Alexander Gardner "Abraham Lincoln" 1863
[Celebrating The Negative]
1863 (original image) 2008 (publication)
Gelatin silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Hands: Ann Shumard, 10.15.92
On August 9, 1863, the day before Alexander Gardner opened his new studio at 7th and D Streets, Abraham Lincoln came in to pose. Pictures from the session were used by the President in his 1864 campaign for re-election.
Sometime in the 1870s, another studio owner, Moses P. Rice, acquired the 20 x 17 inch glass wet-plate. An original negative had commercial value because photographers sold pictures of celebrities directly to the public until the halftone method of reproducing prints was perfected in the 1890s.
Rice applied tape to form a neat border when printing the picture in contact with photographic paper. (The tape may also keep the collodion emulsion from separating from its glass support.) Rice's granddaughter sold the plate to the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution in 1983. To avoid damaging its collodion surface, Ann Shumard at the Portrait Gallery put the negative out for me on a light box with its emulsion side up. Seen this way, the image is backwards.
"A lot of 19th century glass was chemically unstable. It embrittles over time, becoming even more fragile than glass normally is," says William F. Stapp, who exhibited the plate in 1990 when he was the Curator of Photographs at the Portrait Gallery. "I held my breath till we got the negative safely into the display case we had spent weeks designing."
This photograph is included in the portfolio Celebrating the Negative photographs by published by John Loengard, Etherton Gallery (2008), pl. 1
All photographs copyright ® John Loengard. Gelatin silver prints printed by Chuck Kelton, Kelton Labs, New York City, under the direct supervision of John Loengard. Printed on Ilford Multigrade Warm Glossy paper. Design and portfolio box construction by Jace Graf, Cloverleaf Studio, Austin, Texas.
Celebrating The Negative/Photographs by John Loengard was published by Etherton Gallery, Tucson, Arizona, in March, 2008, in an edition of eighteen portfolios, including fifteen numbered copies and three artist's proofs.