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Picturing a World

Mermaid daguerreotype

Website alert: The story of the how this and other daguerreotypes were recovered from a shipwreck is found at "Doomed ship of gold's ghostly picture gallery is plucked from the seabed." It's a good enough tale in itself. But don't you wish you knew more about this woman with her coiffed hair and those racy black lace sleeves? For me, it's one step from the knowing look in her eye and the crooked smile into siren territory. A few more changes, and I could make her a mermaid with dangerous intentions. Or, of course, there is the possibility of gold-rush historical fiction. And get this: there are other unrecovered daguerreotypes and ambrotypes still down there in the same wreck, lying on the seabed. Now how suggestive is that!

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Bombed library

This morning, I ran across this photograph in a fascinating new book, Gothic: An Illustrated History by Roger Luckhurst. What interests me is not its connection to all the permutations of sensibility collected under the term Gothic. No, as the world fears a new war in Ukraine, it was the image of horrific destruction that hit me first. Then wonder at the books still so neatly shelved, then a smile at the calm, plucky Englishmen (those hat!) perusing books. But wait, it's probably staged.

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Wildness and wonder

Michael Garrick's photograph of exuberant, overflowing, flowering, abundant life taking over an abandoned greenhouse (used here under a Creative Commons License) was just the tonic I needed on a very cold morning in New England . Sure, there's the pandemic, worrying political news, and the terrifying prospect of all that climate change will bring. And still, wildness breaks through our structures, constrictions, and failures to bring subversive glee and wonder.

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Harlequin doggy bags

The reward of blog-crawling on a rainy day was a post on "Harlequin Foods" at Victorian Paris. I knew that "pot-luck" soups were sold by street vendors to the poor, but get this: There was an entire trade in leftovers or rogatons from the kitchens of palaces, noble houses, fine hotels, embassies, and so on. The cook or the footman sold them to a vendor or reseller who came to the back door, and they began a journey of sorting and distribution until they reached a stall in Les Halles, where they might end up on a patchwork plate of mixed scraps more or less artfully arranged. In that form, they were called arlequins, probably because their patchwork appearance resembled the costume of the Commedia dell'arte character, Harlequin.

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Lady with a photo album

As a follow-up to my last post on carte-de-visite albums, here's a German lady holding an album of somewhat larger photos. The photographer, Bertha Wehnert-Beckmann, would be worth exploring in depth as possibly the first female professional photographer. For German speakers, the place to start: A German Lady.

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Carte-de-visite albums

A cousin recently turned up a family carte-de-visite album among her mother's things. I knew about the little photographic calling cards that people used to collect and exchange. They were invented—and patented—by a Paris photographer, Andre Adolphe Eugene Disdéri, and I had looked at individual examples of famous people when I was researching Where the Light Falls. What I didn't know was that soon after Disdéri's invention, someone invented albums with framed pockets into which you could slip your collection and keep adding. Old albums with annotations, like those in the Sturgis-Codman album, would be a wonderful resource for seeing the relations among friends and family or the interests of a collector. Historical fiction writers and family historians, happy hunting!

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Pareidolia on Jupiter

Website alert: Does anybody else perceive a rider on the back of a horse in this detail from NASA's video animation of a flight past the planet Jupiter?!? And if so, is an elephant-headed rider looking over its shoulder or is that an elaborate hood? I'd love to see the photographs from which this segment of the video is projected. Meanwhile, whether you are as taken by this imaginary cosmic figure as I am, do check out Ride With Juno As It Flies Past the Solar System's Biggest Moon and Jupiter. It's mesmerizing

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River meander

One of my image folders is called "Pictures Demanding a Story," and this photograph is going right into it. Look at the half-circular swirl of the river meander. The stone walls bound it and echo it each other. The bush on the right at the end of the curve rises into a different energy. Oh, and that glimpse of the horizontal sea way off on the horizon. All the elements together proclaim a place of power, maybe of ritual.

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Women ride astride

Inez Mulholland's spectacular appearance at the 1913 suffrage parade in Washington, D.C., might seem merely a brilliant stroke of theatricality, but there really was a connection between saddles and suffragism. In 1910–1911, Nan Aspinwall rode coast to coast astride to show that women could (as they should: side saddles are more dangerous). Alberta Clare also rode coast to coast and made the connection to voting rights explicit. You can read more about them in an article, Sidesaddles and Suffragettes. And for a delicious vintage linen riding habit from the period when clothes were adapting to the new style of riding, click here.

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Photographic time travel

I admit I don't understand all the technicalities explained in this YouTube, but whoa! is Time-Travel Rephotography ever fascinating (and more than a little scary). If it does nothing else for historical fiction writers, it should educate us in the ways older cameras distort people's faces so that, given an old photograph, we can try to imagine people from the past more sensitively. But like all doctored photograph, it is also a reminder of the ways we can be manipulated by computer programmers—although for speculative fiction writers, just think of the doors it opens!

 

Via Gurney Journey's Bringing Old Photos to Life, which discusses it and another app. from a color-specialist and animator's point of view.

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