Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Early Photography

In the 21st century, a professional photographer’s studio contains no windows. Light is a carefully manipulated element of each image, altered using a host of modern tools. Before electricity and the electronic flash, a 19th century photographer relied on the power of the sun to light his subject. In Sandusky and across the nation, photographers’ studios were often located on the top floors of buildings, the better to take advantage of natural sunlight. 
This unusual view of C.J. Pascoe’s Sandusky photography studio gives a modern viewer insight on the tricks of the photography trade in the late 1800s. The rooftop skylight is filtered using a gauzy white cloth. Large white boards mounted on movable stands were used to bounce light on the subject. A decorative backdrop is at the rear of the studio. Several different chairs are located around the studio, along with an ornate footstool and a plush rug on the floor. A decorative pedestal is stowed in the left rear corner of the studio. If you look carefully on the left side of the studio, you will see three floor mounted stands. Early film required a long exposure, and these stands helped a subject keep still while holding a pose. You’ll notice that two of the chairs have padded armrests, which also helped the subject remain still during the exposure. On the right side of the studio, there is a large wood burning stove, used in the days before central heating. Near the center of the image is the tool of the trade—the camera. This appears to be a larger format glass plate camera which is mounted on a wooden tripod. Glass plates produced remarkably clear and detailed images.
C.J. Pascoe’s photography studio was located in downtown Sandusky, on Columbus Avenue. Charles James Pascoe was born December 23, 1854 in Ontario, Canada. He married Mary Jane Gilbert in Detroit in 1872. He died May 12, 1933. He worked as a photographer in Fremont, Sandusky, and Toledo.
Here is an interesting example of a portrait subject in the studio. You can see the hand-painted backdrop with a military scene behind this soldier. Photographers often had a variety of backdrops with different scenes to match the mood sought in the photograph. The large tree stump serves not only as a decorative prop, but also as a stabilizing device to to help a person steady himself for long exposures (at least several seconds; sometimes as long as a minute or more). At his feet, you can see a trace of the stand used to attach a stabilizing brace to the back of his head, to help keep his features from blurring in the image.

3 comments:

Jason Werling said...

I'm guessing they didn't take many studio pictures of children back in these times. Could you imagine trying to get them to stay still for more than two seconds?

Anonymous said...

Very interesting article. Esp. the stands used to support the head. I would not have noticed it on my own. Will have to look carefully at old photographs to see this feature.

Anna L. Bristol said...

Thank you for this article about Pascoe's photography studio. I have a family photo, dated circa 1895, which includes two small children. In the photo can be seen the head support above the shoulders of one young woman. I will share this photo in the near future upon approval of the family in question.