might detect that first nearly imperceptible movement - is the answer to the question Kate has asked me more than once: "How can you sit there so long--you hardly move! - staring endlessly at the very same picture?"

12 March, 2011

A group of friends

These tintypes fascinated me when I bought them. In many of the photographs from this early period, people look so serious, rather like the photographer told them not to smile. This group appear to be having fun, smiling, and look like the sort of people I would like to meet. They are reaching out of the past making my time travel much easier. I would love to know who they are (one man looks like an ancestor of the English actor Charles Dance).

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I don't know all that much about Tintype photographs other than the fact that there is no negative as there is in photography with film. The image on the Tintype is a mirror image and rather dark. You can see the original scan of the six images below. In my "framed" adjusted images I have flipped them to make them appear like modern photographs, and lightened them.
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Because there was no negative, I wonder if it was possible to make a copy print? Some of the Tintypes appear to be the same - how quickly could two images be taken by the photographer? If you know the answers please send me a message on this blog.

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The original Tintypes as scanned (click image to enlarge).


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