Card photographs were as ubiquitous in the second half of the nineteenth century as camera phone and Instagram images are today. Primarily albumen prints mounted on card stock, card photos varied in several sizes. First came the carte de visite, French for “visiting card,” in the 1860s. Measuring 2½ x 4 inches, cartes de visite, or CDVs for short, took America by storm and created the world’s first photography craze. For the first time since the introduction of photography in 1839, portrait photographs were available to all classes as they were cheap to make, could be easily copied and sent through the mail without threat of damage. In fact, so many CDVs were sent through the mail as men were off fighting the Civil War, that the US government put a tax on them to help fund the war.
Cabinet cards were a larger version of the CDV, measuring 4¼ by 6½ inches and became very popular after 1870. The larger size allowed for greater decoration of the card mounts which advertised the photographer’s name and address. Gradually the mount designs, known as backmarks, grew larger and more ornate, often including many decorative elements common to Victorian design. Popular motifs included painter’s palettes and brushes with cameras to imply the association of photography with fine art, and the sun to symbolize the photographer’s dependence on light. Gilded borders, scalloped edges, colorful mounts and inks, patterned backgrounds, and highly stylized typography all appeared on the mounts of cartes de visite and cabinet card photographs. Some photographers hired artists to create original designs for their card mounts, but the majority chose designs from catalogs of photo supply companies. As a result, many studios from around the country produced card photographs with similar mount designs and backmarks.
Card photographs orphaned by their original owners and descendants that can today be found in thrift stores and flea markets may no longer hold the identity of the person pictured, but they can still be admired for their beauty and what they reveal about larger trends in Victorian culture, photography and graphic design. To see many more nineteenth century card photographs created in Louisville, visit the exhibit “Under the Skylight: Louisville’s Nineteenth Century Portrait Studios” in the Photographic Archives gallery from October 10 – November 1.
Our latest exhibit, Famous Faces: Picturing Celebrity in the Photographic Archives, highlights over 40 photographs of nineteenth and twentieth-century celebrated personalities and historical icons held in the University of Louisville collections. From gathering and researching these images I have learned a number of interesting facts about a few celebrities related to Louisville.
Elvis Presley (1935–1977) is one of the most iconic American celebrities of the twentieth century, having been a hugely popular singer and actor for over twenty years, earning the nickname “The King of Rock and Roll.” But the photos held in the archives of Elvis Presley, performing in Louisville at a special employee party put on by tobacco company Philip Morris, don’t tell the whole story. A little research revealed that this show, held on December 8, 1955, was a mere month before Elvis’ very first record was released – “Heartbreak Hotel” in January of 1956. He was an unknown! In fact, it has since been reported that the president of Philip Morris, in the audience during the performance, tried to get Elvis kicked off the stage because he considered the singer’s hip gyrations obscene.
The Modjeska, the delectable caramel covered marshmallow candy is an original Louisville creation that is continued to this day by confectioners like Muth’s Candies on East Market Street. It sounded like a strange name for a candy until I learned that it was named after a famous stage actress of the late nineteenth century. Helena Modjeska (1840–1909) was a Polish-born Shakespearean actress who was hugely popular in the United States after she emigrated here in 1876. In 1883, the year she received her American citizenship, she starred in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House in Louisville, Kentucky, the first Ibsen play staged in the United States. As a testament to her appeal, Anton Busath, a candy maker who immigrated to Louisville from France, was so infatuated with the actress that after her visit to Louisville he decided to give the “caramel biscuit” confection he had spent years perfecting her name: the Modjeska.
Colonel Sander’s in his coffin? It’s not often that we see photographs of celebrities taken after they have died. Sure, post-mortem photography was popular in the Victorian era when families would have a professional photograph their recently departed child or other loved-one to memorialize them; often the post-mortem photograph would be the only image the family had. But this practice went out of style as handheld cameras and snapshot photography proliferated, and as medicine advanced and death became more removed from everyday lives in Western society. It turns out that photographer John Ranard snuck a camera with him while visiting Sanders’ body as it lay in the Taylor-Hall Funeral Home. Shooting from the hip allowed Ranard to remain undetected and as a result, we get to see Colonel Harland Sanders (1890–1980), founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, as he was buried – with his trademark mustache and goatee, white suit, and string tie.
Come see the entire exhibit, Famous Faces, up now through September 27th, located in the Photographic Archives Gallery in Ekstrom Library, lower level, Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM.
Best of luck finding the perfect turkey…
and have a Happy Thanksgiving!
The UofL Photographic Archives recently acquired three photographs by amateur street photographer Vivian Maier for addition to the fine print collection. Though not famous in the canon of photography along the lines of others found in the fine print collection, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus and Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Maier has been the buzz of the photography world for the last few years.
Her work was discovered when two separate men purchased boxes of unknown negatives and undeveloped film from an abandoned storage unit at a Chicago auction house in 2007. Shortly before the name of the photographer and her work began to attract attention, Vivian Maier died in April 2009 at the age of 83. A search for information about Maier revealed that she had worked most of her life as a nanny around Chicago and remained unmarried, having no children of her own. Her former charges described her as an intensely private, proud, opinionated yet very caring woman, who never showed anyone her photographs.
As Maier’s work has come to light through blogs set up by the owners of her archives, it has garnered national acclaim from photography experts, amateurs, fans and casual viewers alike. A master of the “decisive moment,” Maier captured street life in Chicago, New York, and beyond in France, Egypt, Asia and everywhere else she traveled throughout the 1950s, 60s, and 70s with a distinct sincerity. The quality of her work is undeniable, and the rate of successful images appears staggering. It is no wonder solo exhibitions of Maier’s work have appeared in galleries and museums all over the world, with a book published in 2011 and a documentary about her life impending.
The Photographic Archives is proud to add these three images by Vivian Maier to the collection, and is thrilled that the history of photography continues to evolve in such exciting ways. Come see our collections – we are free and open to the public Monday through Friday, 9:00am – 5:00pm.
Well the finishing touches are being put together for the exhibition celebrating the Photographic Archives’ 50th Anniversary being held at the Cressman Center Gallery and opening this Friday, September 7th. You are all invited!
My first exhibition as Curator happens to be the biggest exhibit for the Photographic Archives in recent history. And why not? 50 years is an important milestone, especially for an academic photography collection. That’s because in 1962 the University of Louisville was at the forefront of the movement to accept and understand photography within the history of art. Now, with over 2 million images, the Photographic Archives is known throughout the world for a very significant collection of documentary, historical, vernacular and fine art photography.
For the exhibition RETROSPECT, we have invited over 30 photographers with ties to the Photographic Archives, Louisville and Kentucky to submit photographs and choose images from the archives to display beside their own work. Artist statements describe the connections between the contemporary work and the images from the archives, often revealing personal connections and inspiration from the photographers, locations, subjects or themes collected in the Photographic Archives. The resulting group of over one hundred photographs on display highlight both the depth of the collections and celebrates the work of contemporary photographers who have been inspired and, in turn, inspire others.
Featuring: Shelby Lee Adams, Don Anderson, Bill Burke, Richard Bram, Michael Brohm, Bill Carner, Mary Carothers, Bruce Cook, Barbara Crawford, Robert Doherty, Mitch Eckert, Julius Friedman, C. Thomas Hardin, Laura Hartford, Bob Hill, Bob Hower, Maggie Huber, Bill Luster, Sarah Lyon, Pat McDonogh, Chris Maynard, Guy Mendes, David Modica, John Nation, Jack Norris, Paul Paletti, Pat Pfister, Steve Plattner, C.J. Pressma, Jon Rieger, Pam Spaulding, Larry Spitzer, Ted Wathen
Cressman Center Gallery
100 E. Main Street
September 7 – October 13
Friday September 7, 6:00-9:00 PM
When working with historical photographs of a town or city, it’s exciting to come across images of recognizable buildings. This is partly why so many people visit the Photographic Archives to search for old photos of their home or street – to compare and contrast the now and then; to get a glimpse into the past of something that is familiar. In fact, looking at old photographs is a great way to learn the history of a city like Louisville, and now websites like Historypin make is very easy to compare old photographs with current-day views according to location.
While comparing images of a location from different eras, I often notice significant architectural differences in the buildings. Usually I see a reduction of ornamentation – which coincides with architectural trends through much of the twentieth century; Victorian and Beaux Art architecture is quite ornate, while later styles like Art Deco, International and Modernism favor more streamlined and functional design. Comparing historic photographs with current day views can reveal the removal of decorative elements such as turrets, parapets, finials and cresting (Fig. 1).
Recently I came across an image of a Louisville building from around 1909 that I recognized. I checked the address and indeed the photograph was of a building that I had photographed last year, on South 4th Street, near the UofL Belknap campus (Fig. 2).
Comparing the historical photograph with the Google Street View of the same address revealed a peculiar change in the building from 1909 to present day: the removal of the top floor! Close inspection shows that the building pictured in the historical photo is the same building that stands today. The placement of the windows, flat arches over the windows, structure of the façade, and the columns all match in both images. However, the brick building contained a third floor in the 1909 photograph, and now only shows two floors. Perhaps a fire could be the cause of this, but it’s a brick building and it’s hard to imagine a fire destroying the top floor entirely… Does anyone have any other ideas for why the third floor may have been removed from this building?
Do you like roadside attractions? Have you ever planned the route of a road trip based solely on stopping to see a bizarre site or oddball statue proclaiming “The World’s Largest (fill-in-the-blank)”? Well I certainly have, and that’s partly why I love the current exhibition up in the Photographic Archives Gallery. All Over the Map: Photographs Across America, 2006-2012 by Steve Plattner includes wonderful photos of some of the most beautiful oddities found along our country’s highways: a tractor-trailer perched high in the air, unique monuments built by dedicated outsiders, giant dinosaurs, a castle constructed of junk, mysterious billboards and other puzzling views. Plattner explains that he is “drawn toward unusual people, places, or things” that he feels “are exceptional, that stand out in some way, that often disappear without a trace.” During a gallery talk, Plattner explained how many of these unique American sites are vanishing and that he is compelled to document them.
Once long distance road travel became popular in the 1930s, businesses sprang up along the stretches of highways to attract the numerous tourists. Many of the businesses added unique attractions such as novelty architecture, colorful monuments, and other features meant to draw in customers. But as air travel surpassed family road trips and many of America’s popular highways, such as Route 66, were passed over for the new Interstate Highway System, the unique mom-and-pop businesses and roadside attractions waned in popularity. Plattner commented that many of the sites in his photographs have changed or even disappeared in the years since he shot them. So… come visit the exhibit before both the photographs and the attractions disappear!
All Over the Map: Photographs Across America, 2006-2012 by Steve Plattner will be on exhibit through June 29, 2012. The University of Louisville Photographic Archives Gallery is located in Ekstrom Library, Lower Level. We are open Monday – Friday, 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM.
I had no idea there was a story behind Abraham Lincoln’s beard. Being a photo archivist, I knew that the well-documented photographs of Lincoln were usually noted as “with beard” or “without beard” though I didn’t think much of it. But while preparing a presentation of Lincoln’s life in photographs, I gained a bit of insight…
As it turns out, Abraham Lincoln had always been clean shaven during his time as an Illinois Congressman, Lawyer, and even most of his time as a Presidential Candidate. It wasn’t until he received a letter in October of 1860, the month before general election, that he decided to grow a beard. The letter was from an 11-year-old girl named Grace Bedell from upstate New York, who wrote:
“I have got 4 brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you will let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote, for you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.”
Lincoln’s response to Miss Bedell would lead one to believe that he might brush off the advice: “As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I were to begin it now?” But, as it would turn out, Lincoln began growing out his facial hair soon after and was photographed on November 25th 1860 with the beginnings of his famous beard.
Come see the travelling exhibit “Lincoln: the Constitution and the Civil War” in the Ekstrom Library and view the slide show “Abraham Lincoln’s Life in Photographs” on the adjacent kiosk. This exhibit will be up in the Ekstrom Library, East Wing main floor until April 8th.
I have never seen so many gallery visitors! Of course I haven’t even been working here for very long, but still, our current exhibit in the Photographic Archives is getting anywhere from 15 to 50+ visitors a day! “Louisville’s 1937 Flood: A 75th Anniversary Exhibition” includes 39 photographs showing Louisville’s historic flood of the Ohio River that submerged 70% of Louisville and 90% of Jeffersonville, IN, as well as locations up and down the river from Pennsylvania to Illinois. Photographs by well-known photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White, who was sent by Life Magazine to shoot views of the flood in Louisville, show a range of scenes from a man on an improvised boat made of washtubs, to water-damaged and discarded pianos sitting in a street. And of course, Bourke-White’s famous “World’s Highest Standard of Living” photograph is most recognizable.
Photos by Corwin Short, the Louisville native who was Bourke-White’s escort during her trip, show the famous photojournalist at work: standing atop a car with her camera, walking the pontoon bridge, and eating lunch on a rowboat. Visitors have also been amazed at the aerial photographs on display that show the far-reaching devastation caused by the flood water. These photos were donated to the archive in 2010 and have never been exhibited here before.
Apparently, the Great Flood is still a big deal to Louisville residents, even 75 years later. It has been quite a learning experience, as many of the gallery visitors are eager to share with us their personal and family stories of the flood. In fact, there is a group of people sitting in the gallery sharing their stories with each other right now!
These photographs will be up until this Friday, March 9th, so hurry down to see them before they’re gone.