Man resting his hat on a pedestal

By: usermattw

Feb 26 2012

Tags: ,

Category: Men


What it is:

Cabinet card measuring 4.25 x 6.5 inches.

What I know about it:

Nothing!  Undated and unidentified.


I’m calling this a cabinet card because it is the basic size and format of one (a photo mounted on cardboard, generally measuring 4.25 x 6.5 inches, with space beneath the photo for the photographer’s information and, more rarely, the sitter’s identity).   But this cardboard is very plain, with no photographer’s information or any of the pretty flourishes we sometimes see.  And someone has done a startlingly poor job of trimming the edges.  I believe most cabinet card backs were made to size, with pre-printed information and borders and things, and didn’t need to be trimmed.  Photos were sometimes trimmed to fit frames, but this one is no smaller than how it should have been to start with.   And if the photographer couldn’t afford to offer nicer backs, then how is it that he can offer such elaborate scenery?  So I’m guessing this was a draft or proof copy.  I have at last one other cabinet card specifically marked as a proof copy, so I know the practice was not unheard of.  In any case, I think the photo itself is quite nice.

10 comments on “Man resting his hat on a pedestal”

  1. I just read a Henry James short story (part of a book that has “A Light Man,” mentioned by one of your commenters) that discusses proof photos at commercial photographers. What surprised me was how quickly they were made: “In the course of half an hour the photographer gave him a dozen reflections of his head and shoulders, distinguished by as many different attitudes and expressions.” (Osborne’s Revengs, by Henry James, 1868) I suppose the photographer would run in the back room and develop the proofs right then. I had always figured it would be a week or so before the sitter got them. And I thought one-hour photo developing was an invention of the 1980’s!

    • I guess it was more of an innovation in service than in technology. I think you mentioned taking a photo developing class, and so you know it doesn’t take hours and hours to develop a photo if you know what you’re doing. Newspapers have long been able to rush photos into print, etc. So it makes sense to me. But you’re right, it’s easy to assume that speed and convenience weren’t available then.

  2. He looks a bit like a real-life Chaplin type tramp (before the fall).

  3. Speaking of “proofs”: As a child I often had the responsibility of making my father’s proofs.He was a photographer.The negative was placed atop special proof (light sensitive) paper in a tight frame. After exposure to sunshine or bright light the image appeared on the paper – sepia toned. No developing or drying necessary. There was no need to write “proof” or otherwise disfigure the picture because over time, even if kept in darkness, the image would disappear, leaving a solid brown sheet. There was some skill (but not difficult since as a pre-teen I did the job) in determining the required length of light exposure, which depended on the light intensity and negative density. All this is to say that if my father immediately developed and dried the negatives, the proofs could be ready in a half hour or less. Granted this was the 50s, not 1868, so the technology was different.

    • Thanks for this information! I vaguely recall the special proof paper, now that you mention it. I know it’s just a matter of chemistry, but it really does seem to magical sometimes.

  4. I agree it’s a proof. The ragged edges is probably due to someone cutting out this picture from a sheet of others. Also, I was the one who mentioned Henry James. I’ve been reading his works off and on for about 10 years now. Just when I think mankind has progressed since James’ time, I find out about something in current times that convinces me it has not. I read “Rose Agathe”, a short story about a guy infatuated with a mannequin. Then I find out there’s an app for a virtual boyfriend or girlfriend.

  5. re: special proof paper
    Interesting story; I never knew about that. Maybe they did have some kind of quicker proofing system at the time of the photo here, but it couldn’t have been exactly the same, since Matt owns proofs that haven’t disappeared. I think I just figured they couldn’t do sittings and developing during the same business hours, unless they had an assistant (which Henry James’ photographer doesn’t seem to; although it could have been just an unwritten detail). And would the chemicals be too noxious to have onsite? Also, I don’t know much about how plate negatives were developed, so I think I just assumed they were more difficult than roll film. I’m sure the answers to all these questions are easily look-up-able, but since this seems like a site for musings…

    This reminds me that the E. Nesbit children’s book, The House of Arden, 1908, features a scene with children developing their own Kodak Brownie film and photos. The book is written as though children reading it would be very familiar with this activity, and as if they all have unsupervised access to photo chemicals.

    @John F: I’m reading a book of very early HJ stories based on your comment, and they seem surprisingly different from his later works; have you noticed that? (It seems obvious now that they would be, but I guess I didn’t realize how young he began writing.)

  6. Regarding James’ stories: There’s a collection entitled “The Uncollected Henry James” that has stories written starting when he was 10. So, he did start young! But, to answer you question, I have noticed that his later works got rather verbose. I have a harder time getting into them than earlier works. But, with all this talk of HJ, perhaps it’s time to try reading “The Golden Bowl” again (I’ve started reading it several times), or one of the other works I’ve bought, and squirrelled away for a later time.

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