Nathaniel L. Stebbins Photography and Documentation.
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Nathaniel L. Stebbins
Nathaniel L. StebbinsPhotography and DocumentationToday I will be discussing a comparison between documentation and manipulation.
Photography is well-known to be the perfect representation of reality Allegedly photography is seen as a perfect truth and representation of the real world, but realistically photography tells more lies than truths than any other medium.
In recent years there has been a huge fuss over the use photoshop. What most people dont realize is that photoshop is based upon techniques developed by early photographers. For example, dodge and burn techniques which are commonly used to lighten or darken specific areas of image. 1Nathanial Livermore Stebbins was a noted American marine photographer
His surviving photographs document an important era in the development of American maritime activities
Top: yacht Reliance in 1903 Bottom: USS Narwhal around 1912Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins (January 9, 1847 - July 10, 1922) was a noted American marine photographer, whose surviving photographs document an important era in the development of American maritime activities, as sweeping technological and social changed revolutionized activity on the water, in military, commercial and leisure spheres.In addition to selling prints of his images, he also produced a number of books of nautical images in his lifetime, including an important illustrated coastal guide, which was path-breaking in showing the practical uses for photography. His photography (and, on occasion, writing) also appeared in such well-known magazines as The Rudder and Yachting.Over his working career as a commercial photographer (from 1884 to 1922), he took approximately 25,000 images. Of these, about 60% were of marine subjects (the majority of those being of leisure activities, but many are of military and commercial scenes, a valuable record for historians). The remainder include a wide variety of commercial work, including the theatre, railroads, home interiors, etc.2Early Photographic Manipulations
Gustave Le Gray (French, 18201884)Cloud StudyGustave Le Gray (French, 18201884)Cloud Study1856-1857Albumen silver print from glass negativesMaurice SendakThe Estate of Maurice Sendak3
Unknown Artist, AmericanDirigible Docked on Empire State Building, New York1930Maurice Guibert, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec as Artist and Model1892On the left: Maurice Guibert (French, 18561913)Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, Albi 18641901 Saint-Andr-du-Bois)Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec as Artist and Model1892Gelatin silver printPhiladelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Henry P. Mcllhenny, 1982-14-2Photo Courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
On the right: Unknown Artist, AmericanDirigible Docked on Empire State Building, New York1930Gelatin silver printTwentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2011Photo Courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
He went on to publish a number of large-format books showcasing his maritime photography. For his innovative Illustrated Coast Pilot, which illustrated principal landmarks and aids to navigation on the East Coast, he studied for, and passed, the examination for a licensed coastal pilot for a considerable section of the East Coast. This early photographic record mar be the first publication to systematically employ photography to illustrate landmarks in a book of sailing directions, a type of navigational aid used by mariners for more than one thousand years. The first edition (1891) of the Illustrated Coast Pilot covered only the U.S. east coast between New York and Maine. Stebbins extended coverage to the entire Atlantic Coast and the Gulf Coast in the second edition (1896).5
Nathaniel L. Stebbins, The Providence The Providence was one of the 5 ships in The Fall River Lines feet.
For half a century the fall river line was one of the best known travel agencies on the east coast. Bringing passengers anywhere from New York to Boston, Boston to Fall River, etc. The providence was one of the 5 ships in the fall river lines fleet.
The fleet included the priscilla, the puritan, the plymouth, the pilgrim, and the providence.
For half a century the fall river line was one of the best known travel agencies on the east coast.
In this Stebbins photographs of the vessels, he always centers his subject matter, and also almost always incorporates 50% sky and 50% water. While documenting the east coast in his coastal pilot guide, stebbins primarily sticks to his 50/50, however the subject matter varies in placement. Sometimes displaying the left or right corners for subjects such as rocks, or other landmarks. However for his vessel photography he almost always centers the subject.6
Nathaniel L. Stebbins, The Plymouth, Photograph (top)Unknown, The Plymouth, Illustrated postcard (bottom)The plymouth, one of the many vessels photographed by stebbins, and also another member of the fall river lone fleet.
On top is a photo taken by stebbinsBelow is an illustrated postcard of the same photo.
It can easily be noted that illustration alone has altered the image to make it more appealing. For instance the, buildings are much clearer.The clouds have been given a color and some life. As opposed to the photo where the building are hidden in fog while the sky is nearly gone Having little to no features of its own. The ocean in the illustration is also more crisp, as well as the rope from the flag poles are also visible only In the illustration.
But whos to say that the photograph itself was not altered or glorified in its construction.7Conclusively,We can speculate the following about Stebbins work:
1. The work may have been glorified or altered to fit the advertising needs of the companies Stebbins worked for, i.e.
The Rudder (Magazine)
The Fall River Line (Travel Agency)
2. Stebbins work was in fact altered during the illustration process
3. Some of Stebbins photos were actually taking by assistants later in his career, leaving the question of the photograph actually being an accurate documentation of the subject matter.The truth is we may never know, we can make educated guesses.
For example, we can speculate that there may have been some glorification of the photos based upon Stebbins work history.Working for traveling agencies (the fall river line), major boating magazines (the rudder) and (yachting) there must have been Some leverage over the presentation of the ships by the owners of these companies. Never mind the fact that Stebbins Illustrated Coastal Guide was almost entirely funded by external companies seeking to use the book as a means of advertisement and marketing.
With even more speculation just look at the images themselves, the ships are made to look massive, being the center of focus in nearly everySingle one of stebbins photographs. The pictures are meant to make be in awwh of the power and size of these ships. Regardless of the photosbeing altered in production, we can still say that there was an optical manipulation of scale just in the particular view of the photograph that is meant To make us aware of the size of the ships.
Conclusively, although stebbins may have approached his guide as a scientific documentation of the east coast traveling routes there is still room for speculation As to how true this documentation was. In later research I found that in Stebbins later work he fell terribly ill and actually would have assistants take photographs Under his super vision. Leaving more questions, for instance, what photos did Stebbins actually take? Were they actually an accurate recording of the subject matter? Along with many others. 8