Posts Tagged ‘Daguerreotypes’

Civil War Soldier DageurrotypeMemorial Day weekend.  I’m no historical anthropologist so I can’t be completely certain when I say that I don’t believe there is any one group of people on this planet who have not been touched by war in some significant way. The history of this world has been written in the bloody ink of war.

A few years back, when I began doing genealogy for the families of my wife and myself, I was surprised at the many, many generations in each line who had taken part in the wars of their times, putting their lives aside to give so much of themselves– in some cases, their very lives– for causes that often might have been mere abstractions to them.

Part of me is proud that these people have answered the call to be a small part in something bigger.  But another part of me is simply sad to think that they were called on to give so much in  order to satisfy or deny the baser motives of those in power.  War has usually been about greed and acquisition, nationalistic pride or ethnic and religious hatred– in each instance proposed with the greatest conviction and certainty by the leaders of each side of the cause.

And on Memorial Day, we remember the people who actually fulfilled the pleas of these leaders, be they right or wrong.  These citizens did what they were asked and what they felt was necessary in their time and place.  And I have nothing but respect for that.

For today’s image, I chose the daguerreotype of the Civil War soldier at the top because there was something in him that seemed to show the sacrifice of war.  Maybe it’s the steely stare of his eyes.  Or maybe it was his belt that is cinched in to what looks to be a ridiculously tiny diameter, showing how emaciated he appears to be.  I’m not exactly sure but there is something in him that seems contemporary, less dated.

And for today’s Sunday musical selection, I have chosen the song Ben McCulloch from Steve Earle.  It tells the story of two brothers who enlist in the Confederate Army in the Civil War and discover the hard realities of war as they serve under General McCulloch, who was a real person who died in battle in 1862.  The chorus probably echos the sentiments of many soldiers through time for their commanding officers as they face overwhelming odds.

So have a great Sunday and a Memorial Day filled with some appreciation of what the day really encompasses.


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John Adams Whipple- The Moon 1851

John Adams Whipple- The Moon 1851

We live in an age where we are able to see, with the help of NASA’s Hubble Telescope and Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, truly amazing images of the far flung regions of our universe on a daily basis.   I often think that, as a result, we tend to simply stop looking up in the night sky and wondering at the moon and stars and planets that move above us in plain sight.  I know that one of my great pleasures was coming out of my studio to head home through the woods and looking up in the night sky to find those familiar landmarks.  Jupiter‘s strong glow as Castor and Pollux look on from a short distance away.   The constellation Orion‘s belt and brightest star, Rigel.  And of course, the large and calming presence of the moon in all its phases.

They become like friends after a while, true and  everpresent.  Well, when the winter sky isn’t filled with clouds.

John Adams Whipple- View of the Moon 1852

John Adams Whipple- View of the Moon 1852

All of this went through my mind in a flash when I came across the early photo shown above,  an 1851 daguerreotype of the moon, and this one here on the right, another moon image from 1852, from John Adams Whipple (1822-1891), a Boston area photographer who was a pioneer in early astronomical and night photography.  He took some of the earliest photos of the moon and stars using the Harvard 15-inch telescope which was one of the largest in the world at the time.

I like the idea that this image in its little precious case was perhaps carried and periodically looked upon  a century and a half ago, as one might look upon a photo of a friend or family member.  It makes me think that whoever carried this had similar feelings when they looked up into the night sky, a unity with something so much larger than that which is within our reach.  A nodding acquaintance with the eternal.

Seeing these images from Whipple makes me want to get out and look up into the sky.  Hopefully, the clouds will clear and I can see my old friends once more.

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While trying to find something to divert my attention away from the last few anxiety-filled days of the current political campaign (there’s a lot I would like to say about this but I have pledged to keep my politics out of this– for now), I turned to one of my favorites sites, Luminous Lint,  once more.  It has a treasure trove of incredible photography of all sorts and I always quickly find something there that captures my imagination.  One of my favorite things there is to see  images of people from from the earliest days of photography, the 1840’s and 1850’s, just to study them a bit, to see  how these people who lived in a time so unlike the time in which we currently dwell might be similar to us.  It puts a face on history for me, much more so than formal  or even folk portraiture.

The  photo above on the right  is good example of this.  Found in a section that was a collection of early occupational daguerreotypes (click here to see the whole group) that depicted people of the time with the tools and dress of their trade, it is an image of a General Thomas Jesup from around 1847.   Shown with his sabre and the uniform and hat of his rank, the photo tells me so much more than this official portrait shown here on the left.  He is so much more rounded as a  human.  His eyeglasses and the his gaze toward the camera give him a more shrewd and studious look making me think that while he was a man of action, he was also a thinker, a planner.  And indeed he was.  He was the Quartermaster General for 42 years until his death in 1860 at the age of 72, making arrangements for the acquisition and delivery of supplies to our troops over the quickly expanding nation.

There’s something extraordinary for me in  looking at a photo like this and seeing the  actual face of someone who fought in the War of 1812 and was a contemporary of someone like the legendary Andrew Jackson.  I feel so much more connected to history in being able to see his actual demeanor before the camera.  It really does take my mind from the present time, letting me live for moments in that bit of history rather than in the history we are currently making. And sometimes that little journey back in time is a relief…

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