Friday, February 24, 2012

Potassium Cyanide and an Unhappy Portrait

Natalie Dykstra,  Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life

A recent biography of Clover Hooper Adams (1843-85), photographer and wife of Henry Adams  (1838 –1918), describes the tragic story of a complicated and fascinating woman,  her "inadequately" educated husband and a slice of the 19th century political scene in Washington D.C. 
 The only remaining likeness of Adams is a small equestrian snapshot. After her suicide by photographic chemical potassium cyanide, Henry Adams burned all her photographs. Adams is best know for his personal intellectual biography, The Education of Henry Adams which describes the failure of his education to adequately prepare him for the industrial and technological changes of the late 19th century.  From details of Clover's life, it seems he was emotionally ignorant and compassionless. Poor Clover!
A selection of Clover Hooper Adams photographs can be seen in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Her grave is marked by the famous St. Gaudens sculpture.

Mike Ware's "Strange Processes"

In Mike Ware's essay, Alternative Printing a Conspectus, he discusses obscure as well as traditional processes. His scholarship is apparent when he describes the most intriguing processes "recorded by C.M.Archer as an 'Anecdote History of Photography' in Recreative Science: a record and remembrancer of intellectual observation, Vols 1 and 2. (London: Groombridge and Sons, 1860/1)."
Many of these are natural and miraculous phenomena. For example, a Retinotype
It has been concluded by doctors in America, that the last image formed on the retina of the eye of a dying person remains impressed upon it like the image on a photograph, and that if the last object seen by a murdered person was his murderer, the portrait drawn upon the eye would remain a fearful witness in death to detect him and lead to his conviction. Dr. Sandford, of New York, reports that he examined the eye of a murdered man at Auburn by means of the microscope, and found impressed on the retina the rude, worn away figure of a man, supposed to be the assassin! 

Cyanotype - The Process

We have documented our cyanotype technique, but a more comprehensive discussion of the process should  be included in the blog. We go to the ultimate authority, Mike Ware, who includes history, chemistry, step-by-step and scholarly commentary on the process.

images from

Another excellent source of information on this and other Alternative Processes is The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes by Christopher James. He stresses the accessibility of the process and the joy of teaching.  L has used this process in her summer classes at the Milwaukee Montessori School.
Christopher James and Students, Maine Photographic Workshop l999

Eye Portraiture - A Timely Exhibition

From the collection of Dr. and Mrs. David A. Skier of Birmingham AL
After seeing our installation at the Portrait Society show, Debra Brehmer mentioned that there is a long history of eye portraiture.  An exhibition at the Birmingham Museum of Art further informs on the portrait phenomenon of....“lover’s eyes,” hand-painted miniatures of single human eyes set in jewelry and given as tokens of affection or remembrance. In 1785, when the Prince of Wales secretly proposed to Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert with a miniature of his own eye, he inspired an aristocratic fad for exchanging eye portraits mounted in a wide variety of settings including brooches, rings, lockets, and toothpick cases.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Honoring Abraham Lincoln - 12 February

Photograph of Abraham Lincoln taken in Chicago by William Shaw in 1859

In the spirit of portraiture, we look into Abraham Lincoln's soul when we read his favorite poem, Mortality, by William Knox. As described by John Miller in the Wall Street Journal, Lincoln's mother died during his childhood and his most beloved were taken from him by their premature deaths, he must have found the verse consoling.
Knox's poem is at best a "simple emotional tonic,"  but the lines below resonate with the wisdom of David Lochman, another Springfield, Illinois native, as well as ideas in Annie Dillard's in For The Time Being. 
O why should the spirit of mortal be proud!...

...The leaves of the oak and the willows shall fade,
Be scattered around, and together be laid;
And the young and the old, and the low and the high,
Shall moulder to dust, and together shall lie...
...For we are the same things that our fathers have been,

....The thoughts we are thinking our fathers would think,
From the death we are shrinking from they too would shrink,  
To the life we are clinging to they too would cling --
But it speeds from the earth like a bird on the wing.

They loved -- but their story we cannot unfold;
They scorned -- but the heart of the haughty is cold;
They grieved -- but no wail from their slumbers may come;
They joyed -- but the voice of their gladness is dumb.

They died -- ay, they died! and we, things that are now,
Who walk on the turf that lies over their brow,
Who make in their dwellings a transient abode,
Meet the change they met on their pilgrimage road.

Yea, hope and despondence, and pleasure and pain,
Are mingled together like sunshine and rain;
And the smile and the tear, and the song and the dirge,
Still follow each other like surge upon surge.....

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cosmic Inspiration from Then and Now

Lee Bontecou 's 2010 Retrospective Exhibition, All Freedom in Every Sense, is a spectacular example of change and evolution. Her work becomes more complicated and more three-dimensional. Throughout her career she has used cosmic imagery, from black holes to planetary formations.

L. Bontecou, Untitled, 1959

Bontecou's images resonate with images of space from the mid 19th century. 
The planet Mars observed Sept. 3, 1877, at 11:55 p.m.  E.L. Trouvelot, New York Public Library

L. Bontecou, Untitled, 1980-98

Group of sunspots and veiled spots observed on June 17, 1875 at 7:30 a.m  E.L. Trouvelot, New York Public Library

    A total eclipse of the sun observed July 29, 1878, at Creston, Wyoming New York Public Library

L. Bontecou, Untitled, l967

 Aurora Borealis
 E.L. Trouvelot, New York Public Library Aurora borealis as observed March 1, 1872, at 9:25 p.m.

L. Bontecou, Untitled, 1985