As By EnchantmentMonday, December 23, 2013
While reading Robert Wilson’s interesting and informative Mathew Brady – Portraits of a Nation a paragraph in Chapter 3 caught my eye.
Photography [Chapter 3 deals with the late 1840s, so it was about the daguerreotype] was also among the first examples (along with the telegraph and the railway) of a phenomenon that has become almost commonplace in our time – an advance in technology that transforms rapidly from a state of inconceivable mystery or even magic to something that everyone could and must have access to. In his 1853 dictionary, Noah Webster ended a brief description of the daguerreotype process with “and then the images appear as by enchantment.” Photography was at first as surprising as the possibility of wireless telephone communication seemed to us decades ago, and then as urgent a necessity as the smartphone is today.
One of the photographs attributed to Mathew Brady is this one of Mrs. Brandon taken between 1860 and 1865. It is one of 9 photographs on the book’s cover that especially caught my eye.
The second photograph is one I took John Alleyne in 1997 when he was the Artistic Director of Ballet BC. The dancer is Gail Skrela.
When I took the picture I had in particular mind the US Civil War portraits of black Union Army soldiers who matter-of-factly stared at the camera having no inkling that we would look at them when they were long dead and buried. Had I wanted to be a bit more Brady-like I might have pulled back my camera and given then more room in my studio.
This is one of my favorite portraits which somehow I was lucky enough to capture by enchantment. I have never gotten over the fact that so much can happen between my camera and my subject if I only wait for the right moment to press the shutter button.