Never mind the quality…


Washington, D.C., circa 1917, Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative

I’m constantly struck by the high technical quality of old commercial photographs. This image from 1917 is so sharp and clear it could be an advertisement for tailoring or wool manufacturing, “never mind the quality, feel the width.” In that era the combination of technical prowess, quality materials and the market for records of individualism made it a golden age of the studio portrait.

This one shows a bright and ambitious young American man, professional and eager for assignment. The informal desktop pose, hands in pocket, suggests readiness and practicality; the clear penetrating gaze, capability for the job in hand. He’s a Protestant citizen with a promising future.

The image comes from the website which publishes archival vintage photographs of general interest. This one is of interest, it shows a young man at the start of his famous career: J. Edgar Hoover, future head of the FBI.

2 thoughts on “Never mind the quality…

  1. So true that commercial portraiture of the era was beautifully made, but so was everyday trade photography. The collection of mugshots in the Sydney Police and Justice Museum archive includes some portraits of astounding quality. To think they were made my anonymous police photographers, to be seen by an audience of a handful of people! Look at the first and last pictures on this page for the evidence (pun intended):

  2. Admiring the hard work you put into your site and detailed information you present.
    It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same old rehashed material.

    Great read! I’ve saved your site and I’m adding your RSS
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