Painted Photograph, 1839-1914

Heinz K. Henisch, Author, Bridget A. Henisch, With Pennsylvania State University Press $106.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-271-01507-1
In 1839, when Daguerre's backer, Fran ois Arago, announced Daguerre's invention to the Academie des Sciences, he quickly noted that the invention ""produces drawings and not pictures in color."" Faced with both the monochromy and the early medium's tendency to fade, it became popular to rouge a cheek, emphasize a line or, in more sophisticated hands, like those of the Canadian William Notman's studio, color whole crowd scenes. More than half of this book consists of verbatim quotations from various and idiosyncratic publications of the years in question. But so many embedded references jar the flow of reading--footnotes would have worked better. The authors also tend to be either rather snide about their sources (on the subject of the color gray, ""Wall gives us only two brief insights, both strikingly profound: that it is `most nearly related to black,' and that it is `associated with shadow.' "") or emphasizing inconsequential points (""the editor... makes his views perfectly clear, adopting the royal We in the process."") Maybe the Henishes (The Photographic Experience, 1839--1914) are trying to be funny, but their humor is dubious; witness this passage on the ""reliability"" of pigments: ""Nobody wrote to the editor to suggest a thin Mazda for the sky, a fine stipple of Honda for grass and a delicate dab of Toyota for a rose."" The strong point of this volume is the photographs. Many of the 131 illustrations (92 in color) here are in private collections. Readers interested in Americana at its most intimate must thank the authors for their conscientious digging into the country's dusty attics and periodicals sections. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
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