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Tuesday, 05 October 2010


I was taken by how young some of them look until I recalled that in 1967 I turned 18 while at Fort Leonard Wood doing basic training.

Just stunning. Eye contact across the times... the feeling of photography.

Look at the little girl to understand

Those aren't sharp. What lens was used? They need more unsharp mask or SOMETHING! How about a curve, fer crying out loud. LOW contrast! Hasn't that guy (or gal) ever heard of levels!?

The caption Unidentified Young Soldier should read Unidentified Child Soldier. He was not even old enough to shave. What a treasure.

I wanted to make some snarky commment about the difficulty of the ambrotype and tintype process compared to digital, but the images are just too sad to let me. The last one in particular, of the young girl holding the picture of her dead father, is making it hard for me to retain my professional composure at work.

Mike, I have one of these. Some of the readers might be surprised to know most of them measure a scant 2" x 2 1/2".

Makes you wonder about the longetivity of the masses of images we all have on our hard drives. These tintypes & ambros are presented like treasures or works of art in their little folding frames.
I don't think anyone will go to the trouble of collecting hard drives at memorabilia shows and antique shops in a hundred and fifty years time.
Print your photos!

Those are some awesome portraits! But what is it with people of that era... their hats are always too small! Is "well-fitting hats" a 20th century phenomenon?

What a wonderful legacy for the USA. Are the photographs only of Union soldiers, though? I would imagine from here in the UK that the Library of Congress would equally wish to display Confederate photographs.

I'm very struck by the first and the last images of those you chose to illustrate this post. The first because on the piano at home I have 3 very similar photographs in silver frames: my grandfather, just going to France in 1917, the second of my father in his parachutist's uniform about to take part in the Tunisian campaign in November 1942, and lastly, of me as a young cavalry Captain about to go into Kuwait in February 1991. All of those photographs show very young men putting on a good - even macho - front for the photographer, with a bit of swagger that was not felt inside. My father told me he was sick several times on the Dakota before jumping into Tunisia, and that his father had told him that he was sick as well before going over the top. I remember biting my inner lip continually for a couple of days before we crossed the Saudi / Kuwaiti border, and feeling unwell, but to be honest we had so much more information about the enemy that I feel a fraud trying to make my own combat experience the same as those who went before.

Your last photograph is the one that strikes me most, however. I don't know if that style of photograph was popular in the late 1860s: I cannot think that it would be appropriate nowadays. But it is striking, and thought-provoking nonetheless. It seems to be the inevitable corollary to the cocksure, uncertain, being-brave-for-the-camera young men pictured above it.

What an extraordinary collection! There's so much good stuff on the LOC web site, for instance: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/fsa/requests.html

Memoto Jeff:

Sometimes that snarky irony just doesn't fucking cover it.

The photos brought to mind a quote from Ansel Adams: "These people live again in print as intensely as when their images were captured on old dry plates of sixty years ago... I am walking in their alleys, standing in their rooms and sheds and workshops,
looking in and out of their windows. Any they in turn seem to be aware of me." - Ansel Adams, in the preface of Jacob a Riis: Photographer & Citizen

Apparently they still make these type of prints.


Seems more artificial and artsy than the collection here.

You've done it again, Mike. Posts giving photography, and our love of it, a context.

What a generous gift from Tom Liljenquist and his family.

The selection of images you've shared here are fascinating. I do, however, find the "Unidentified girl in mourning dress holding framed photograph of her father as a cavalryman with sword and Hardee hat" to be most moving.

Deep thanks to Tom Liljenquist and his sons for finding and bequesting these gems to the Library of Congress. Thanks to TOP for drawing our attention to them.

Now excuse me, my allergies are acting up. *sniffle*.

Geez, this is just... a treasure indeed. I think, like most of the comments currently seen, it's the girl and her eyes. Watery, reflective. I wonder if those details can even be seen in the original, in person?

Even more amazing to me: I've seen tintypes in person (thank you, San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts!) and they're *dinky*. To get such detail out of 'em is to see them anew...

There is nothing awesome or extraordinary
in these photos. Just simple portraits
of people looking directly at the camera.
What is of historical interest is the
clothing,hairdos,and accessories of people
150 years ago.

excellent! Those were the days when people could sit still for more than 10 seconds! More Army, please ... War is very good at demonstrating the nature of men ...

"There is nothing awesome or extraordinary in these photos. Just simple portraits of people looking directly at the camera. What is of historical interest is the clothing,hairdos,and accessories of people 150 years ago."

Right, and all humans are is $2.41 worth of carbon molecules, too, you know.


A couple of years ago I got to shoot an interview with Desmond Tutu.
He said "I know this will sound simplistic but I truely believe it. Anything war can do peace can do better".
Maybe it is naive and simplistic but don't try to tell that to the little girl holding the picture of her dad.
I wonder if he made it home?

"I wonder if he made it home?"

I think it's pretty clear he didn't. She's wearing a mourning dress, and the convention of posing for a picture holding a picture in the 19th century was pretty much only done in the case of dead loved ones. There can be exceptions to anything but that was very much the rule.


A fantastic gift to the nation.

Though "pinchbeck" the brass alloy of the frames has become a synonym for cheap and tawdry, these, especially in person, are very much small jewels.

Thanks for the post.

You're right. I was so haunted by her expression that I glossed over the caption.

Right, and all humans are is $2.41 worth of carbon molecules, too, you know.


You're trying to make a point. It's
not obvious. Please clarify.

If I remember my photo history correctly the civil war coincided with the arrival of affordable portraits. Having a portrait of a loved one suddenly become something nearly everyone could afford and something that people desperately wanted to the extent that photographs of dead people were also taken if they had never got around to it when alive.
I think it's hard to imagine how wonderful these faithful portraits were to people. You can see it a little in the wonderful cases - like little icons.
I think its fantastic that the Lijenquists have made this donation not only to the Library of Congress but also to all of us via the website

"You're trying to make a point. It's not obvious. Please clarify."

My point is that I think you're taking an excessively literal and superficial view of how and what these photographs mean. A photograph of a little girl in mourning dress holding a picture of her slain soldier father is not about her period costume. Her expression can be read on an emotional level, her circumstance on a human level. There's a great deal of richness there that I think your analysis glossed over.


Unidentified Girl is one of the most affecting photos I have seen in a while. Thanks for posting.

Oops. You're right. Forgot to
read the captions.

What a treasure...I was (and still am) a Civil War re-enactor, starting in 1958 as Sergeant Earl J. Wolcott, Co. A of the 7th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Army of the Potomac. I have my own tintype collection numbering in the hundreds, but nothing like the historical display shown here. Of course the little girl tops the list ...as a constant reminder that "war is Hell".
Thanks for the gift to future generations who may search for peace.

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