Posted on 05/29/2013

Photo taken on March 14, 2011

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early photography
19th century
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Little women

Little women
Half plate American ambrotype
photographer unknown,
ca. 1860.

Four lovely young women and a little boy gather around a severe elder lady, for what must have been the perfect 1860s family photograph. Elegant gowns, bare-shouldered teenage girls, brooches, almost everything points to a rather prosperous family. Only the matron and one of her daughters are wearing tight lace collars, presumably because they`re married, unlike the younger girls, whose attires invite courtship. What I love most, there are no two attitudes alike here, although physical resemblances are obvious. Dr. March would`ve been proud indeed of such daughters.

The photographer knew well his craft: he chose to emphasise the central position of the mother, while conveying a general impression of stability by inscribing the entire family in a pyramidal composition, bathed in gentle oblique lightning. The invasive dark haze accounts for much more violent contrasts than originally intended, but this is, nonetheless, one of the most "artistic" deteriorations I`ve seen.

This photograph probably remained a cherished memory for a long time. It was remounted in a late XIXth / early XXth c. wooden frame in order to be hung up on a wall - and it did remain there for decades, since the extensive damage on the plate is of the type caused by prolonged exposure to natural light. Now, they have sadly passed into anonymity - and into a totally different relationship with their viewers.


View this ambrotype on Flickr.

Josef Novák, Curt Johnson, BeautyOfThePast have particularly liked this photo