Category Archives: photographs


Peter Coffin’s Spiral Rainbow

The spiral as a conceptual archetype is a recurring theme in the work of the American artist Peter Coffin, such as in his 2006 commission for Peter Norton’s annual Christmas gifts. Taking the format of a common photograph album, Coffin organized a series of postcards depicting rainbows into a three-dimensional spiral forming one enormous rainbow. As you open this volume, the constellation of cards expands in an upward swirl of color and form.

The artist commented, “There is a tendency to clutter things up, to try and make sure people know something is art, when all that’s necessary is to present it, to leave it alone. I think the hardest thing to do is to present an idea in the most straightforward way. I think it was Jasper Johns who said that, “[It’s] sometimes necessary to state the obvious.” Still, how to proceed is always the mystery. I remember at one point thinking that someday I would figure out how to do this, how you do art — like “What’s the procedure here, folks?” — and then it wouldn’t be such a struggle anymore. Later I realized I would never have a specific process; I would have to re-invent it, over and over again.”

The Coffin project is the gift of James Welling, Lecturer with the rank of Professor in the Visual Arts program in the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University. In turn, it was the gift of the Peter Norton Family, who each year commission a work of art to celebrate the holiday season.

Peter Coffin (born 1972), Norton Family Christmas Project ([Santa Monica, Calif.]: [Peter Norton Family], [2006]). 1 photograph album. Gift of James Welling. Graphic Arts Collection in process.

The Pencil of Nature

Princeton has just added our superb copy of William Henry Fox Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature, a gift of David H. McAlpin, class of 1920, to our other Talbot prints included in the William Henry Fox Talbot Catalogue Raisonné, begun by Larry Schaaf and now based at Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries. The entire volume,, can be viewed and downloaded for study around the world. This copy has the bookplate of William Twopeny, and the property stamp of the New York City Camera Club Library (catalogued & indexed 1930 by Hal. D. Bernstein, librarian), which was purchased and given to Princeton University by McAlpin.

William Twopeny (printmaker; painter/draughtsman; British; Male; 1797-1873). Twopeny, not Twopenny. Lawyer; amateur antiquarian draughtsman and printmaker, specialising in architectural subjects. A very large collection of his drawings was given to the BM in 1874 by Edward Twopeny, his son: see 1874,0214.104 to 1937 and Binyon IV pp.214-43. For Twopeny’s own catalogue see two volumes in the P&D library. See also a letter dated March 10th 1845 from Albert Way (q.v.) in which he refers to Mr Twopenny of [Lambs] building living at Inner Temple (archives of Department of Britain, Europe and Prehistory)–British Museum

Stories in stereo

Unidentified photographer, The Ghost in the Stereoscope, ca. 1865. Published by the London Stereoscope and Photographic Company after a suggestion by Sir David Brewster. Two albumen prints in stereo-format, hand-tinted. Title: “Kindly suggested by Sir David Brewster, K. H. [entered at Stationers’ Hall” on verso. A dramatic view of the late Mr Stubbs haunting the new occupant of his house. The graffiti on the walls reads: “Mr Stubbs his cottage his picter” and “Mr Stubbs erd.” Graphic Arts Collection GAX in process


The Graphic Arts Collection has acquired several British stereoviews, each providing a narrative through a single 3D image. Some relate to major literary sources and others minor stories. Here are some examples:


[below] Unidentified photographer, Gambler’s Ghost, ca. 1865. Published by the London Stereoscope and Photographic Company. Two albumen prints in stereo-format, hand-tinted. Graphic Arts Collection GAX in process

[Above] Alfred Silvester, Little Nell. Vide – ‘Old Curiosity Shop’ by Charles Dickens, 1870s-1880s. Two albumen prints in stereo-format. Graphic Arts Collection GAX in process


[Below] Unidentified photographer, Haidee and Juan, Canto 2nd, 1870s-1880s. Two albumen prints in stereo-format, hand-tinted. Titled on small printed label pasted to verso with copyright note:  A passionate moment between Juan and the pirate’s daughter Haidée, before she dies of a broken heart and Don Juan is sold into slavery. Graphic Arts Collection GAX in process

Daniel Defoe (1661?-1731), The Life and Strange Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner: Who Lived Eight and Twenty Years Alone in an Uninhated [Sic] Island On the Coast of America, Near the Mouth of the Great River Oroonoque: Having Been Cast on Shore by Shipwreck, Wherein All the Men Perished But Himself: With an Account How He Was At Last Strangely Delivered By Pyrates Written By Himself ([London: s.n.], 1719-[1720]). RHT Oversize 18th-955

Lake Price, Robinson Crusoe and Friday, 1870s-1880s Two albumen prints, hand-tinted, in stereo-format. Title and credit on printed label pasted to verso, with Dublin art shop ‘Lesage’ label on verso. Graphic Arts Collection GAX in process



Sir John Everett Millais Bt PRA (1829-96), My Second Sermon, 1864. Oil on canvas. Guildhall Art Gallery, London.


[below] After Sir John Everett Millais (1829-1896), Unidentified photographer. First time at Church. The Litany, no date [after 1864]. Two albumen prints in stereo-format, hand-tinted. Graphic Arts Collection GAX in process

[Above] Unidentified photographer, Cinderella and her Godmother, 1870s-1880s Two albumen prints in stereo-format, hand-tinted. Graphic Arts Collection GAX in process



Photography albums and scrapbooks of Mexico
Twenty-five boxes of Mexican ephemera were acquired several years ago with a wide variety of materials included. A recent request for the photography albums and scrapbooks has led to the individual cataloguing of these unique, unpublished items (in process). The images include such diversity of commercial and personal photography, along with stamps, labels, souvenirs, brochures, and other ephemeral material, many with handwritten captions, that a few quick images were captured here.

Todd Heisler’s 24-column photo-essay

For those who only read the New York Times online, you missed the massive photo-essay on Sunday by NYTs staff photographer Todd Heisler. Two gatefolds open onto a 48 inch, 24 column double-sided spread entitled “This Space Available” with text by Corey Kilgannon. Don’t look for it, the piece will not appear digitally until later this week (according to instagram). Go to the local newsstand and see if they have any leftover or check your neighbor’s porch if they were away for the weekend.

Editor, Diego Ribadeneira; Visual editors, Jeffrey Furticella, Andrew Hinderaker, and Meghan Louttit; Design, Wayne Kamidoi.

Biblia / Pietá

Biblia/Pietá originated from a performance art piece that took place in the Instituto Francés de Cultura (French Institute of Culture) in Santiago, Chile, during May 1982, created by Juan Domingo Dávila, Carlos Leppe, and the critic Nelly Richard. The event was recorded in photographs by Julia Toro Donoso and republished last year in a limited edition box set, recently acquired thanks to funds provided by the Program in Latin American Studies (PLAS). Special thanks go to Professor Javier Guerrero, Department of Spanish and Portuguese and Chair of the Section on Venezuelan Studies of LASA, who discovered this rare surviving box.

Biblia/Pietá contains the text by Carlos Leppe María Dávila on a 15 mm acrylate plate; a facsimile edition of the article in Art & Text, along with the translation by Patricio Marchant; and eleven signed photographs on rag paper.

“The performance consisted of a staging of La Pietá with inverted gender roles, where Dávila represented the Virgin and Richard died Jesus Christ; Leppe, meanwhile, enters the scene dressed in a suit and tie, but with face makeup and false eyelashes. Leppe washes his face and lights a projection of a video where the scene of La Pietá is repeated, but this time with two men. While the video is being shown, Leppe reads aloud a text about his position on Chilean art.”

For more, see:

Curtis in Alaska

While Edward Curtis (1868-1952) is best remembered for his 2,200 photogravures (ink prints from photographic negatives) published in the 20 volume set, The North America Indian, he began publishing his photographs with images from the Alaskan/Yukon Gold Rush of 1897, and more importantly, as one of the official photographers on E.H. Harriman’s Alaskan expedition of 1899. It was through the Harriman project that Curtis was introduced to the master printers at John Andrew and Son in Boston, who transformed his glass positives into rich aquatinted photogravures. Curtis went on to enlist their services again with his own mammoth series.

When Curtis knew them, the engraving firm was in its thirtieth year, run by John’s son George Theodore Andrew (1843-1934) and their technical skill made it worth the cross-country shipping. Although the scale of the Alaska prints does not compare with the prints in The North American Indian, many of the photogravures in Alaska are equally rich in detail and texture.

The Harriman Expedition to Alaska was the last great 19th-century survey of the North American frontier…

Curtis’ relationship with Harriman, Robert Grinnel, a leading ethnographic expert on Native Americans and other members of the party had a great influence on the rest of his life. After a trip of nine thousand miles the party returned with five thousand pictures and over six hundred animal and plant species new to science. New glaciers were mapped and photographed and a new fjord was discovered. Curtis photographed many of the glaciers, but it was his Indian pictures on this trip that established his artistic genius. Curtis produced a souvenir album of photographs for the participants.

Harriman Alaska Expedition (1899), Alaska… (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1901). “Advertisement. The publication of the series of volumes on the Harriman Alaska Expedition of 1899, heretofore privately printed, has been transferred to the Smithsonian institution by Mrs. Edward H. Harriman, and the work will hereafter be known as the Harriman Alaska series of the Smithsonian institution. The remainder of the edition of volumes I to V, and VIII to XIII, as also volumes VI and VII in preparation, together with any additional volumes that may hereafter appear, will bear special Smithsonian title pages. Smithsonian institution … July, 1910.” ReCAP WA Q115 .H2 1901


Epigraph: He was not unlike a traveler walking into a landscape which may prove mirage.—from Patrick White, Riders in the Chariot.

“The Staglieno cemetery near Genoa was created in the 19th century. It is home not only to those whose bones lie buried beneath, but also to the splendidly ornate display of sculptures erected in their memory. Carved from inanimate lumps of stone, these memorials have become more than the monumental tributes they were originally commissioned to be. Now feathered with a gentle coat of dust, each appears to have taken on a life of its own and out of the melancholy of death comes the comforting notion of a presence that will remain.”—Nazreali Press.

In 2002, a bound volume of Lee Friedlander’s photographs taken in the Staglieno cemetery was published in an edition of 2,000 copies. The duotones were printed by Oceanic Graphics in China and released by Nazraeli Press in Tucson, Arizona. Peter Galassi, former Chief Curator, Department of Photography, MoMA, wrote in the foreword, “Photography likes sculpture. It likes to see how things look from different angles, especially things that don’t move. It likes light falling on surfaces and the way the two become one in the picture. . . . Above all, it likes the way photography, which makes living figures still, awakens figures frozen in stone.” – [Marquand recap Oversize TR658.3 .F75 2002q]

The following year, a special limited edition portfolio of 15 photogravures from the Staglieno series negatives was produced at the LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies at the School of the Arts at Columbia University, New York. The Graphic Arts Collection is fortunate to have acquired copy 10 of the edition of 25 portfolios.

Housed in a red velvet-covered clamshell case with the title embossed in silver, it is a tour-de-force of photographic capture together with expert copperplate printing. Master printer Lothar Osterburg created the copper plates and printed the edition with the assistance of students at the School of the Arts at Columbia University. Each print is signed and titled Staglieno Cemetery, Genoa, Italy.



Lee Friedlander, born in 1934, began photographing the American social landscape in 1948. He was the first photographer to receive the MacDowell Medal for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts (1986), and in 1990 he received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Award. His photographs are included in major museum collection around the world and there are multiple websites dedicated to his life and work. See:
; and many others.

Lee Friedlander: Staglieno (New York: LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies at the School of the Arts at Columbia University, 2003). Photogravures by Lothar Osterburg from negatives by Lee Friedlander. Graphic Arts Collection GAX 2018- in process

Documenting Poverty Across America in 1968

Guest post by Jessica Terekhov, Department of English

The work of 16 known photographers is represented in a series of 73 photographs documenting poverty across America in April/May 1968, recently acquired by the Graphic Arts Collection. The images, which were presumably commissioned for a Time Magazine issue on “Poverty in America: Its Cause and Extent” (May 17, 1968), illustrate rural and urban life in migrant camps, immigrant communities, and low-income areas from California to New York. Featured states include Texas, Kentucky, Florida, Alaska, Michigan, and Missouri, with a number of pictures taken in Greenville, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee.

Five photographs of African-American residents of Detroit and nearby New Haven were taken by J. Edward Bailey III (1923-1982), one of the few African-American photojournalists active nationwide at the time. Another African-American photographer, Robert W. Cottrol (active 1970s), contributed five images of Harlem, and the work of William Sartor (active 1970s) is most heavily represented in the set. Julian Wasser’s shot of migrant farmworkers near Fresno, California was the only one that actually appeared in Time, although a total of 18 images accompanied the feature article and Wasser (active 1970s) also photographed Mexican-American families in East Los Angeles. Gilbert Barrera (1932-2007), Walter E. Bennett (1921-1995), Lee Spence (active 1970s), and Fran Ortiz (1931-2007) were among the other photographers involved in the project.

Some images are captioned with the names of pictured individuals, while others, such as the ones shown here, are only identified by city or state. A shot of “Mexican-American slum housing in Laredo, Texas” appears above, followed by images of Martin Luther Jr. ephemera peddled in Harlem, children in Mississippi and St. Louis, and labor in Maine and Alaska. All photographs are gelatin silver prints measuring 8 x 10 inches and uniformly printed on double-weight fiber paper. A full inventory is available through the library catalog record or here: Time Poverty in America inventory.


Edward S. Curtis: negative / positive / negative / positive

Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952), “Honovi-Walpi Snake Priest, with Totkya Day Painting” from The North American Indian, 1907-1930. Suppl. v. 12, pl. 408. Rare Books EX Oversize 1070.279e

Suffolk Engraving Company after negative by Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952), “Honovi-Walpi Snake Priest, with Totkya Day Painting.” Original glass interpositive prepared for Edward S. Curtis’s The North American Indian, 1907-30, Suppl. v. 12, pl. 408 ([Boston: s.n., ca. 1910]). 39 x 27 cm., housed in light box 57 x 49 x 5 cm. Graphic Arts Collection Vault B glass.

Now available:

When you make a classic photogravure, the first step is to convert the photographic negative into a photographic positive. This is transferred to carbon tissue that is attached to the copperplate and from there, you proceed with the complex creation of an aquatint (intaglio ink print on paper). Negative – positive – negative – positive. The positive is also laterally reversed because the final paper will be face down on the copperplate.

It is easy to forgot that for every negative that Edward Curtis prepared, someone had to print it again as a glass positive before the image could be moved onto the copperplate for etching. It is still an open question whether these interpositives were created on the West Coast or, more likely, in Boston where the Suffolk Engraving Company finished the job with a beautiful photogravure print. See also:
A little history from Jon Goodman:
Richard Benson’s explanation: [worth every minute]

Detail of photogravure.

We have acquired the glass interpositive for plate 408, the Honovi-Walpi Snake Priest portrait and the digital version will soon be available online so you download it. The longer we work with the positive, the more impressed we are with the detail, tonality, and depth of Curtis’s photograph.

Edward Curtis was one of the most important American artists of the nineteenth century and the most celebrated photographer of North American Indians. Over the course of thirty-five years, Curtis took tens of thousands of photographs of Indians from more than eighty tribes. “Never before have we seen the Indians of North America so close to the origins of their humanity, their sense of themselves in the world, their innate dignity and self-possession” (N. Scott Momaday). Curtis’s photographs are “an absolutely unmatched masterpiece of visual anthropology, and one of the most thorough, extensive and profound photograph works of all time” (A. D. Coleman).

Curtis had the Boston firm print 2200 of his images as photogravures for his magisterial The North American Indian, which was hailed as “the most gigantic undertaking in the making of books since the King James Bible” (New York Herald). He devoted the 12th volume to the Hopi, writing of this photograph, “This plate depicts the accoutrement of a Snake dancer on the day of the Antelope dance. The right hand grasps a pair of eagle-feathers – the ‘snake whip’ – and the left a bag of ceremonial meal. Honovi was one of the author’s principal informants.” Curtis’s lifelong project was inspired by his reflection that “The passing of every old man or woman means the passage of some tradition, some knowledge of sacred rite possessed by no other; consequently, the information that is to be gathered, for the benefit of future generations, respecting the modes of life of one of the greatest races of mankind, must be collected at once or the opportunity will be lost for all time.”

Detail of glass interpositive.

Both glass positive and paper print will be on view next summer in the exhibition “Turning Light into Darkness” at Firestone Library, Princeton University.