A Special 3-Day Early Photography Exhibit

A Special, 3-Day
Early Photography Exhibit


From the desk of
Burt Kummerow

Volume 1 Issue 3 

November 8, 2012

There is a haunting 1838 photograph of a Paris Street with the dark profile of a man having his boots polished. There are other barely visible ghostly images in this photo, but the ten minute exposure could not record the busy street traffic. A painter named Louis Daguerre had exposed a silver iodide treated copper plate to the light outside and recorded the very first unsuspecting human. Within a decade, the mirror-like "Daguerreotype" had swept through Europe and America, creating a profound revolution for humankind.

Today, thousands of these daguerreotypes, in and out of their decorated cases, still exist. Avid collectors seek out new images at flea markets, estate sales and auctions. A photo of an historic individual like John Brown or Abraham Lincoln can bring six figures. But unfortunately, many of the other names have been lost in the passage of time.

All of these images are time machines. After 1840, we can look straight at our ancestors as they are staring back, often clamped in a device to hold them still for the long exposure.

CSPH 545 Atavis, MSpecial Collections Martha Ann Atavis generaly known as "Patty", Died February 26th, 1874, 58 years old (ca.1816-1874) Date/Artist unknown Daguerreotype 3.75 x 3.25 inches
Cased Photograph Collection

Photography is now totally ingrained in our lives. These early images, however, have an almost hypnotic hold on our sensibilities. We can't even imagine how engrossing and unsettling that first look at a photo must have been for our ancestors. We talk about how technology is constantly changing our lives. Just think how the 1840s turned lives upside down. The steam "iron horse" was hurtling passengers down tracks at 20-30 miles per hour. The telegraph was clicking away messages over unimagined distances. And, like magic, real images of people were appearing on copper plates.

Some of that magic is appearing at the Maryland Historical Society this month. A fascinating group called the "Daguerreian Society" is holding their national meeting at 201 W. Monument Street. Collectors and curators, devoted to those old time machines, those early photos, will be gathering to share their new finds and swap information about the pioneers of photography. We all will have a rare opportunity stare at and wonder about lives lived so long ago.

Beginning today, Thursday, November 8, the Society will feature a special exhibition that's open to the general public. It's called Securing the Shadows: The Daguerreotype in Maryland, and it's the first and largest exhibit of Maryland daguerreotypes ever displayed.

Battle Monument 2
John Plumbe, 1809-1857 Half plate daguerreotype: Monument commemorating the Battle of North Point, Calvert Street and Fayette Street, Baltimore, Maryland Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.

Included are daguerreotypes from the collections of the Maryland Historical Society, The Daguerreian Society members, and Ross J. Kelbaugh, guest curator of the exhibit. Mr. Kelbaugh is also author of the new book Maryland's Civil War Photographs: The Sesquicentennial Collection just published by the Maryland Historical Society Press.

The exhibit runs for just three days - on Thursday, November 8, Saturday November 10 and Sunday, November 11, so you'll want to get down here right away, or you'll miss it!

The Daguerreian Society is also hosting a TradeFair that's open to the general public, from 10 am to 4 pm on Saturday, Nov. 10. Dealers from around the country will offer hundreds of daguerreotypes and other forms of antique photography. And, in a first-ever bonus at a Society TradeFair, Joan Severa - a retired curator of costume at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin - will check out daguerreotypes brought by the public and let them know about when the photos were taken; the limit is one per TradeFair attendee.

"Don't miss this fabulous opportunity to meet with Joan and have her look at your one image to help date it through her powers of keen observation of the clothing, hairstyles, and mannerisms, etc," says Sally Anyan, the Society's vice president.

Public admission to the TradeFair is $10 for adults and $5 for students with ID. The event will be held at the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel, 202 E. Pratt Street, Baltimore. See our website for complete details on the Securing the Shadows exhibit.   

Other Events in November and
December: Join Us for the Monument
Lighting Ceremony!

Monument Lighting
Image Courtesy
Darkroom @ The Baltimore Sun

In keeping with the holiday spirit, I want to invite you inside our museum to celebrate our free "Monument Lighting Open House" on Thursday, December 6 starting at 5pm.

It's become an annual tradition here at MdHS. Just as every year, Mount Vernon celebrates the holiday season by illuminating the Washington Monument in festive lights, we decorate our lobby with festive ornaments and feature hot chocolate, cookies and even a visit from a historical Santa Claus!

The "Monumental Occasion" begins at 5:30 and includes entertainment, various vendors, and refreshments. The lighting ceremony starts at 7:00pm, and the official lighting is expected at 7:20 pm. The event ends with a colorful burst of fireworks choreographed to music. The occasion is coordinated by our friends at the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore.

Holiday cookies

Our open house will run from 5pm -8 pm - the perfect time to stop in before or after the Monument Lighting. Highlights of the evening include carolers from the Institute of Notre Dame, refreshments, homemade crafts the whole family can enjoy, and as I mentioned, even Santa Claus will be on hand to teach about the origins of Christmas symbols.

From 6 pm-7:30 pm, musician Jared Denhard will perform old-time Christmas songs on harp, 19th century banjo, and border pipes.

Free parking will be available to all visitors.

So come in from the cold and step back in time at the Maryland Historical Society. Enjoy music and refreshments, as well as children's crafts and people from the past. I hope to see you all on December 6th.

Trivia Time

Congratulations to everyone who correctly answered our last question - it was a toughie!

The John Ridgely Jazzers or The Ridgely 400 Society Jazz Band played in the Maryland Theater dining room in 1917. They were the first in the city to label their music 'jazz.'

Ready for this month's question? We are stepping even further back in time:

Question: In 1784, the Maryland General Assembly made this famous French dignitary and all of his future male heirs 'natural-born citizens' of the state. In part due to the constitutional ambiguity of this 18th century motion, Congress declared the Frenchman an honorary citizen of the United States posthumously in 2002.

We will be offering prizes for the correct responses - so email us your answer, and best of luck!

Until next month,
Burt Sig 2
Burton Kummerow
President, The Maryland Historical Society

When to Visit:
Wednesday - Saturday from 10 am - 5 pm
Sunday from 12 noon - 5 pm (Museum Only)

Founded in 1844, The Maryland Historical Society Museum and Library occupies an entire city block in the Mount Vernon district of Baltimore. The society's mission is to "collect, preserve, and interpret the objects and materials that reflect Maryland's diverse cultural heritage." The Society is home to the original manuscript of the Star-Spangled Banner and publishes a quarterly titled "Maryland Historical Magazine."

The Society is located at 201 W. Monument Street and open to the public Wednesday-Saturday from 10 am-5 pm,
and Sunday (museum only) 12 pm-5pm.