This ambrotype provides a good example of how the itinerant beach photographer would frame and complete the image. Often these 19th century seaside images were presented neatly through the use of thin flexible brass matte (often elaborately stamped) and then encased in simple, yet attractive painted wooden or papier mache frames. At the cheapest end of the market, tintypes (not ambrotypes) would be slipped or glued into light card sleeves.
This large family grouping provides an example of a key characteristic of the tintype image – that of lateral reversal. The image that we see is reversed in a similar way to a mirror image. This of course becomes most evident when text, as seen here in the nearby stall’s signage, is included in the final image.
The itinerant beach photographer was the first mass-producer of plein-air portraits and very quickly introduced seaside paraphernalia as ‘props’, seen here in the clinker-built boats signifying a coastal location. The two sitters we also see typify a fashionably confident pose of the day. They verge on the defiant in their informality and intimacy, indicated by lounging together on the pebbles and the male placing his arm fully around the shoulder of the female.
19th century examples of sitters wearing bathing costumes paradoxically have not been taken at the seaside, but rather at nearby portrait studios frequently situated close to the beach. This modest unframed tintype is perhaps an example of the studio bathing costume portrait at its most stark.
This studio portrait of a couple in bathing costumes whilst modest nevertheless seeks a more naturalistic mise-en-scene of faux beach, rock and driftwood and is then given further depth through the tromp l’oeil seascape backdrop. The rented bathing costumes bear the name of the photographer’s studio ‘H.J.Larkins’, but as a tintype seen here in lateral reverse.
By the time of his death in 1895, leading black abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass was the most photographed American of the 19th century, rather than Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman or General Custer (as scholars have previously claimed).
Auburn Avenue at Piedmont Avenue (African American neighbourhood), Atlanta, Georgia, 1975; destroyed in 2007, Douglass with Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and W.E.B. Du Bois, likely based on a cabinet card photograph by Matthew Brady taken in Washington D.C. in 1876; CC BY-NC-ND.
(African American neighbourhood), Boston, Massachusetts, 1976; destroyed in 1987, likely based on a cabinet card photograph by James E. Reed and P.C. Headley taken in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in October 1894; CC BY-NC-ND.
Judicial Building, 14th Avenue at Broadway, Denver, Colorado, 1978; removed to storage in 2010, Douglass with Abraham Lincoln, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, not based on any known photograph; CC BY-NC-ND.
Detroit, Michigan, 1985; Douglass with Mary McLeod Bethune, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson and others, destroyed in 2013, likely based on a daguerreotype from 1843; CC BY-NC-ND.