Nineteenth Century Portrait Photographers of Hudson, NY
Understanding a city’s history is always easier if one can experience not only its architecture but also visualize its past inhabitants, including details from their hairstyles and eyewear to their manner of dress. We are very fortunate that in the mid to late nineteenth century, Hudson boasted a pair of thriving portrait studios, whose periods of activity overlapped to create a visual continuum from about 1850 to the early twentieth century; and both left extensive records of their patrons. These photographers were Francis (“Frank”) Forshew and The Sullivan Brothers (Frederick and Henry). Their works can usually be differentiated on sight due to the distinct but overlapping eras in which each operated, and the processes each employed.
Types of Photographs Made by Forshew and the Sullivan Brothers:
Daguerrotypes: (taken by a process involving iodine-sensitized silver plates and mercury vapor), these early portraits by Forshew used a process later supplanted by albumen prints and ambrotypes.
Cartes de Visite (tintypes and ambrotypes): Also known as CDVs, these smaller images (2.25” x 4”) were first printed in France as a kind of trading card, and exchanged between friends, as well as hosts and their guests. Usually albumen prints, cartes de visite were made of thin paper photos mounted on a thicker cardboard card. They grew immensely popular and started a collecting craze, as people pasted them into albums, which were fixtures in Victorian parlors. The photographer of a carte de visite was often identified on the back of the card, by a simple rubber-stamped statement of the studio name and address.; some blank cards were preprinted on the back with the photographer’s name and logo.
Cabinet cards: These were first introduced in 1860, and initially used for horizontal views. Larger in format (4.5” x 6.5”), they were subsequently adapted for portraits. They were usually displayed on cabinets; hence their name. As opposed to the simpler-format cartes de visite, cabinet cards often featured elaborate Victorian graphics and logos on both the front and back of the card identifying and advertising the photography studio and its services. The cabinet card increased in popularity from the 1860s into the 1870s, gained great popularity in the 1880s, and eventually replaced the carte de visite. The cabinet card was produced in the US into the early years of the twentieth century (when technological innovations such as the Kodak Box Brownie camera, introduced in 1900, began a new fad for in-home photography). Cabinet cards were still produced in Europe as late as the 1930s.
The Photographers and Their Works
Forshew, born in 1827 and professionally established by 1851, produced cartes de visite and cabinet cards. The Sullivan Brothers, born in 1852 and 1856 respectively and active through about 1914, produced fewer cartes de visite (as their popularity started waning), and specialized primarily in cabinet cards, also using more elaborate props and backdrops than Forshew’s earlier works, and employing intricate Victorian graphics on both the front and back of their cards.