Design Observer

About
Books
Job Board
Newsletters
Archive
Contact



Observatory

About
Resources
Submissions
Contact


Featured Writers

Michael Bierut
William Drenttel
John Foster
Jessica Helfand
Alexandra Lange
Mark Lamster
Paul Polak
Rick Poynor
John Thackara
Rob Walker


Departments

Advertisement
Audio
Books
Collections
Dear Bonnie
Dialogues
Essays
Events
Foster Column
From Our Archive
Gallery
Interviews
Miscellaneous
New Ideas
Opinions
Partner News
Photos
Poetry
Primary Sources
Projects
Report
Reviews
Slideshows
The Academy
Today Column
Unusual Suspects
Video


Topics

Advertising
Architecture
Art
Books
Branding
Business
Cities / Places
Community
Craft
Culture
Design History
Design Practice
Development
Disaster Relief
Ecology
Economy
Education
Energy
Environment
Fashion
Film / Video
Food/Agriculture
Geography
Global / Local
Graphic Design
Health / Safety
History
Housing
Ideas
Illustration
India
Industry
Info Design
Infrastructure
Interaction Design
Internet / Blogs
Journalism
Landscape
Literature
Magazines
Media
Museums
Music
Nature
Obituary
Other
Peace
Philanthropy
Photography
Planning
Poetry
Politics / Policy
Popular Culture
Poverty
Preservation
Product Design
Public / Private
Public Art
Religion
Reputations
Science
Shelter
Social Enterprise
Sports
Sustainability
Technology
Theory/Criticism
Transportation
TV / Radio
Typography
Urbanism
Water


Comments Posted 09.14.11 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Rob Walker

Styles of Likeness


"Soldier Portraits," at The Columbus Museum (Columbus, GA)

I hope you’ll forgive me for saying something about a photograph taken by Ellen Susan, whose "Soldier Portraits" project I’ve followed unusually closely: We are, I hereby disclose, married.

The thing is, one of her images is about as good as it gets for considering another point in this intermittent series of posts about digital-era photography, this time on the subject of the photo as object. "Soldier Portraits" involves a process (wet-plate collodion, an immediate successor to the daguerreotype) that results in a physical object, a one-of-a-kind image on glass or metal – ambrotypes and tintypes. While she also makes prints from scans, her original ambrotypes are mounted in custom cases (see above).

The subjects, from the 3rd Infantry Division of the U.S. Army, are generally asked to bring along a personal item, of the sort they might bring (or have brought) with them on a deployment. On a couple of occasions, soldiers have chosen to bring a photograph — of family members, for instance.

Pictures of people holding pictures have a long history. A random but convenient example: The cover of the 1989 edition of Susan Sontag’s On Photography features a circa 1850 daguerreotype, by an unknown photographer (from the collection of Virginia Cuthbert Elliott), of two people doing precisely this. What better way to communicate our attachment to that peculiar category of object, the photograph?


But sometimes the request to bring a personal object doesn’t quite make it to the soldier, so some improvisation is necessary. Sgt. O'Tarya Cambridge, for example, was (not surprisingly) carrying a mobile phone that (not surprisingly) happened to have, among its data, photographs.

"SGT O'Tarya Cambridge," by Ellen Susan

At The Columbus Museum, in Columbus, GA, "Soldier Portraits" is being shown concurrently with an exhibition of photographic portraits from the mid-19th century, including many ambrotypes and daguerreotypes. Drawn largely from the holdings of two private collectors, it's an impressive array of photo-objects, often mounted in period cases. While the appeal has more than a little to do with their distance in time from the contemporary viewer, that exhibit is titled “Likenesses in the Latest Style” —  because of course that’s exactly what they were when they were made: the exciting results of technological progress in image-making. (I gather that title is borrowed from an advertisement from that era.)

A one point in On Photography, which was first published in 1977, Sontag mentions that then-popular Polaroid camera, in producing one-of-a-kind objects, echoes some of the appeal of early photo techniques. But the other appeal of the Polaroid was ease of use, and on that front of course it has been trumped by digital successors, which need produce no physical object whatsoever.

I also hope Ellen will forgive me for dragging her work into this series, since the "Soldier Portraits" project has a good deal more going for it than its indirect connection to my little musings about digital technology. It just so happens that this one piece, "SGT O'Tarya Cambridge," struck me as a kind of essay on the meaningful personal picture, all in one image.

So here, below, is a picture of a photo-object in which the subject holds a likeness in the latest style: a non-object residing in a device that performs numerous other functions. I took this picture with a digital camera, and share it with you now — by way of whatever device you may be using yourself.

Previously in this intermittent series:

Monkey or Drone?

Ruscha Vs. Street View

The "Oh Yeah" Tool


 

 

|
Share This Story

Comments

Design Observer encourages comments to be short and to the point; as a general rule, they should not run longer than the original post. Comments should show a courteous regard for the presence of other voices in the discussion. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that do not adhere to this standard.
Read Complete Comments Policy >>


Name             

Email address 




Please type the text shown in the graphic.


|
Share This Story



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rob Walker is a technology/culture columnist for Yahoo News. He is the former Consumed columnist for The New York Times Magazine, and has contributed to many publications. He is co-editor (with Joshua Glenn) of the book Significant Objects: 100 Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things, and author of Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are
More Bio >>

DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









RELATED POSTS


The Ten Most Popular Essays of 2013
Our most popular essays of 2013 range in topic from design criticim to punctuation, surrealism to fast food restaurant design, Rem Koolhaas to South African towns, and of course, the heated debate on the future of the AIGA.

Accidental Mysteries, 11.27.11
Welcome to Accidental Mysteries, a weekly cabinet of visual curiosities set aside for your perusal and enlightenment.

Design and Health: Flipping the Pyramid
It's easy for two people to look at the same information — such as this chart (above) about health costs — and perceive totally different things.

Accidental Mysteries, 11.06.11
Welcome to Accidental Mysteries, a weekly cabinet of visual curiosities set aside for your perusal and enlightenment.

Accidental Mysteries, 10.09.11
Welcome to Accidental Mysteries, a weekly cabinet of visual curiosities set aside for your perusal and enlightenment.