tv History Bookshelf CSPAN October 11, 2015 8:00am-8:51am EDT
martha sandweiss: it is such a personal pleasure to vehicle to come back and talk about my book. it started here 20 years ago. i supported by an institution that truly supported staff. i begin to learning care about western photographs. i came here as a very young curator. ignorant about how museums worked, and utterly ignorant of the history of photography. but i left 10 years later a little bit wiser and certain iphone and field of inquiry that was endlessly fascinating and would engage before the rest of my career. so for those of you in the audience who supported me along the way, thank you. important itow how
is you have this collection right here in your. westout photography in the right here recently created replica look at texas is the seeking international in mexican owned california, a swiss immigrant bought a piece of land in order to construct a trading post along sacramento river. it is not take long for photographers to reach these far-flung clark's -- parts.
fortunes of california's gold seekers. they set off across the overland trails to record what's prospective immigrants would see. the picture the west native people, largely to show that they would soon. before the superior culture of the expanding united needs. and they documented the highest leaks and deepest canyons to capture evidence of the divine blessing upon the american nation. americans found persuasive evidence of what they had into the they were, and what the could become. and in the west, 19th-century american photography found a distinct subject. yet, and here i want to be a bit contrary in, for all of the fresh detail and astonishing realism of these photographic
images. photography did not instantly change the way that americans understood the west. i want to argue here that notionss pre-existing of the west made them resistant to the relatively cramps and static content of a photographic image and there lingered a tension. between the west of the vision ofn, and the the place that could be captured on daguerreotype plate. ofs story, the story darkness initial failure to capture the west was not the story very much in tarot -- i imagine telling. i imagine precious glimpses of a lost world, and valuable
material artifacts were commanding increasingly high prices in this photographic work it. but then i got stopped. at first by the shorter set of photographs, and then by the stories of an extraordinary photographer. against a particular problem. the early photographs i so valued as pictured i most wanted to see at home in my hands and not to have inspired any interest whatsoever in the 19th century. how could it be? the feature seems so engaging and so important to me could have been so little value to their own time? i begin by telling you to stories. -- two stories. aboutn by talking to you
the daguerreotype of the mexican war. when i came here as a curator in 1979, there were known to exist in the world for cicely 12 mexican war related daguerreotypes. they had been in the collection of the rare books and manuscripts library at yale university. these were tremendously exciti ng images. this one depicted the general and his troops marching down the street in the winter of 1847. this body of pictures represented the earliest examples of photojournalism in the world. the very first time that i target for had caught up with a camera to photograph an event value.sworthy they are also the first
photographs of war. you can imagine the excitement with which i received a phone call from a colleague who had a book deal in connecticut. he asked if i heard the exciting news. that west point had required a collection of 50 mexican war daguerreotypes. i asked for more details and to congratulate him. and he's a good time with your phone call. just this morning we turned down the acquisition, they are not here. i said where are they? he said i cannot really tell you. bookcall back that loo dealer and said where are they, i did not know. i have call me back in half an hour. and he did. i call this gentleman to arrange see the fabled collection of 50
-- at the smithsonian. the same photograph. it means that they had stopped the business of war not just once, but twice to post this pist.rreotyp the collection included another number of wonderful images, including this one which is now thought to be the best photograph of the common soldier of the mexican war. best one can close its image we have to work for itself -- warfare itself. of twoage was one civilian portraits that were included in the collection. on the back of this image, there's a very mysterious label.
mexican lady, $10. we never figured out what that meant. i spent a very long time working on the stickier types. i never found out to meet them. i read every newspaper from a major city that covered the mexican war. that no oney to you saw these to garrett types of the 19 century. there were not exhibited in galleries, they were not the basis for prints that were redraw and engraved and illustrated books about the mexican war. no one saw them. i could not figure out who made them. historian, sometimes i have to grapple with how to turn lemons into lebanon.
my thinking about the photographs really changed when i thought about this one. ass is an image identified the grave of henry clay junior. clue.as a wonderful son of theas the famous talking can states that and he had stirred the passion of americans through his death. lots of poetry celebrated his heroism. and theyried here, disinterred him and took his body home. there was this image of his grave but the way that most americans understood the death of young mr. clay was through this popular print by the american print marry her -- maker courier knives. which image would you prefer to see?
dark, lonely grave, or the image that describes his death with the kind of heroism? the mexican war was not a popular war, and americans wanted to understand what their again when were doing and they wanted to imagine his death like this, with white trousers, his comrade holding him in his arms. noble last words. now, mexican war daguerreotype have been rediscovered a new. they have been reinvested with meaning, not just for their meaning to convey detailed information about military dress for the appearance of military officers, but worthy immediacy of their status and eyewitness
views and visceral connection to those events of 1847. i connection that surpasses that of any other historical artifact. that were actually on street with the general. it has to be made in the proximity of the subject, made without negative spirs. it, -- like ar room with a memory, they continue to trace that long ago events. to hold one of these is to hold physical evidence that he was there. these events happened. literaryce of documentation, and particular gathering of mexican onlooking
american soldiers to place as a dog looked on from the side. the nature of the evidence soveyed by these photographs useful to military and hostile manned themstorians unusable to every 19th century viewers who saw affirmation, not information. the details immediacy of the mexican war help little emotional weight against other more narrative then again -- iconographic visual renderings, particularly those such as the ones that are just showed you that could could convey a more vivid narrative of fulfilled, and death. photography might have supplied and eyewitness glimpse of the events that led to the final grade graphic definition of the .estern united states at the meeting did not have the
power of the capacity to serve as an important way of conveying information about that, or to prompt americans to consider different ways of imagining ng the expanding world. troops the following the , the team not just for prints, but panoramas. they would on scroll from one roller to another. narratives by spoken that amplified the meeting of the moving pictures, these panoramas were no mostly popular precursors of today's movies. the mexican war was a popular topic for midcentury panorama the run -- but the west was the most popular of all. panorama of the river of the eastern united states, which to the -- went to london.
hyperbolic three on campus. down the p.m. trip mississippi river would be followed by 7:00 p.m. trip up the mississippi river because the squirrel was so large it can only be done in front of an audience. perhaps the most ambitious of st. daguerreotypi his own version of his life is an in kernel tale of his war hero, a country lawyer, at a crusade and personal rights. he was a forest of the 19th century claims to the first white mansion in valley, and to count among his friends both
mark twain and they rarely get. , there is a kernel of truth to his claims. vanid once study law with a who had been lincoln's law partner. doubtere's no reason to his most amazing plague, which is that in 1851, he led a party across the overland trail to california, anhui back to st. louis. pluto was painted panorama that he cold that had the scope of california. 1000 500 -- 1500 daguerreotypes seems implausible, he did capture the first photographic images of
topographic features an important sites along the overland trail. the first pictures of this. valued other forms of representation. once they served their purpose, they disappeared. thes went west in 18 to hoping to find a fortune in the gold fields. he quickly found that the way to make money was by servicing liners. he tried working in a store, and then conceded that conceived and audacious scheme.
he hired sketch artist's and set off east along the trail. by october of 1851 st. louis, where they showed their daguerreotypes to the local newspaper, and the they were works of interest for the beauty of their scenes in the construction of their faithfulness and by early 1852 jones was back in melrose, massachusetts just know that option -- just north of austin with a team of artists working to transfer these very small images to very large paintings. the first and disco opened in boston.
jones narrated two shows a day, new englandn and states, but if all of 1853 he was in new york city. everywhere the paper said they were attracting enthusiastic audiences of the elite. jones had a little trouble on the side. he was dogged by financial and legal problems. lotteriesed a grand scheme. any he never gave away rises, he was investigated by the federal government, and the whole scheme fell apart. on to a series of other careers in the paintings to six. from the historical record, just ss the daguerreotype disappeared some years before. i spent many years looking for them.
i came tantalizingly close. i found his grade, grade, great-granddaughter who lives near where he made the paintings. i contacted her and she said i have a family trunk of full of things, would you like me to open it with you? of course. she actually brought the family truck to my office, and we opened it together. he did not have any unit, but it did have some undocumented sketchbooks from the overland trail exhibition. those are now in the collection in the historical society. we do not have his paintings, we do not have his daguerreotypes but we do have his lecture notes. the scale, the color of the paintings can still be imagined. the notes document the resounding nationalism of his paintings. jones needed words. mirror images alone could not in
full voice to his social president shows that prejudices. indiansunced were swarthy savages. the natives of california and he said, were not removed about savages. encourages conclude that california was truly the golden land, the new american empire with all that was necessary to make life comfortable and homes happy. ambitions,t all his with nothing but words remained t photographs?
what the attitude was about the early american photography. he risked physical and financial hazard. you photograph from the very first -- when first time, the westward expansion. you not as they help artifacts, but as forms of information. copies, read more easy to see through the medium of the painted panorama the copies were worth more than the originals. thatublic wanted images could reconfirm what they already believed about the necessary american conquest of the west. they wanted pictures that would validate old ideas, not inspire new ones. daguerreotypes were too small
to tell the story of westward expansion. they cannot win instant acclaim. they were for jones and so many others, simply the means to a more dramatic and enthralling and. do 19th-century western photographs come to claimant ways in the american imagination? how do they become such an important source for americans eager to learn about the west? i think technological change, as much as anything else was responsible for winning photography a place in the cultural marketplace and the late 1850's, the negative price is that process again to change daguerreotyping. technologyst plate
they were able to produce a theoretic unlimited amount of presence. the economics of the business change. did the ways could convey stories with their pictures. now they had language. once it became possible to make photographs on paper, the vast majority of western photographs entered the marketplace with descriptive words. the face of the prince, words painted the back. photography could finally become a narrative again. medium that can compete with the more compelling stories told by print, by panoramas, by other kinds of inventive paintings. the words of these pictures and directed to to understanding of images, and putting meeting were none seemed apparent.
these words inevitably enhanced the narrative potential and function of photographic images, helping to transform stemming into recordsimages of disappointments and visions of triumph. words. words as much as the images themselves proclaims that the western landscape was it was of wonder and endless possibility. more to proclaim that this picture of the newly developed branch was of interest because it did not represent an engineering feat, but because it's brand and river of
marvelous trout. was important as evidence of the wing split planes that does windswept plains had ample water supply to meet settlers. words that said that this is arizona in its entirety is not the desert that many have supposed it to be. similarly, it was words that photographhat this of shoshone falls to begin a site suitable for hunting and grazing and tourism. canyonsight for the miraculous gold still looking and spectacular eagles nest perched high above the falls. only with words could you know that the bold eagles inhabited that rock. only with words could this place be inscribed with such
nationalistic significance, such economic promise, and such prosperous america future. western landscape photographs became band of progressive narratives. west, lay then future of the american nation. triumphant visual narrative played in counterpart toy another more somber story. of the westphs native people were caught up in a near to of decline, not a near tip of triumph. trope of the vanishing race, because of the regions needed peoples are disappearing, the americas were able to take the land. captions described
the photographs of indian people who came before the public eye. captions described it in people deceit andeness, people deeds. issued byin a catalog the federal government explained that little crow, had promised to have his hair cut and become civilized. but he led any group of inudo-indians -- of indians a d the massacre. words scrawled on the back of this image explained that these men were in jail for scalping a white man. the words appended to this photograph titled "the vanishing race" the indians stripped of their primitive dress are passing into the darkness of an unknown future.
with words, photography was a narrative medium, the insistent realism mitigated by the words that while images into complicated stories about manifest destiny, american expansion, and the faulty logic of a vanishing race. when we insist today on transforming such images into art, collectible objects, and pictures that speak to any ideas or arguments, we do not look at them as 19th century audiences encountered them. for viewers at the time, the words of fixed to these pictures were essential to understanding the cultural and political meanings. images visualize the past, and historical photographs visualize it best of all, allowing us a glimpse of lost worlds that
radiate an unquestionable veracity. photographs seem to tell us about things that we would not otherwise know, the emotion visible in an ancestors face, about what a town like deadwood looked like to its first inhabitants. such pictures resonate with authority because of their age, and part of because despite all we know about digital manipulation, we still presume their accuracy. carefully displayed on a museum wall, documentary film, old photographs represent other historical moments, and neither museum curators or film producers do much to discourage the illusion that photographs can confer a deep understanding of the past.
they seem to persuade us that what matters most is visual or visualized. how useful are photographs as historical evidence? despite their increasing ubiquity and american life, photographs can never provide more than select evidence. it's selective, not just in the sense of favorite something on a particular day, but favoring what is in the range of human site at all. powerful economic forces, political ideologies, whether cycles, these things are not easily photographs. our vast archive of historical photographs favors the anecdotal, the every day, and seeming ordinaryness of photographs seems to imply its value as a record of daily life, but photographs cannot explicate
complex in events. they detect outcomes, more readily than causes. -- they depict outcomes of more readily than causes. photographs more easily to take the material trappings of wealth than the global forces that brought it about. they can more easily document the appearance of a particular piece of land. in this case, men are clearing the parallel boundary that would separate united states from canada. they document the appearance of a piece of land to explain the political or diplomatic machinations that brought it under control of a particular nation. this inherent particularity of photography creates an illusion that photographs are so concrete
that they are self-explanatory. but they almost never are. photographs can describe the past, but they have a limited capacity to explain it, no matter how much we might wish they could. the photographic record of the past is uneven, given to emphasizing certain plaisance, things, events at the expense of others, selected moments that flash up from the continuum of time. unlike writers or painters, photographers, in the era before computers, had to be in close proximity to their subject, such an observation seems obvious, but consequences are far-reaching. we usually unthinkingly visualize the civil war to the appearance of union activities and northern sites, rather than southern ones, giving little
thought to the naval blockade of southern ports that made it difficult for seven photographers to make a visual record. similar sorts of visual inequities exist in the documentation of western american history. the gold rush california, attracting photographers who created a visual record in the 1850's that was far more extensive than contemporary records existing for arizona or new mexico, nebraska, or kansas. despite photography's affordability, 19th-century studio photographs favor certain social classes over others, leaving us with relatively few pictures of the urban core or migrant workers. the whims of patrons meant that new towns were photographed more than those that had fallen into ruin and disrepair. mines in need of investors money were photographed more extensively than urban sweatshops. landscapes like yosemite attracted developers and tourists, pictured more often
than the foreboding desert of the arid west. emily -- similarly, the taste of consumers depicted that indians would be photographed more often than hispanic people. the cowboys would be pictured more often than urban clerks. in a market-driven world of 19th-century photography, images that picture the romance of progress prevailed, prevailed over those that visualized the cost and dangers of empire. any story, any story about the american west during the second half of the 19th century constructed solely from
photographic sources would be incomplete, idiosyncratic, lacking in any narrative shape say that provided by the storyteller. we might be able to reconstruct a vision that a particular captain of industry had for his new railroad line, but we would be hard-pressed to reconstruct the experiences of his road crew. i have a standing reward to any of my students who can find one of the chinese laborers in this celebrated photograph of the golden spike ceremony in 1869 joined the central pacific and union pacific railroads and created a transcontinental railroad line for the united states. the workers were there that day, but they had been pushed to the side outside the photographer
who recorded the event for posterity. we might limps with the spanish missions of california looked like for those who raised the funds to restore them, but we could not show how they appeared to their hispanic or indian parishioners who worshiped on the inside. if we could show what planes indian life look like from the perspective of military force, we could not convey what it looked like from inside -- but the scope of our work with none the less remain narrow and incomplete, and we would need to guard against the konstantin tatian to let particular photographs stand for general events or conversely to let unidentified images stand for the expenses of particular individuals. documentary film makers do that all the time. it is hard to reconcile them with the contingencies that inhabit any particular moment in historical time.
it is difficult to exclude from our readings of photographs our knowledge of what comes next. so, if photographs have shifting meanings, unstable messages shaped by the context of which they were made and marketed, should we describe them as historical documents? not at all, i would argue. the very qualities that make old photographs problematic as historical documents, selected miss, capacity to contain shifting meanings, illusions of veracity, emphasis on the vernacular, these are the conditions that make them fascinating and compelling. if they can't always convey the complexities of the construction, they can exert an almost magnetic pole on that -- on the pull. they create bonds between us and people we will never know, faces we will never see. for all the differences they mark between our world and earlier moment in our nation's history and a monochromatic
rendering of the world filled with little details that can shock us with their strangest as easy as with the familiarity, such photographs still underscore the common ground we share with our ancestors. in showing us what the physical landscape used to look like, to give us a way to measure change and impact of our actions. in making visible human passions and emotions that we ourselves seem to recognize to help instill within us that wonderful thing we call the historical imagination. in the interpretation of historical photographs, there is no separating the viewer from the object of his gaze. "for every event of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns, threatens to disappear irretrievably." it is our engagement that shapes and defines meanings.
pictures tell stories, but they tell stories only to the extent that we ask them to, and as our questions change, the stories do as well. notwithstanding such instability of meaning, photographs remain remarkably rich and useful for those who study the national past. ultimately, the greatest value lies not in the information they convey about the appearance of a place, the shape of an object, the cast of a phase, but in the ways that they elicit stories from us from their viewers. in one sense, photographs stop time. they remain paradoxically dynamic artifacts. if in the mid-19th century they seemed at first unable to alter americans collective imagining of the west, they have, over time to inform and shake our
master narrative of the nation's western past and to fix it in our collective imagination. " the pass is not simply there in memory, it must be articulated to become memory." in photographs of the 19th-century west are the visual articulations of a national past, potent bits of pictorial shorthand summoned up from our collective psyche, deep social memory of a particular place and moment in american history. for 19th-century viewers, these viewers resonated differently than they do for us. to those actually caught up in the exploration of the west and the perspective economic the moment of the region and the ongoing debates over the fate of
the western indians, these photographs held political, economic, and cultural implications that are difficult for us to recover. yet even in the 19 century, these photographs plus -- plucked the mystic chords of memory and stir the imagination of americans encountered now by us through the veil of social memory, the evoke different stories they are read, and we would do well to listen to the stories, tales that mediate between past and present, and ways to know america is way and how to visualize it. in these shifting photographic stories are the whispers of ambitions and dreams, hopes and disappointments, love and hatreds of our own time and of the past. thank you very much. [applause] martha: i will be happy to take some questions. >> you told in the introduction
to the book that you are writing about photographs made for a public viewing rather than a private viewing. would you say that those made for private viewing were more successful and how they were received by the public than those that were made for those that did not see an audience? martha: the vast majority of pictures made in the 19 century were what i would call private pictures, portraits. they were made for paying clients. yes, when you went into a studio and gave it with -- to the photographer and got a photograph, you controlled and understood precisely what it was about and how you wanted to use it. yes, those photographs were more successful in conveying intended meaning to intended audience, but it was a limited audience. as anybody who has gone to an antique store and seeing a anonymous old portraits can attest, once portraits no longer
blanche to the family, they lose all meaning whatsoever -- no longer belong to the family, they lose all meaning whatsoever. martha: questions? yeah. >> i have a question regarding the advent of photography. as part of the coming industrial age of the 19 century, how do you reconcile that sort of -- now that we look at those photographs, we attach a lot of romanticism to that era in a historical fashion. do you see that as parallel with perhaps the transcendental and luminous movement, or do you see it as an typical -- and typical? martha: i think that our reading of many 19th-century landscapes as romantic documents is a 21st century reading. again, if you are able to go back and find the original
context in which these landscapes appear you often find they were produced with very different messages intended. they were meant to tell different stories. time and time again, i have come across a 19th-century landscape that looks like a terrific, beautiful scene, and to my 21st century eyes it makes me want to be a tourist. when i find the captions that that picture was published, the scene seemed to be of interest
to 19th-century viewers because there was a gold mine there. you can't see the goldmine, but it is there. or a landscape of the great plains was of interest because it was so flat and empty that the railroad line could easily be constructed across it. those are the kinds of associations that i don't think we easily find or pick up when we look at these photographs now, especially when we encounter them without the words they were marketed in the 19th century. >> you are meant to do a very interesting part of one who is not a scholar, but a collector.
was that man aware of what the importance of what he had? how did you establish the ability to transfer from his ownership, and where are they now? martha: they are here at the amon carter museum. he established value, and i had to decide whether to meet it or not. >> did he know what he had? martha: he knew that he had the daguerreotypes the document to the war, but he did not realize that he had a photograph of polk. any more questions? great. thank you all for coming. [applause] >> you are wanting american history tv. -- forus on twitter be
information on her upcoming schedule of programming. here is toctive teach people how a unique american. culture was created through the , african,f european and indigenous peoples cultures. housed frontier firms on the 16 40's. people are wanting to have a place of their own, whether they be english or irish or german root second and third sons are going to leave. >> i am costumed interpreter on the scotch irish farm. the type. here