Woman in Hudson, New York

By: usermattw

Jul 16 2013

Tags: , ,

Category: Women


Click here to view it larger.

What it is:

Cabinet card measuring 4.25 x 6.5 inches.

What I know about it:

Photographer is Sullivan Brothers of Hudson, New York.  Otherwise undated and unidentified.


This one haunts me.  I’ve been holding off on posting it until I could think of something profound to say, but things like “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” seem like such patronizing cliches in this case.  So I’ll just post it.  The original eBay auction all those years ago listed it as something like “Portrait of an Ugly Woman”, which had the desired effect of catching my attention.  But immediately upon seeing her I felt protective and wanted to take her away from those who laughingly called her ugly.  I suppose that turns me into my own patronizing cliche, but oh well.  So now I have this photo, and more than most of my photos, I desire to know the story behind this sitting, and her story generally.  (By the way, regarding the photographers, the Sullivan Brothers were apparently named Henry and Fred.  When their photo studio was sold in 1915 to a James C. Van Loon, it had been in operation for “over 25 years”.  That helps narrow the date range down somewhat, though the sleeves on her dress are probably a more accurate gauge of the time period.  I’m guessing around the mid-to-late 1890s, unless someone else has a better guess.)

14 comments on “Woman in Hudson, New York”

  1. I can see why you feel the way that you do about this photo and this woman. It’s really quite profound. I, too, would love to know her story. This one is a keeper for you… you are her protector.

  2. Well, you have been wanting to write (although I don’t know if prose is your thing), but you can tell her story. I imagine the book to be like if Henry James wrote “Stones from the River.” Anything that you come up with will probably be close to the reality of the gal’s life.

  3. She may appear “ugly” to our modern standards of beauty, however, her features may not have been considered particularly unattractive when the photograph was taken. Or society may not have been as obsessed with cookie-cutter superficial beauty then. I hope that is the case.

    • True. Or she may well have been considered ugly even then, in which case I find it all the more poignant that she’s posing for this portrait.

  4. Wow. I can see why this one would haunt you. I don’t think she was particularly “ugly”, but something about her hair pulled so back so severely, and those uber-giant sleeves, accentuate her lips and her nose, as does the stern expression on her face. She was probably sick and tired of sitting there for so long! ~ and I bet her back and ribs were killing her from being sucked in.

  5. And just to complicate things—Hudson NY was notorious for the number of brothels it had (from the1870s through the 1950s) So there’s a whole new scenario to wonder about

    • Interesting, I had no idea. I just looked it up, and sure enough, the red light district had 15 brothels in its heyday, making it one of the town’s main industries. Are you suggesting she might have been somehow involved in the trade in some capacity? That might indeed complicate things. Or simplify them, depending. Whether she is or not, I wonder if prostitutes got portraits done, sort of like actors’ headshots. Given how racy some of those actress portraits could get, this seems remarkably chaste in comparison.

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