How Instantaneous Views changed photography and let us travel to a fixed point in time.
This is genuine time travel: You are looking at a sky in a southern clime taken on the early afternoon of 12 July, 1865. A handwritten paper glued to the reverse provides the exact date. When this fraction of a day was preserved, the Civil War was over but for a few months; this part of the sky was again above the United States, not the Confederacy.
There was a house amongst the trees—its triangular roof and chimney visible mid-left. The sky was bright blue and the clouds were gentle fluffs that, nonetheless, hinted rain. By them the great hot orb of the sun was obscured enough to safely see and photograph. The revolutionary iodized collodion process used by the photographer allowed images to be taken in as little as a few seconds, depending on the light, and this picture probably would have required the briefest of exposures.
According to an article by Colin Harding at the Science and Media Museum’s blog, “The earliest photographic processes normally required exposures of many seconds, or even minutes, rendering the photography of movement impossible. However, with the right combination of lighting, subject, lens and plate size, exposures of a fraction of a second, whilst still very difficult to achieve, were possible. The taking of such photographs became known as ‘instantaneous photography’. Whilst the term was in common usage during the 19th century, there was surprisingly little discussion or agreement as to precisely what it meant. In practice, it was applied to any photograph which contained an element of movement or which was taken with an exposure of less than one second.”
Because of the need for exposures of draconian length with the earliest forms of photography, objects in motion had never been successfully captured, and this made Instantaneous Views wildly popular. As the British Journal of Photography enthused in October 1862, “Omnibuses, carts, cabs, wagons, and foot-passengers in shoals in active movement, are all ‘arrested’… In the immediate foreground is a man, without his coat, wheeling a barrow, his left leg poised in mid-air, in the act of stepping…. One individual in a black suit, with his hands in his pockets, and looking on excellent terms with himself, is sauntering towards the spectator. The whole scene is full of life, and the photography leaves nothing to be desired.”
What was true of crowded city streets was also true of nature. Stereo images such as the one below allowed the world to be recorded in its majesty, both in 2-D and arrested motion. To viewers who had never seen an actual ocean—and there were many of them—an image like this one would have been awe-inspiring. Ω
All images from the Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.
I’m also pleased to announce that I will be bringing you photographs from the Jesse Cress Collection—many of which are daguerreotypes elderly men and women who were born in the mid- to late 1700s. Here is one to whet your appetites.
“We were happy here
Even in the cold spells
Even with the roads
Like a frozen river
We would keep each other warm
And we were happy here
With the soup on the fire
And the wind in the chimney
And the floors too cold for bare feet…”
“And we were happy here
When the Spring broke the ice
And there were limbs to be cleared
And the melting snow
Let the pines spring back up
Toward the sky…”
“But we were happy here
With our simple life
It was our whole life
And we were happy here
Before the news came
That the world was small
And the roar was loud
And not quite so distant after all…”
“But we were happy here
When the cries of our babies
Were the only cries
And our bad moods
The only bad moods
Which we coaxed and stroked
Just like our own private fires.”
“But we were happy here
Words: “Private Fires” by Andreas Vollenweider. Images: Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.
The sap of another generation,
fingering through a broken tree
to push fresh branches
towards a further light,
a different identity.
—John Montague, “The Living and The Dead”
This wonderful outdoor image, circa 1910, shows a bonneted babe sitting in a wicker pram on an early spring day in the eastern United States. The child’s pudgy hand appears lightly pinched, rather than held, by the arthritic fingers of his or her grandmother—perhaps great-grandmother. The old woman, who was probably born in the 1830s, is magnificent with her weathered face and carefully coiffed, almost ruched white hair in contrast to her elaborate dark clothing. She seems quite elderly, but sturdy and strong. A house, possibly the family home, can be glimpsed through the leafless trees behind her.
The next image is of a multigenerational British family posed on a ground-floor window ledge on a pleasant day during the mid-1860s. Grandmother, who is dressed in black-and-white widow’s clothing, sits in wicker chair, whilst Father and Mother lean into the picture from inside the home. Mum’s hand rests possessively on the shoulder of her youngest son, whilst the eldest brother perches on the sill and the middle son sits cross-legged below him. The daughter of the house, a tween in a jaunty summer dress, looks very much a mini-me of her mother.
The third image, which is marked “J. McCornick, Photographer, 3 The Bridges, Walsall,” is more somber. One subject is a young girl of about 12 years beside an elderly gentleman who is likely her grandfather. The seated female may be the girl’s mother or her grandmother—it is hard to be sure, although they are clearly related.
The members of this family group are dressed in mourning, but nothing more of the nature of their loss can be supposed, except that the mother or grandmother was not mourning for her husband. The prevailing custom for widows’ bonnets was to include a white inset to frame the face.
Grandfather, whose hand appears to rest protectively on the small of his granddaughter’s back, holds in his other hand some type of folded document or wallet. The message he conveyed with this prop is now inscrutable, but it would have been understood by the carte de visite’s viewers.
The final image is a four-generation portrait, identified on the reverse as “Elizabeth Stokesbury, age 79 years; Clarissa Stokesbury, age 51 years; Extonetta Book, age 29 years; Esther Cook Book, age 3 years.”
At the far left is Elizabeth Clark (11 April 1824-5 Oct. 1910), born in Fayette County, Ohio, to Welsh native Joshua Clark (1795-29 March 1830) and his wife Mary Blaugher (1795-16 March 1879).
Elizabeth Clark married farmer John S. Stokesbury (7 Sept. 1819-12 May 1867), the son of Robert Stokesbury (1790–1839) and Anna Baughman (1794–1870). In 1850, the Stokesburys farmed in Jefferson, Green County, Iowa; by 1860 they had moved to a new farm in the county of Wayne. The couple had eleven children to assist them: Robert (b. abt. 1842); Angeline (b. abt. 1844); Mary Ann (b. abt. 1846); Joseph (b. abt. 1848); Sarah (b. abt. 1850); Clarissa (12 Sept. 1851-8 March 1935); Harvey (b. abt. 1853); John (b. abt. 1859); Elizabeth Ann (28 June 1861-9 Aug 1946); Clark D. (b. abt. 1863); and Launa (1865-1939).
At age 16, Clarissa, second from left, married a cousin, Jesse Bush Stokesbury (24 Jan. 1843-18 Dec. 1918), the son of James Madison Stokesbury (1813–1869) and Phoebe Painter (1819–1902). By 1870, Clarissa and Jesse had migrated to Chariton, Iowa, where, the family farm was enumerated on the 1870 Census. However, their days on the land were ended by 1880, when Jesse was recorded on the census as a laundry man, and on the 1900 Census he was enumerated as a day laborer. His widowed mother-in-law, Elizabeth Stokesbury, was also in residence, along with her youngest children.
Clarissa and John had the following sons and daughters: Bryant W. (b. abt. 1868); Hillary Edwin (13 April 1870-8 Feb. 1950); Theodosia (b. abt 1872); and Extonetta (b. Dec. 1873), second from right in the photograph, who was known as “Nettie.”
On 24 November, 1898, Nettie married harness maker and saddler John Atwater Book (Sept. 1864-17 April 1924), son of Harlan and Emmaline Book. By 1900, the Books and their first child, Esther Cook (far right—and yes, Cook Book) all lived with Jesse and Clarissa Stokesbury. Nettie and John had two more children: Sarah E. (b. 6 Feb. 1902); and Jesse H. (b. 24 Dec. 1903). Sarah married Loren L. Adams on 12 September, 1935; Jesse married Fae Arza Wicks in June 1929. He died in January 1970 in Seymour, Indiana, and was buried at Chariton Cemetery.
Nettie’s brother Edwin Stokesbury, who became a broom maker and married Ollie B. Ritter on 20 February, 1894, had set up house in Chariton by 1900. The couple had four children, but shortly thereafter the marriage failed. Ollie married as her second husband a man named Van Trump and Edwin’s children took their step-father’s surname. By 1920, widowed Clarissa and her son Edwin lived together.
In 1920, Esther Book worked as a bookkeeper in a Chariton store along with sister Sarah. On the 1930 Census, Nettie, Esther, and Sarah were enumerated in one household, with Nettie working as a sales lady in a variety store; Esther worked as a bookkeeper in a bank and Sarah was a tailoress in a dry goods store.
The Des Moines Register of 25 December, 1935, featured a testimonial advertisement by Nettie in which she was quoted, “I like the simplicity of operating the Colonial Furnace and the way it holds fire. The damper enables one to feed the fire so that no smoke, soot, or gas escapes into the rooms. And I like the draft in the feed door, which can be opened to prevent puffing.”
Extonetta Book died on 8 May, 1962, and was buried in Chariton Cemetery. It appears that her daughter Esther never married. She worked for many years as the secretary of the Farmers Mutual Insurance Association and died 25 March, 1965, three years after her mother. Esther is also buried in Chariton Cemetery. Ω