I thought I would go grab a selection of women’s images from the Library of Congress’ online collection to see how a woman might portray herself in a daguerrotype versus the staid portraits that were frozen in time and romanticized by the limner, Ammi Phillips. Could there be clues from a fashion standpoint? layout? design? connection with the viewer? Love Phillips, but let’s just look at what else was happening….even beyond Matthew Brady and his game-changing work and vision.
Here we are (selection was made from images 1840-1849)— and what a group of lovely, real women we have in front of us….women we might know today —work with, socialize except for the clothes that they are wearing and the impossibly time-consuming hair. Many of these wormen are connecting directly with the photographer showing their inner self either with confidence like the awesome Clark sisters, the coy flirtiness of the lady (third row/left), to the insecurity of the picture taking and her youth (center top). These are people who want to be seen, to be captured in the moment—perhaps as a present for a family member, friend or love. These were women with edges, with inperfections, with wit and personality and were not icons of “nice girls”. How did Ammi Phillips respond to this? How did he address this freshness, this change, these portable portraits that were a window into the sitter’s life—many showing similar poses (proper ladies with books, caps) but not romanticized—complete with physical imperfections and souls showing through their eyes.
Technology changed portraiture. People continued to have their portraits painted, but having an option, a more democratic option which was more affordable, portable and a true window into a living person also had it’s appeal. There were couples together, babies together, and families together. There is a daguerrotype of a father and his sons with the bible. There were many, many images of black people—who took advantage of this shift. No conclusions here…just observations on how daguerrotypes touched a much wider swath of people—and captured more of the reality of the time.