Monday, August 15, 2011

some children of 1905

At the turn of the 20th century the Detroit Photographic Company was known for its postcard views of majestic scenery, impressive buildings, and prosperous-looking citizens taking their leisure.[1] It did not do photojournalism, nor, though it made reproductions of famous paintings, did it aim to produce photographs that were themselves works of art. The company made photographs by commission or for retail sale. Except for the titles that appeared on its postcards, the business didn't require that descriptions accompany its photographs and for that reason there's often little more known about a subject than a copyright date, file number, and brief title.

Two classes of people rarely show up in its collections: children and members of the servant class, particularly African-Americans. Photographs of young African-American girls are especially hard to find and that makes this one particularly interesting. It, and the ones that follow, were taken in or about 1905. They come from collections of the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress.[2] As you can see, this one's title is Black Tee."

The title is a pun on "black tea." It's weak because, 'though the threesome is black and there is a "tee," there's no connection with the beverage. Black tee now means black t-shirt, but not in 1905. You can't tell where they're located. There's a companion photo, called Golferinos. The two are preceded by shots taken in Florida and followed by ones taken in Virginia and Michigan. The Florida group includes a golf shot taken in DeLand and it's accompanied by a DeLand street scene where the tree shapes are similar to the ones in Black Tee and Golferino, so DeLand's a possible location, but only just.

Here are two details. Photographers working for Detroit Photo used large view cameras on big tripods. I've shown one below. Like studio photographers, they often posed their subjects and it's clear that's what this one has done here. You might think the intention was picturesque, that the mind-set of photographer (and his intended audience) was condescending, and that's likely true, but there's more to this shot than that one fact. The subjects are a bit self-conscious but have not been asked to mug for the camera. I perceive a certain respect in the way they are rendered here.

The remaining photos from 1905 on this page were all taken at Florida locations and show people at leisure. They interest me because they all, somewhat incidentally, show children, and a couple show African-Americans serving the vacationers' needs.

Here's the one showing "Golf at De Land, Fla." Its neighbor, showing deciduous trees, is here.


This one is called "Clock golf at the Royal Palm [Hotel], Miami, Fla."

This detail shows three kids, two in sailor suits, and one even more formally dressed.

The title of this: "They were on their honeymoon."

[between 1900 and 1905]

This detail not only shows the photographer (somewhat ostentatiously) at work, but also a nicely poised young woman in a beach costume that's obviously not meant for the water.

This is called "The Beach, Palm Beach, Fla."

This guy seems to be taking a break from carrying his advertisement around. Notice the bicycles in this and the following details.

This detail shows a boy and girl in sailor outfits and another, younger, child somewhat better clothed for sand play.

Here, another version of the sailor outfit and an enigma: what do they see that we can't?

"In the court of the Ponce de Leon, St. Augustine, Fla."

More sailors ...

And white smocks on younger kids.

And finally, a girl in a dress with a pretty hat.


Some sources:

the Detroit Publishing Company Collection

Selected Bibliography on the Detroit Publishing Co.

Detroit Photographic Company

Postcard "The Post Office was the only establishment allowed to print postcards, and it held its monopoly until May 19, 1898, when Congress passed the Private Mailing Card Act which allowed private publishers and printers to produce postcards. Initially, the United States government prohibited private companies from calling their cards "postcards", so they were known as "souvenir cards". These cards had to be labeled "Private Mailing Cards". Although this prohibition was rescinded on December 24, 1901, when private companies could use the word "postcard". Postcards were not allowed to have a divided back and correspondents could only write on the front of the postcard. This was known as the "undivided back" era of postcards. On March 1, 1907 the Post Office allowed private citizens to write on the address side of a postcard. It was on this date that postcards were allowed to have a "divided back"."



[1] First known as Detroit Photographic then Detroit Publishing Company. LC's brief history of the company is worth reading: Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

[2] The home page of LC's Prints and Photos Div is here.


Narda said...

Did you note the earrings and ring on finger on the girl in the second photo? Unusual.

Jeff said...

Hi, Narda, Yes, I did notice the earring and ring. They brought to mind something about personal respect: how even if your dress is torn, you'll feel better about yourself if you have personal adornment of some kind.