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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Harvest of Death - The Question of Stereo Card #242 - The False Horizon Tree Line

      July 6th will be here before you know it, and with it will come the 150th anniversary of the taking of the famed "A Harvest of Death" and its stereo companion version, #242 from Alexander Gardner's catalog: "Evidence of how severe the contest had been on the right at the Battle of Gettysburg."
      Below, is a full print from the original glass negative in the collection of the Library of Congress. "242" is scratched in the center, along the line of the septum that separated the two lenses in the body of the camera. This negative is what would have been used to create the two 3" X 3" prints for the stereo card Gardner offered. The current condition of the negative shows both damage from poor storage conditions, as well as emulsion deterioration, and a large, white area along the top of the right hand side when prints are made from it.
      The overall poor quality of the negative left Gardner with a sub-par image, one that probably limited his production and sales of stereo card #242. It is odd that he would have continued to offer the card. In my research, I have found only two (updated) published copies of the card, and its visual quality does leave much to be desired. I will include this image later in the posting, as we discuss the false impression of a distant tree line. In preparation for this blog installment, I consulted with my good friend, and expert wet plate photographer, Robert Szabo. Bob had suggested that what I initially had thought to be an overexposure of this area was most likely created by a paper masking material. In an effort to salvage what he could, it is evident that Gardner created the paper mask to maximize the appearance of a horizon line, and create a white sky whereas the overall result without the masking would have contained little contrast from the main subject matter. This has been confirmed by a physical examination of the original negative in the Library of Congress collection, thanks to the assistance of the Curator of Photography, Carol Johnson. Paper masking, and/or the application of opaque materials to block undesirable elements, was not an uncommon practice.  Let's look at the right side of the negative in greater detail below.
      Note the edge created by the masking, indicated by the downward arrow. The other arrows point to specific flaws of, and on, the emulsion surface. They show cracking in the emulsion, either from improper pouring of the collodian, application of varnish, and/or moisture damage over time. One spot creates a blemish that prints white, as if by an opaque material that got on the surface sometime after initial prints were produced. A trimmed albumen print of this right side is shown below. Note how the horizon line and sky are washed out. Also note the blemishes caused by the damaged emulsion, one just under the legs of the far left figure, and the other, extending horizontal from the hand of the far right figure, exactly where the blemishes appear on the negative, proving the print was made from this negative. We will revisit these blemishes and their cause, later in this posting. Click on any of these images for closer inspection. Print from the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Collection.
      Below, another version made from the same negative, with a longer exposure during the printing out process. Note the streaks evident through the emulsion, probably created in the developing process of the negative. The image is stronger, with greater detail, but it does show, even more, the poor quality of the original negative. We also begin to see a false horizon line created by the paper masking.
     Below is the only known copy of the published stereo view that I have found, brought to my attention by Garry Adelman in August of 2012. Garry believed that this provided proof that its visible horizon line was the same as the full plate version, and thus disproved my earlier assertion that the upper third of the full plate print was an artistic contrivance. The link to that posting can be found by clicking here. However, as we see here, the right half of the negative, mounted to the left when published to create the stereo effect, does present the false horizon line, created by the masking. This is clearly an effort by Gardner to make his stereo version appear similar to the full plate version. We can also see how poor the overall image is compared to the beautiful and contrasting images otherwise produced by Gardner. Image courtesy of Garry Adelman.
     To illustrate how the two sides are exchanged, right to left and left to right, I have cropped and moved the  image of the LOC print below, also reversing it to appear as a negative.
     Below is a further cropping, presented as a positive, of the two sides closely approximating the hand trimmed prints on the published stereo view. The white arrow on the left side points to the line created by the masking. Note the dark area to the right of center, as well as the extreme right. Click on the images for larger viewing. Compare that to the published card, leaving no doubt that  this is indeed the original negative used to create catalog # 242. This also proves that the white blemishes damaged the negative at a point after the intitial 1863 publication of the stereo card.
   Below, I have sized the published images to compare to the negatives above. Courtesy Garry Adelman.
Below, I have upped the contrast of the LOC images to provide greater detail, both as a positive, and negative. The blemishes compare to those on the more contrasting print seen earlier. 

Below, the actual glass negative for #242, shown emulsion side down. The masking is applied to the non emulsion side. Photo courtesy of Carol Johnson, Curator of Photography, Library of Congress.
Below, the original negative for # 242, shown emulsion side up. Photo courtesy of Carol Johnson, Curator of Photography, Library of Congress.
Below, a close up of the paper masking material glued to the original negative. Photo courtesy of Carol Johnson, Curator of Photography, Library of Congress.
 Below, a close up of orange staining of the emulsion surface which create the white blemishes on the positve prints. Photo courtesy of Carol Johnson, Curator of Photography, Library of Congress.
     As discussed in previous posts, we can now see that unexplained issues plagued Gardner and his crew during the production of the southward images, both full plate and stereo, during the July 6 shooting of the "Harvest of Death" series. In both instances, perhaps direct sun, and possible chemistry issues, the horizon and sky would not photograph appreciably, something that did not occur  when photographing the same bodies in the near opposite direction, creating the image, "Field Where General Reynolds Fell", as seen in the prior posting available by clicking here.

     Above, the full plate version of "Harvest of Death" with the extensive mimicking of the false horizon line. The artistic modification of the upper third of the image has been detailed previously in this blog at the following link: click here.

The actual location and true horizon line as seen in October of 2012, along Reynolds Avenue South.
Further details from my prior on-site investigation can be found at the following link: click here.

Here's a bonus I'll add, another copy of #242, this one from the New York Historical Society collection. Still problematic, and clearly made from the poor negative. Added 4/25/17.

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