Currently viewing the category: "Prints–looking HARD/deeply at"

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1973 Follow Me on Pinterest

This ad appeared only 59 years ago–that's four generations in dog years, two human generations (or one for the more later-in-life crew, which is appealing as I knew a man whose grandfather was born in the 18th century), and 15 generations in managing data and communications. Perhaps more. It is difficult to imagine the intense surprise that attended this ad showing a practical and popular adaptation of a communications breakthrough.

Telephone future064

The electromagnetic telegraph, which is arguably the first electrically-powered iteration of the internet, was in the works from the 1820's until it was nailed by Samuel Morse in 1837. It was 40 years to the development of the Bell telephone (another dramatic example of an invention/technological idea/breakthrough that was "in the wind", a popular undiagnosed monumental meme, some decades in the making in the hands of Bell anbd Reiss and Meucci and Gray and even Edison). Two more decades (just past the turn of the century) until more-widespread wireless telegraphy, another two decades after that (1920's) for poular radio, and another two decades after that (post WWII/1950's) for popular television broadcating. 120 years between the patented invention of the Morse telegraph to 50 million Americans with televisions in 1955.

The "telephone" of 2013 is as removed as the telephone of 1955 as the telephone of 1955 was removed from the electromagnetic telegraph–we're not meeting half-way in the meeting of improbable impossible worlds, of worlds of the future unimagined in the past. That is what comes to mind when I see this add for the speaking telephone in 1954–the astounding, astonishing, speaking telephone, the phone that allowed you to not have the receiver to the ear, tht allowed you to do free-hand work and communicate at the same time. It was an ambitious improvement, and as soon as the phone appeared, it became a standard of necessity if that necessity was within budget.

It is the weight of surprise that is so abundant looking at pictures like this, giving us the opportunity to imagine the surprise elements of another time. It may well be that the new 1954 user of the speakerphone would have looked at the first telephone systems of 1894 as we look on that 1954 telephone today. Probably not so, though, probably it was much more imaginable to have forseen the 1954 possibilities in 1894 than for 1954 to have seen in the same amount of time to 2013: the technological pieces necessary for part of that imagination had not yet been invented, the science ahead of the scifi.

The other part of this surprise element is that 1954 is well within living memory, and that this combinaiton of technology and physics and mathematics has grown so incredibly from the speakerphone to the massive changes in 2013–it is as surprising to imagine this as to imagine the same scenario for what ahppened a year before in biology: it is difficult to grasp the sweeping changes in that field from the identification of DNA in 1953 and how far those fields have come since.

I think that if one could quantify this sort of "surprise" that the greatest amount of "Surprise Integers" (or whatever) ever recorded would have taken place within these past 50 or 60 years. Which makes me wonder–will people 59 years hence see the pictures of our fabulous accomplishments in 2013 as quaint reminders of how much things changed between 2013 and 2072? Will those "Surprise Integers" be as great for that period of time as the ("our") preceding period with concomitant revolutions in thought? My guess is "yes"–its just hard to imagine.

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

In my experience with images in silhouette, the technical adaptations are very unusual (at least for things that are not spotter guides for enemy aircraft or ships-at-night)–more uncommon still are industrial buildings rendered in silhouette. But here’s an example, taken from the Illustrirte Zeitung (Leipzig) for 1936. These are factories in the Feldmuehle Papier- und Zellstoffwerke company , and are really quite attractive.

The following two images are details from the 14th silhouette, at bottom-center:

Industrial silhouettes874

Industrial silhouettes873

And the full-pahe ads looks so:

Industrial silhouettes872

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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Part of the Zoomology series

This is a quick follow-up to an earlier post on Solomon Butcher in which there two two photographic images that are clearly “manufactured”–one is created in the darkroom (simply adding trees in a tress-less landscape), while the other (below) is an unlabelled recreation of an event. This is in the lines of Timothy O’Sullivan and Matthew Brady dressing up their images a bit by posing the dead or giving them added bits (like muskets and so on) to enliven the picture. This one though is entirely theatre–as it happens there are very few 19th century photographs depicting a crime-in-progress. Butcher just decided to show his audience what the crime probably looked like. In any event if not for a little Zoomology the scene could’ve perhaps passed for real.

Butcher vigilantes two det one
This is a detail from the full-plate glass negative, printed out so:

Butcher vigilantes two

Without the enlargement it is difficult to tell what sort of instruments the ranchers were holding. But up close the wire cutters are simply suggestions of that too, being made of wood and all.

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1912

Butcher new settlers on prairie det

When Solomon Butcher laid his head down on his final pillow he evidently thought of himself as a half-failure. His work as a photographer in a life full of travel through the Great Plains lead to not-much-"success" save for one book1, and his work wasn't recognized for the impact that it would have in the decades to come. Perhaps he wondered if his ways were all worth it, hauling his family and his enormously heavy collection of full-plate glass negatives from one house to the next. Of course that would change in death–not the money part, but certainly the recognition. His photographs are outstanding glimpses into late 19th century American frontier life, and especially so for the work he did making images of families and their belongings in the long rolling landscape of pioneer Nebraska.

not sure exactly what Solomon Butcher told his subjects when he photographed them
outside of their frontier houses out there in the Great
Plains in the 1880’s. His spectacular
portraits included not only the family of the house, but in many cases, everything
that the family owned. Possessions were


(Image via the Nebraska State Historical Society, with caption2 below.)

encumbrance making your way across the country in the mid/19th century,
especially if you didn’t have very many to begin with. These families—the first generation in their
mostly sod-built houses—would’ve been farmers scratching out a minimum trade
and decent subsistence. City/town goods
would’ve been not-usual in these circumstances, and evidently whatever it was
they had of these things wound up outside, displayed around the house and on
the roof, when Mr. Butcher arrived in his photographer’s wagon.
Butcher death trip859

was it, I wonder, who came up with the initial idea of displaying the
family’s possessions: did Butcher set
out with that idea, or did it happen spontaneously? I wonder what it was the families thought as
Butcher was packing up his equipment, his horse fed, his cameras stowed away,
climbing up onto the driver’s bench. Did
they wait until he was a spot on the horizon to put away their things? Did they gather everything up as Butcher
gathered up his own material, or did they just wait for the stranger to
disappear before pulling the family back together? Sitting their surrounded by
the things that they owned, did these families feel a quiet pride, or were they
embarrassed have their pictures made together with their frontier opulence?)

There's much to look at in these images, and the Nebraska Historical Society does a very good job at it here, espcially when they work at some digital magic, making some of the disappeared stuff that lurks in the shadows of the interiors of the cabins appear. What is of interest to me today are the sunburns–this issue was brought up yesterday in another post on the invention of the satirical photograph, where the self-portrait shows a man with heavily sunned face and hands, the marks of a working man with dark settling on light becomes a little remarkable.

This is seen in Butcher's photographs from time-to-time. In the series of photographs of homesteads, he often captured images of men without hats–seldom the case, I guess, in the normal routine of a day. The men's faces are deeply tanned except for where the hat is pulled down to the middle of their forehead, where we see a much lighter complexion:

Harve Andrews and family by the grave of "Willie," photographed by Solomon Butcher, Victoria Creek Canyon, Custer County, 1887. NSHS RG2608-2360

Which makes sense, of course, since these were pioneers and farmers, and working pretty much all of the time outdoors.

I remember being surprised the first few times I noticed this, and then not so. This is much like seeing all of those non-smiling photographic portraits of the 19th century and wondering about the sombreness, when the general explanation for the seriousness was far simpler: given the length of time for an exposure, it was took simply too much effort to hold the same smile for a minute or three, and so the rigid face became a necessity. The brands of the faces of these men was there simply because they wore hats outdoors doing hard work in the High Plains sun.

There's a world going on in these photographs, but for right now I'm just looking at faces.The Library of Congress site has an excellent collection of this images online, and there's a lot of micro-photo inspection to be done.

Another example, here:

Butcher sun det
Which is a detail from: Butcher sun
(Source: The Library of Congress, "Rev. and Mrs. E.D. Eubank on Clear Creek west of Lee Park, Custer County, Nebraska".)

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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Some examples from the uncollected series on Looking Straight Down can be found here and here.

I've been involved in this blog at retrieving and tabulating antique images that look straight down on something. Today I imagine that we all take these sorts of views for granted, what with satellite images and Google Earth and airplanes and all. But in the pre-heavier-than-air era, seeing a published image that looked straight down from a height was quite rare. (And it needs to be strait down, not a bird's-eye view. Things are very different between looking obliquely from an airplane window onto a cityscape than skydiving directly down on top of it.)

Benjamin Franklin had long been thinking about waterspouts, going back at least to the early 1750's, though he did not have an article about them in print until the appearance of "Physical and Meteorological Observations: Conjectures and Suppositions" in the Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions, LV (1765). The first image that I've been able to find of the waterspout occurs in 1774, though a prettier version of it is reworked a little, but with sharper delineations, in 1818:

Waterspout detail

Here's the full image (with a magic square that related to another article in the volume):

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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

Devil gun detail

When I went to research this phrase, above, I was surprised to learn that it is about half as old as I. Playing on a slightly older expression, "Le bon Dieu est dans le détail" ( the good God is in the detail), commonly attributed to Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880), and of course "God in in the detail/s", the "devil" part seems to be only from the mid/late 1970's–a surprise.

Nevertheless, we are still left with a surprise in this devilish detail from the incunabulum of St. Augustus, De civitate dei….(this printed in Basel by Johann Amerbach on 13 February 1489). It shows it in its two panel woodcut the illustrious saint at top, working away at his desk; and at the bottom a battle between the cities of Babylon (founded by Abel) and Zion ("Syon", by Cain). In this battle Zion is defended by devils, and the devils are armed.

Devil gun772
The angels of Babylon appear sympathetic but unresponsive to the devil-play, while an angel at top left seems to be blessing its devil enemy who seems to be scaring/screaming at her. In any event this is a lovely and complex image coming in the fourth decade of moveable type printing.

Now: regarding Zion and Augustine, I really don't know why the writer is putting devils in charge of the defense of "the city of the living god". The many-times-mentioned Zion of the Old Testament, "…Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth" (Psalms 50:2), doesn't seem to be calling for devils. But then I don't know this history of Jerusalem during the Byzantine period, 4th/5th century. So far as wars and savages launched against Jerusalem, it was destroyed twice, attacked 52 times, captured/recaptured 44 times, and beseiged 23 times–perhaps this representation wasn't too terribly much out of the ordinary.

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1737 (Expanding post #850, On Dropping Your Hat in the Punic Wars)

++ Nov 24 dropped

There is a particular class of illustration in which, among the secondary figures of the image, there is a small happening, an everyday trifle, that has been captured by the artist and included in the overall communication for no necessary reason. (for example, see here and below1). I’ve written about this a little before on this blog in posts about finding images-within-images: the unecessaries among the unnecessaries, the bits and pieces of everyday human existence that in and of itself is not worth commentary but which nearly everyone experiences. Small bits, they are, of a tremendous human nature, the things that are done in private, or are so universal but inconsequential that they are shocking to see when illustrated in print.

Titus Livius (59 BCE-17 ACE), better known to the English-speaking world as Livy, was a superior among superiors of Roman historians, writing on the history of his city and country. His work, Romische Historie…, published in Mainz by Johann Schoeffler 1450 years later in 1514, was one of the most beautifully illustrated books ever produced in that city. This is a considerable statement, as Mainz was the birthplace/hotbed of moveable type printing, being home to Johann Gutenberg and a number of other early presses.

And in looking at this fantastic work by Livy, I am a little embarrassed to find this spectacular bit of human tendency displayed in this woodcut depicting a naval engagement during the Punic Wars. It is a beautiful thing, this scene of warfare depicted on tranquil seas and ribbony waves, determination in every face. But what I noticed in the small boat at bottom right is a man reaching out into the water—not for a dropped oar, or to help a man overboard, or to catch his falling sword.

++ Nov 24 dropped det
He was reaching for his dropped hat.

I have reason to doubt that during the Punic Wars there may have been an unwritten chapter, “On the History of Dropped Hats During Warfare”. Surely soldiers dropped their hats during the history of roman conquest, but I’d say that retrieving the headgear was more important at the Battle of the Bulge in protecting your noggin from badly splintering trees traveling at you at 180 mph and other such places than a wool cap dropped from a ship in pitched battle two hundred meters from shore.

I like this so because it is probably the first reaction that most of us would have—just a habit, battle raging or not—and just utterly human. Just a little piece of back-history that doesn’t go anywhere and is lost to experience. I’m sure that Herr Gutenberg dropped his hat at odd times, as did the unknown artist of this print. Just an odd bit, like the first things printed on Gutenberg’s press being religious indulgences for people paying their way past Purgatory (and worse). The fact that the indulgences preceded the great bible by several years doesn’t really matter, and neither does retrieving a dropped hat in a sea battle—but they do make interesting stories.

The only thing that I'd rather have the artist improve in this print were the waves–the ones on exhibit here weren't very saucy. Admittedly, waves were a large problem so far as depicting them goes, what with the whole vast subject of fluid dynamics so little known at the time. THe person who would know this phenomenon best at this point–Leonardo–was thinking and working but wasn't sharing. His "Studies of water Formations” (c. 1507-09)? and the later, magnificent “Deluge” (1513, nearly the year of publication of the above) would stay hidden for centuries, the big step forward in the West having to wait for another 120 and 140 years (respectively) for the works of Benedetto Castelli, and Evangelista Torricelli,

This aside, I think that I'd rather see heavier lines in my Renaissance waves, more in line with we find in Publius Virgilius Maro Oper accuratissime castigata…, a richly illustrated (104 large woodcuts) work published in 1537, even though the artwork (evidently) appeared in an earlier edition of 1502. No matter, "The Master of Grueninger's Workshop" created some beautiful waves:

There's nothing "wrong" of course with the Livy waves; the Virgil though has sharper, darker, blacker and stronger contrasts in the water. Of course, the Livy has that incredibly human act of the man reaching for his fallen hat int he heat of battle, and that's something that rarely seems to happen in prints of the Renaissance.


1. Some other Found Images posts:

Found Images: Penny Lane and the Inexpensive Treat, London, 1896

Found Images of the Great Wheel, 1895

Finding Hidden Images in Antique Prints: 18th Century Forensic Social X-Rays of Florence by Guiseppe Zocchi

JF Ptak Science Books, Post 1701

The first published photographic image, or "sunpicture", illustrating an excellent collection of extremely early papers on photography, 1839.

Bird photograph148
Bird, Golding. "A Treatise on Photogenic Drawing." Five papers in a series found and bound in the London-published journal, The Mirror. These five issues comprise a very early work on the new science of photography by Dr. Golding Bird, appearing in issues from April 20-May 25, 1839: this includes "A treatise on photogenic drawing", (pp. 241-44); and also "The new art – photography", (pp. 261-2, 281-3, 317-18, 333-335.)

It is page 241 (issue no. 945, Saturday April 20) that particularly peaked my interest–it contains the First Image of a Photogenic Drawing. This is essentially the first publication of an image produced by any sort of photographic process. The process here is the 'sun picture", a photographic process, making this the first published "photographic" image, but really it is more like the first publication of a photographic image that was produced via woodcut. It predates the first mass-published photograph by four years and the first (entirely) photographically illustrated book ( The Pencil of Nature) by six years. The sun picture, or heliotype, was first described in print in 1801 by both Thomas Wedgewood and Humphrey Davy, and although the process was at least 39 years old at this time there are no recorded *published* images produced by that process. (The woodcut is much larger than usual for The Mirror, and is also of a unique brown/red color, and of a different hue than any other woodcut that we have seen in any of the issues of the first 45 years of this publication.)

Bird photograph148_edited-1

The image is described in David A. Hanson Collection of the History of Photomechanical Reproduction, located in
the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (Williamstown, Massachusetts), so:

"…facsimile of a photogenic drawing of ferns (done on the block) as a plate [to illustrate an article serialized by Dr. Golding Bird "A Treatise on Photogenic Drawing" and reprinted in the Magazine of Natural History, p. 234-44]…printed in rust to imitate the photogenic drawing… The facsimile of the photogenic drawing done directly from an exposure on the block is the first photographic image published. The finished example is printed directly from the block in a reddish brown to match the color of Talbot's first salt print photograms." –Hanson Collection catalog, p. 6 [Source, here.]

Under the title, "the First Reproduction of a Photograph",the George Eastman House of Photography's journal, the Image (volume 11/2, 1962) notes:

"On April 20, 1839, the London magazine The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, featured as its cover a "Facsimile of a Photogenic Drawing." There is a copy in the George Eastman House collection. It is a picture —in negative—of three stalks of leaves. The original was made by Golding Bird, "a distinguished botanist" by following William Henry Fox Talbot's newly invented process, the details of which were made public at the Royal Society on February 21. Paper was made light sensitive by bathing it first in sodium chloride solution, then, after sponging the surface, in a solution of silver nitrate. The material could be used in two ways: to make, as Golding Bird did, a contact print, pressing flat objects to the surface during exposure to light, or in a camera. Both techniques produced negative images, which were fixed in a strong solution of sodium chloride. Talbot named his invention "photogenic drawing." His friend, Sir John Herschel, proposed for it the word "photography."

"Thus to The Mirror falls the honor of having first published a reproduction of a photograph. The facsimile which was presented to its readers was the work of a draftsman, who made a drawing of the photograph, and a wood engraver, who cut the block..”

The Image continues:

"Only a week later, on April 27, The Magazine of Science and School of Arts, another London magazine, featured three "Fac-similes of Photogenic Drawings" on its cover: two botanical specimens; (Fool's Parsley and Grass of Parnassus), and a piece of lace. Although wood engravings created by skill of hand, they approach photography more closely. For the very wooden block used for the printing plate was itself sensitized, just as Bird's paper had been sensitized, and the engraver followed with his burin the photographic image itself, rather than the artist's drawing."

"The photogenic drawings were contributed to the magazine by a reader who signed himself "G.F." He commented, in his covering letter published in the same issue: "I send you three drawings of this new art, which were impressed at once on box-wood, and therefore are fit for the graver, without any other preparation. I flatter myself that this process may be useful to carvers and wood engravers, not only to those who cut the fine objects of artistical design, but still more to those who cut patterns and blocks for lace, muslin, calico-printing, paper-hanging, &c., as by this simple means the errors, expense, and time of the draughtsman may be wholly saved, and in a minute or two the most elaborate picture or design, or the most complicated machinery, be delineated with the utmost truth and clearness."

Gernsheim states in his History of Photography that the first photographic camera ever made for sale to the public was advertised by Francis West, an optician of 83 Fleet Street, London, and published in this issue.

Bird later reworked these sections of the Mirror into elements of and a chapter in his Elements of Natural Philosophy; (being an experimental introduction to the study of the physical sciences; revised and enlarged third London edition, Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard, 1848). This article was reproduced in the Journal of the Franklin Institute in September 1839 as "Observations on the Application of Heliographic or Photogenic Drawing to Botanical Purposes; with an account of an economic mode of preparing the Paper: "in a Letter to the Editor of the magazine of Natural History".

[Offered for sale in our books for sale section, here.]