With the release of the shutter, or the press of a button, the photographer captures a moment in time. The moment is gone, although it may be preserved on a piece of celluloid, or as in this digital age in which we now live, mysteriously stored as bits and bytes, a series of 1s and 0s.
The first time that I processed a roll of film, well, it was simply amazing. The camera had done it's job of recording the image but it wasn't visible yet. It was in the darkness, and with the help of some chemicals, that the image appeared, although in the darkness the image still couldn't be seen. You had to take it on faith that the chemicals were working their magic. Only when the processing was completed and the film was unrolled and held up to the light, could you see if what the camera had captured was what you had intended. Even then you couldn't tell for sure. Of course, it would take many months of shooting and processing before you could effectively "read" the negative and "know" that you had captured "it," whatever "it" happened to be at that particular moment in time.
The next best thing, aside from processing the film, was developing and printing that first photograph. And watching the image appear on a piece of paper. Now that was magic! Well, maybe not. But it was magical. Painting with light. And some chemicals. That was in 1970 and I felt that I could understand, just a little, the mystery and excitement that Louis Daguerre and the other pioneers of photography had felt 130 years or so before.
Many years have passed since my hands have been dipped into a "hypo bath" but the sense of magic and mystery of photography remains - yes, even with the advent of digital imaging, though I do somewhat lament the passing of film and all that it entails. The end of an era perhaps, but also the beginning of a new one. Whether using digital imaging or traditional film, the purpose is the same. To record an event, a person, a place, or a thing at a specific moment in time. To try and capture a thought or a feeling, fleeting though it may be, and share it with someone else. It then becomes a window into the past.
The power and beauty of a "good" photograph is that it can evoke emotions across the ages. It matters not whether it was taken last week or a hundred years ago; whether it is of a friend, family member or some unknown person. Of course, as a GeneaHistorian, I certainly would like to find that treasure chest full of photographs of ancestors and other family members! All identified. Correctly. But, regardless whether family or not, I do enjoy looking at old photos. I can get lost in them. Every picture tells a story. We may not know what that story is but there are clues, we just have to look carefully. And take the time to learn about that time and place. And, perhaps, use our imagination.
The photo below was in a box given to me by my Dad. Several years before he had gotten together with an older cousin and she was able to identify some of the pictures but there were many that were left unidentified, and sadly, they will probably remain that way. But I was assured that they were all family! Anyway, this is one of the unidentified. When I look at this picture, I "see" my older brother, Doug. There is a resemblance, but they don't really look alike. Wishful thinking, perhaps. But what draws me into the picture is the intensity in his eyes. What was he thinking? Why was the picture taken? All questions that will go unanswered.
This is probably the oldest photograph that I have, family or otherwise. It is a Daguerreotype, enclosed in a small brown leather-type case that still has the latch. The binding on the seam joining the top and bottom of the case is torn. It tears a bit more each time the case is opened and closed. The case measures 2 7/16 " wide by 2 7/8" tall and 9/16" deep. The image is a metal plate 2" wide by 2 1/2" tall sandwiched with a decorative metal border and a piece of glass. A decorative metal frame wraps around the sides of the sandwich to hold it all in place. The metal frame and border are both very thin. I think they are made of copper.
The back of the plate is coated with a varnish or some other substance making it very stiff. There is no glue used to hold the image sandwich in the box, it is just a very tight fit (and great care must be taken when removing it from the case). The image does have some discoloration, probably from the metal border that separates the image plate from the glass. There are also some cracks in the image. When held just right, the picture appears as a ghostly negative image.
So, who might this young man be? Daguerreotypes were "invented" in 1839 by Louis Daguerre and made their way to the United States in the early 1840s. They were popular through the 1850s and even into the 1860s though more "modern" and more convenient photographic processes were developed that made Daguerreotypes antiquated. If the photo was taken in the latter part of that time period, and if this is one of my Wiseman ancestors, it would have to be Samuel Bray Wiseman who was born September 23, 1855 in Switzerland County, Indiana. His brother Henry was born in 1859 and another brother, Charles, was born in 1861. There really aren't any other candidates. It's doubtful that we will ever know who the boy is, but I still enjoy looking at him, captured at that moment in time.
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Wiseman Cased Family Photograph. Photograph (Daguerrotype). Unknown. Digital image. Privately held by Becky Wiseman, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE]Whitely County, Indiana. 2008
Plate. Photograph. 2008. Digital image. Privately held by Becky Wiseman, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE] Whitely County, Indiana. 2008
© Copyright Becky Wiseman