Two Hands on Back

two-hands-on-back_010-smallTitle: Two Hands on Back

Year: 1985
Dimensions: 44 × 35.75 in / 111.8 × 90.8 cm
Availability: For sale

In these works from the 1980s, Coleman takes Polacolor originals self-portraits and subjects them to detailed hand work — scratching, drawing and painting, adding material to the surface. In Coleman’s practice, she has rephotographed the originals to make large gelatin silver prints.

Crossed Hands


Title: Crossed Hands


In these works from the 1980s, Coleman takes Polacolor originals self-portraits and subjects them to detailed hand work — scratching, drawing and painting, adding material to the surface. In Coleman’s practice, she has rephotographed the originals to make large gelatin silver prints.


351-0The essential promise of the daguerreotype was truthfulness, the “mirror with a memory.”  As I have immersed myself in the world of cabinet cards for the last few months, in connection with the current Be-hold auction, I often found myself in a world of contested truthfulness, a world where there was a porous border between truth and illusion. This was a concern of the age—the latter part of the 19th century and the start of the 20th. Developments in photographic practice catered to that concern.

This was a world that PT. Barnum fostered and exploited already in the era of daguerreotypes and  CDV’s, that fully blossomed in the cabinet card era. Crowds flocked to see in “real life” numerous types of living persons and creatures that were out of the ordinary. These included people who were shorter or taller than “normal,” thinner or fatter, with longer hair on their head or face. It especially included those who by birth or disease more seriously departed from what was usual. They were presented as real living people, but often surrounded by fictitious tales about their birth and history. Photographs often show them accompanied by “normal” family members or managers, making the photographs a mixture of verisimilitude and exaggeration or falsehood.

At the same time photographic manipulation blossomed in this period.  Techniques that developed already in daguerreotypes could be achieved more easily and experimentally once printing became a separate activity from making the negative. The cabinet cards exhibit numerous examples of this.

Is this two-headed calf a freak of nature or the result of playful printing?

There are many examples of photographs using superimposition and collage. While examples of many “trick” processes can already be found in daguerreotypes, they were unique objects. So were tintypes, that often explored the same processes as cabinet cards. But the cabinet cards were made in multiple examples, from just a relatively small number by small town studios to the huge outputs of the major big city studios.

Issues of illusion were not only explored in printing, they were often part of the studio production. Studio backdrops and furniture were part of the trappings of photographs from the beginning. But even though the backdrops might show scenes, they were still part of the studio setting, and rarely was there an attempt in daguerreotypes to pretend that the studio location was somewhere else.

There are many cabinet cards in this collection where the studio is acknowledged but some kind of illusion is still established. An example is the photograph of Charles Dickens at his desk. This might seem to be in his own study, but there are indications the desk or a similar one was brought into the studio. There are many examples of occupational images where objects and trappings of the profession are set up in the studio. These don’t differ from the similar practice in daguerreotypes and CDV’s. But there are other examples where the studio is made to give the illusion of a “real” space.

An example is a cabinet card of an ice skater where the backdrop represents a somewhat realistic scene, and the floor is made up to represent ice, with even the pattern made by the blades appearing in the ice. (One wonders how the skater was able to hold his pose, or, in another subject, how bicycles were able to stand upright without any visible support.) Another photograph shows a woman and girl resting from haying. The studio is so made up with real hay that there is no clue that this wasn’t taken out in the field.

228-0447-0Photographs of theatrical performers represent the largest body of photographs in the collection, and are among the most numerous photographs made in this era, next to individual and family portraits. The theater itself as it developed in the West after the era of Shakespeare was a site of both reality and illusion. Like the “freaks” discussed above, the performers were real persons, but in a space of illusion. This is part of the lure of the theater. The real actors represent individuals who are not themselves in spaces that are made to seem other than the real stage. The complex fantasy involved in collecting cabinet cards of theater performers would soon be overtaken by publicity photographs of movie stars, where the “original” was not a real person but a celluloid illusion.


127-0There was often a blurred line between the studio backdrop and the theater backdrop. In this masterful superimposed photograph of the actor as both Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, it isn’t clear whether this is the backdrop of the theater where the play was performed, or the backdrop of the studio.

In just a few cases as represented in this collection, the outside world is presented “as it really is.” But as this example shows, the world can be used as a setting just as the studio setting can be made to represent a real outside scene. Here presumably real people, not actors, are elaborately arranged in an urban scene that has many implications. It stands between the formally arranged studio scene and the moment captured by a hand-held camera in the modern era.

These illustrations are from our October 29th auction. See

I hope this will help make it interesting to look through the material.


This is the 32nd one of my occasional Newsletters on issues about photography.
It and most of the previous ones can be found by clicking on the tab at the top our home page. You are welcome to comment on this and, in the appropriate place, on many  of the previous Newsletters that can be found there. Your comments on this Newsletter can also include any issues related to Cabinet Cards and their presentation in the auction.

— Larry Gottheim


























MONSTROUS FLY. 8 1 /8 x 6 1/8- inch gelatin silver print, ferrotyped, 1930’s. A bit of a text slug adheres to the verso, along with notations in red and blue crayon. A long note in pencil in French explains that what appear to be the eyes of a monkey’s head are actually places where antennae were inserted. The real eye is at the side. There is a neat vertical slit at top left, and a minor fold in the lower left corner.


Images on computer screens are now the major way we see photographs. I put a lot of effort into representing our offerings as accurately as possible, often with high-resolution scans. A European client berated us as well as any other dealer who uses images made by a scanner. He wanted images made with a camera, even a cell phone camera, rather than a scanner. He thought those who offered images made by a scanner were misrepresenting the photograph, and buyers who judged by an image made by a scanner rather than by a camera were fools.

Leaving aside the question of what could be revealed by a camera that would be obscured by a scanner, this generated some thoughts.

A photograph itself is partly a representation, but also an object. Even daguerreotypes that have from the start been likened to mirrors have a different object nature and function than images in mirrors. Photographs are judged and valued for their object nature as much or more than for what they represent.

Usually when we look at a mirror, we are entirely absorbed by what is reflected, rather than by the object that contains the reflection. Whether we are using the mirror in a car’s visor, or one above the sink, or one in a clothing store, we pay attention to certain details in what is being reflected. The mirror itself is functional.

When we see a representation of a photograph it is also functional. It can both give us a sense of what is represented in the photograph, and also tell us something about its object nature. We don’t confuse the physical nature of the computer screen with the physical nature of the photograph. We look “behind” the screen to learn something about the photograph. The screen is an avatar or ikon of what it represents.

The same photograph can be found with many different titles or descriptions, and the image on the screen can tell us which one it is. The screen image can help identify the subject, or place, or the date or approximate date when it was made. It is a source of information. We can sometimes recognize the maker of an image that is unknown to the person who made the scan. Even a poor or low-resolution image on the screen can provide enough information for many purposes.

But when a photograph is offered for sale, another function of the screen image is to tell us something of the character of the photograph and its condition. By itself it can only hint at what the actual photograph will be like when looked at directly. But some information needs to be stated in other ways. The size is usually stated, because it can’t be determined by the screen image alone. The actual “presence” of the photograph can not be felt. It is extremely frustrating to make a scan of a photograph that somehow fails to capture the feeling of the original.

One supplements the scan with a description. “Slightly light,” or “minor signs of handling” can make the photograph seem less or more attractive that it would be if seen directly. I mistrust most peoples “otherwise” as in “slight signs of handling and some soil but otherwise an excellent print.”

It takes a degree of connoisseurship to appreciate the subtle qualities that would make a certain print attractive to a discerning collector. The attractiveness is also subject to the needs of the collection. A photograph that offers unique content to a collection interested in that contact can be highly desired even if there are some condition problems, while a vintage work of photographic art that exists in various states will be most desirable in rich near perfect condition.

The collector must supplement the image on the screen and any verbal information supplied with a connoisseur’s memory of other similar photographs in the same process, from the same period. The image and other information will stand as an ikon or avatar, bringing to mind what the actual photograph will probably be like, but only to someone who has seen many other examples of similar photographs.

I am an audiophile and listen to vinyl. The experience of listening to records at home is never the same as being in a concert hall or club, but because I have a memory of what the “live” experience is like I can let the record create the illusion of that reality. This can even be the case when an old mono record of not great fidelity can simulate the experience of hearing it live. I can experience the nature of the music itself and its performance.

The best situation is when a relationship has been established between the person providing the scan and the person receiving it with the accompanied information, In some cases that will be enough for a decision to be made.

In other cases (and this is rare) there can be a discussion in which both parties share some sense of the qualities that are important, and they can find a language to talk about them, while both are looking at the screen image.

I very much value looking at photographs with clients in a way that sometimes (though rarely) is possible at shows. Hopefully our new quarters will better allow for this if people visit. We can get past the superficial points that are usually all that are raised, as clients rush from table to table at shows, or scroll through internet presentations These shared viewings set the stage for subsequent conversations by phone or email that can supplement the internet presentation of future offerings.

The presentation of a screen image, whether from a scanner or a camera, can be just an intermediary stage in a complex process that takes place in the mind of the client and the dialog with the dealer. This can sometimes lead to the client taking possession of the photograph itself.


Rachel Sanger Rachel SangerRachel SangerA pair of cabinet portraits by Bradley and Rulofson, one a closer variant. Sanger is most known for her roles with the D’Oyly Carte company which performed the works of Gilbert and Sullivan.  From their website:

‘In 1878 she played the leading role in Diplunacy, a burlesque at the Strand, and in 1879 she was engaged at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, where she created the part of Annie in a play called Pair o’ Wings. She then made her way to America, appearing first at the Corinthian Academy of Music, Rochester, New York, as Princess Zeolide in W. S. Gilbert’s The Palace of Truth in September 1879. She later performed at Haverley’s Brooklyn Theatre in November 1879 as Minnie Symperson in Gilbert’s Engaged, before making her Manhattan debut in January 1880 at the Park Theatre in a Gilbert double-bill, as the Marchioness of Market Harborough in The Wedding March and Jenny Northcott in Sweethearts. In 1880 she appeared in San Francisco as Mabel in a Carte-sanctioned production of The Pirates of Penzance with Charles Locke’s Pacific Coast Company..”

These cabinet cards were thus made in 1880 when she was in San Francisco.

$75 – Postage paid within US, $10 to Canada


trick photographytrick photographyThis is a trick photograph in which the photographer castigates himself, threatening with a sweep. This is a cabinet card by Haverstick & Co, Cumberland, Maryland.  It is endorsed on the verso: “Careless but not criminal. Yours remorsefully, A. Haverstick.” There is no indication of what misdeed he is punishing himself for. This is a clever use of this double-photograph format.

$150 – postage paid within US, $10 to Canada

“White Waiting Room and Restaurant. Montgomery, AL. 1961”

Civil RightsCivil Rights

8 1/2″ x 11″ gelatin silver print by Paul Schutzer depicting the scene outside of a “White Waiting Room and Restaurant” in 1961 Montgomery, Alabama. Verso has handwritten title and a Bettmann Newsphotos sticker.

$100 – Postage included within US. $15 shipping to Canada.

Elephants in the U.S. 1924 – 3 Vintage Photographs

Circus Elephant

elephants bathingelephants circus

3 vintage press photographs from International Press, with attached text slugs.

One, 8″ x 10″, shows trainers bathing elephants from Luna Park in the Coney Island surf among the bathers. Another, 6 1/2″ x 8 1/2″, shows a woman riding in an elephant-chariot at the Barnes Circus winter quarters near Venice, California. A third, of the same size, shows a line of trained circus elephants said to be worth millions of dollars.

All show handling and creases at edges.

$200 – Post paid within US, $10 shipping to Canada

Whitcombe’s Bermuda Greenhouse Autochromes

whitcomb autochromeWhitcomb autochrome

Two beautiful 5×7-inch Autochromes by B.J. Whitcomb

There is no identification but these came with a group of Whitcomb autochromes.

“There is no one in photography whose work is exactly comparable to Whitcomb’s. One must look to Frank Benson, Edmund Tarbell, William Paxton, those painters of the Boston School, and their ethereal women caught up in soft color and elegant interiors, in a ‘landscape of pleasure’, to find anything comparable. Whitcombe was a master of the autochrome, but his work was forgotten. […] Whitcomb operated a studio and giftshop in Kennebunkport, Maine.” In 1985, a box of 50 of his autochromes were found in an antique shop Amarillo, Texas which included images from a trip to Bermuda with his family. “There is a beautiful, unidentified green and summery house […]” most likely the one pictured here.

The green-blue discoloration seen at the edges of these images “is due to moisture entering the broken binding tape. The autochrome’s green dye is water soluble and is the first to break down.”

(Excerpts from “The Art of the Autochrome: The Birth of Color Photography” by John Wood)




Here is a wonderful description from Clarence Bass’s site–

John Grimek, known as the Monarch of Muscledom for five decades, was probably the most revered bodybuilder of all-time. Grimek was so far ahead of other bodybuilders that the rules had to be changed after he won the Mr. America title in 1940 and 1941, to prevent him from dominating the competition for years to come. In addition to being the only two-time Mr. America, he was a national champion and member of the United States Olympic weightlifting team in Berlin (1936). He was chosen “Mr. Universe” at the 1948 Olympic games in London, before going on to win the “Mr. USA” title in Los Angeles in 1949 against the finest professional bodybuilders in the world. The later victory left him as the undisputed best physique in the world, and perhaps the best built man of all time. He retired as the only bodybuilder in history who was never defeated in a contest.

As great as his record was, it doesn’t fully account for the adulation he received. Perhaps it was greatness coming along at the opportune time, but there was a magic about Grimek. Much in demand at universities all over the country, art instructors said they had never seen the human form so beautifully put together as it was in John Grimek. Perhaps even more remarkable was his nature .In spite of achieving almost godlike status, Grimek remained a kind and humble man.

Despite the condition issues mentioned above this is a bright rich portrait.

$125 – Post paid within US, $10 shipping to Canada

Eliot Porter, “Stones and Cracked Mud, Black Place, New Mexico, June 9, 1977.”

Eliot PorterEliot Porter

13 ½ x 10 ¾- inch dye transfer on the original mount, signed in pencil recto. Printed on the mount, verso:

“This print has been published in an edition of 250, and was selected by the artist from the exhibition Eliot Porter: Intimate Landscapes The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. This dye transfer print was made under the supervision of Eliot Porter by Berkey K&L, New York. Copyright 1979 by Daniel Wolf Press, Inc, and Eliot Porter.” (As pictured above)

This is from a portfolio of dye transfer prints selected from Porter’s exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In the book that accompanied the exhibition Porter wrote:

“In northwest New Mexico and southeast Utah, the desert landscape is dominated by eroded black and gray mounds of bentonite clay, that suggest the wrinkled backs of sea monsters. The gullies between the mounds are paved with jasper pebbles brought down by infrequent rains; on their reticulated sides, fragments of metamorphic and igneous rocks are enhanced by brightly colored lichens, that have found on them a place to perpetuate their kind.”

This ravishing print is the most abstract of the series.

$150 Not For Sale