Blacks Crossing Photography and Writing | photographic time travel

photographic time travel

February 27, 2017  •  5 Comments

My photography work this week (other than some fun shots at an anniversary celebration) has involved scanning family photographs from my husband, Fred's, family.  In addition to black and white and color prints from the 1950s-1990s, there is an amazing variety of carte de visite (visiting card) and cabinet card photographs that, given their age, are in remarkably good condition.  Some may be from the 1850s or early 1860s.  Both carte de visite and cabinet cards were generally albumen photographs mounted on larger paper stock. Carte de visite was the smaller of the two, measuring 2.125 x 3.5 inches.  Here is an example, a lovely studio photograph with a simple backdrop rather than furniture and other flourishes.  


Because of the identifying information and thanks to the EdinPhoto website I found while searching the photographers, I have dates that most of the studios operated in a given location.  Looking at the carte de visite above,  I found that James Davidson operated at 79 George Street in Edinburgh, Scotland between 1885 and 1900, and thus, the photograph was made during those years, probably before Isabel Low McKenzie arrived in America. 

Cabinet cards are 4.5 x 6.5 inches. Both are marked or stamped with the photographer's or studio's name on the front, usually an illustration or "chop" of sorts on the reverse of the card with the photographer's or studio name and address, and a line on which the photograph's identifying number was given. Even in the early days of this burgeoning media, photographers knew that their clients might want more than one copy of the image.  Negatives were retained but additional copies could always be had.  The first cabinet card included here was made by photographer E. R. Yerbury, Studio 3, Hanover Street, Edinburgh, Scotland.  EdinPhoto indicated that the studio was at that address from 1864-1868, and at 3 South Hanover Street from 1869-1898.  The date spread muddies the identification a bit.  Given the couples' dress, however, a wild guess would be just after the American Civil War, but since this is one of the "mystery photographs", more investigation needs to be done.  Any thoughts, Lawrence Jones or Donna Coates?

Another cabinet card by photographer Charles W. Sinclair, was made between 1897 and 1901.  With a much smaller time frame, it would seem we could confirm identification.  Alas, this is also in the stack of mysteries.


The cabinet card shown below is in particularly good shape, probably because it is the most recent one we have.  The American Studios operated at 39 South Bridge in Edinburgh from 1908 to an unspecified date.  Note the side table with flowers and chair in addition to the backdrop.


The final cabinet card and mystery is by E. Gossler, Wolmaranstad, Transvaal (South African Republic) during either the First Anglo-Boer War or the Second Boer War from 1899-1902.  I can imagine Gossler arranging the men, two of whom are soldiers, and the others who may have been photographers or journalists.  Somehow, because of the time frame of the Second Boer War, we assume the photograph was made then, but I was unable to locate the photographer or studio.  Another guess on my part, and a great story, no doubt.  One of these days, we'll solve that one as well.

A lesson repeats itself and bangs me on the head with a big stick every time I go through family photographs or any photographic collection.  If you want anyone other than yourself to know who, what, where, when, and why a photograph was taken, you must print it and label it.  Because in a relatively short period of time, these things might be forgotten.  The carte de visite and cabinet cards represented a revolution probably greater in scope than the smart phone as far as still photography is concerned.  But labeling applies to digital media as well.  Although not all of you will remember vinyl going to 8 track tapes going to cassette going to CDs and DVDs, technology does and will continue to change.  Smart phones, unfortunately, can also be lost or stolen. Having a print or a book in your hand will assure that you don't lose your photographs and memories.  I've got to get cracking on my photo inventory!

until next Monday,


a passion for the image@


Fred Barraza(non-registered)
I enjoyed the photos and narrative very much. Informative...Thanks Daryl!
Catherine Sobredo(non-registered)
You have inspired me to look into my cabinet photos from my family in Vienna, Austria from the late 1800s. I have them in an album but don't recall if the name of photographer or studio show.
Wonderful images, Daryl! Thank you!
Excellent and engrossing History lesson made relevant cause we know and love Emeritus Fred.
Makes me want to pull out and research all my cabinet cards.
thank you so much for sharing your sleuthing insights.
Steve Immel(non-registered)
These are a blast, Daryl. I think you've posted a couple from this series in the past. Are they all of Fred's family? You are absolutely correct about keeping labeled hard copies of your important images and records. It's a daunting task at best given the hundreds of thousands of images I have.
Lawrence T. Jones(non-registered)
Daryl, probably ca. 1880-1885 on the Yerbury cabinet card. Thanks for posting these earlier than usual (for your blog) images. I believe the cabinet card showing the two soldiers will date to the 1899-1902 Second Boer War. The uniforms and especially the military hats do not look British to me, but I'm unsure what country they represent? The flowing feathers (and that is what they are) on the hat of the soldier at far left reminds me of Italian military hats. But, Italian military hats that I've seen have a completely different shape. I should do a little homework on this.
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