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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Part of Zoomology Series
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In a moment of levity at the end of WWI, these sailors from America and the U.K. and France got together for a bit, and turned their little doggie mascot into a small attraction of sorts, entertaining themselves and the small curious crowd surrounding tthem. The photograph was made anonymously by the Western Newspaper Union and is stamped "British Official Photograph", and published on 10 October 1918.

WWI--Doggie photo detail026
Which is a delightful detail from this:

WWI--Doggie photo025

And this intriguing woman, who appears in the upper right corner:

WWI--Doggie photo detail028

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Part of the Zoomology series

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There’s a ew digital player at the Wellcome Library, the home of a renowned collection in the history of medicine, though it covers more than that, being “one of the world’s richest and most unique collections, with themes
ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and
biomedical science” (from their site).

Using their new zoom tool I was able to get great detail from this 19th century sumo wrestling woodblock, and save it easily:

Summo toe

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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 Part of the Zoomology series

From the photography collection at the Library of Congress, offering deep and big graphic files. The file photograph looked interesting, but on closer inspection the magnificent central figure is revealed:

Negro chain gang detail middleedited-1
"Chain gang of convicts engaged in road work. Pitt County, North
Carolina. Autumn 1910. The inmates were quartered in the wagons shown in
the picture. Wagons were equipped with bunks and move from place to
place as labor is utilized. The central figure in the picture is J.Z.
McLawhon, who was at that time county superintendent of chain gangs. The
dogs are bloodhounds used for running down any attempted escapes."

The full image:


Negro chain gang detail middle right

Negro chain gang detail far right dited-1

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

This is a continuation of sort of this morning's post, "Massive 500-Daguerreotype Mosaic", though this one concentrates on the sumptuous ruination and decay that has occurred within and to some of these photographic images. I've looked closely at only five of these images, and within each of these five images there are five more. And, if you manipulated the largest downloadable file of these (which range up to about 150 megs), there are five more within the five within the five. And all that before you start to imagine the artistic fantasies int he non-representational forms, and that before adding color. So five is all that will be here, for the present.

Ruination old dags detail 1

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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 1668

Part of Paper Microscope and Zoomology series.


[Detail from the image immediately below, the small scene immediately in the foreground.]

Images hold selective secrets for different people of divergent interests. Sitting through a motion picture, for example, shows a series of still images flashed before us—in a single scene people bring to bear their own ways of experience and observation. A forensic pathologist will see things shown within their specialty different from someone with a chemical explosives background who will see a bomb differently from an ER doc who would respond to an emergency room differently from a bookseller who might notice in the scene that the paperback edition of a Tree Grows in Brooklyn being read by an American G.I. in 1944 didn’t exist yet, and so on. A single image can hold a tremendous variety of depth and interpretation depending on the observers’ perspective.

Most of the time when I look at prints now I am looking at the extraneous “stuff” that is used as filler to the print’s purpose. I’ve written about this a few times earlier in this blog under the (bad) general title of Prints—Looking HARD at…), and I find the uncommitted art just fascinating, sort of like “loose”, unnecessary snapshots of common life, everyday life, of people walking by.
The two prints today that I stumbled upon have a particular interest—they depict semi-hidden children in the foreground-filling detritus of the architectural marvel that is the subject of the artwork. Children really don’t appear too terribly often in art from 1500-1850, so it is especially interesting to look really hard at these prints and pick out the kids and what they were doing.

Of course this begs the question of “why?”—why would the artist bother with such detail in the foreground, let alone bring children into the picture?

The first image is the gorgeous Cambridgeshire Medieval cathedral at Ely. This is an engraving showing the north west view of the cathedral, and it is of course grand and imposing. The curious foreground shows a somewhat dilapidated-looking cemetery, and looking further still we see two men digging a grave, and to the right of them, a small child, seemingly pointing and reading a gravestone. What an unusual detail this is, what with it occupying less than 1% of the area of the image in general.

The second image (above) shows the façade of the Town Hall at Cologne. Of the twenty or so people in the street in front of the building, four are children (there’s also a pair of fighting/playing dogs). One of the miniatures scenes seems to show a boy in a “pick me up” pose. To the right of this is another, odder, scene, showing a woman—possibly a street food peddler—with her two boys(?), the children kneeling in front of a gentleman who is in turn leaning against a pillar of the Town Hall. What the boys are doing is a mystery, as is the intention of the artist in including them.
Hidden_children_streetpick_me_up .

Unfortunately these "microscope" studies reveal only the basic forms of the semi-hidden, and really don’t ever seem to offer us a reason as to why they were preserved. Presently I’m happy enough to just recognize them and appreciate their small saved existence.