The Duality of a Daguerreotype
19 December 2016
By Rachel Maloney
Working as a digitisation technician within the Centre for German Jewish Studies Archives is a fascinating role that has given me access to many interesting and sometimes challenging objects that require digitisation. I have documented photographs, paintings, letters, passports, marriage certificates, World War I medals, and even a pressed edelweiss flower. However, when I came across several daguerreotypes within the Elton/Ehrenberg collection I knew I had found something special. It was the first time I had seen or held a daguerreotype and there was one in particular that struck me. It was an image of a young woman with neat dark hair, a vase of flowers by her side, looking out of the frame with an intense and powerful stare. Who was she? Julie Fischel was scrawled on the back in faded pencil.
I wanted to find out more about Julie Fischel but I also wanted to effectively digitise this rare and amazing object. Looking at a daguerreotype is unlike looking at any other type of photograph, it is an intimate thing- you have to hold it in your hands and manoeuvre it in the light to really see it and understand it as an object.
The daguerreotype: What is it?
In 1839 the Daguerreotype became the first commercially available photographic process, yet they took time and precision to create so would have been considered a great luxury. Every daguerreotype is a unique object, an image captured and fixed on a silvered metal plate. The daguerreotype plate was polished until it became highly reflective, then iodine fumes were used to form a light sensitive surface of silver iodine on its surface. The plate would be kept in a light tight holder until it was exposed within the camera, then it was developed in a mercury bath to ‘bring out the image’, and finally the image was fixed using a solution of sodium thiosulphate. When this process was complete the daguerreotype would be placed in an ornate casing behind glass to protect it from damage, bestowing it with a
precious keepsake quality. Unlike a photograph printed onto paper the daguerreotype is not a reproduction created from a negative – it is a one off and unique object that carries an indexical link to the person or place it represents. The image appears to float above the surface of the plate giving all daguerreotypes a haunting and eerie quality.
Daguerreotypes are highly reflective and act like a mirror so you often see yourself being reflected back when you look at them.
It is difficult to describe what a daguerreotype really looks like because it constantly changes depending on how the light hits its surface, at one moment the image is positive, turn it slightly and the image becomes a negative. It is a thing of duality; both positive and negative, heavy yet fragile, its image both visible and invisible depending on the angle of light. So how can you reproduce or digitise an object that is reflective in nature and which involves a dynamic process of seeing?
The final digitised version of the daguerreotype of Julie Ehrenberg was taken using an Icam Guardian archive system with an attached overhead camera that is directly parallel above the object being digitised. This minimises reflection on the object and also controls any distortion that could occur if the camera were positioned at an angle or the object and camera were not parallel to each other. The two fluorescent strip-lights on the Guardian system have been positioned to the side of the daguerreotype so that the light hits it at a 45 degree angle, eliminating any reflections. The resulting digitised image contains no distracting reflections and shows the daguerreotype as a positive image with all its fine detail and intricacy.
This is a successful image for digitisation purposes but it isn’t obvious that the image is of a daguerreotype- it could easily be a reproduction of a traditional photograph. So how can we accurately represent objects for digitisation when they change under light, are dynamic or 3D in structure? What should a digitised image do? Should they offer information clearly i.e. legible text, clear image reproduction? Or should they relay a little more about the nature of the objects held in museums and archives? These are just a few of the intriguing questions and considerations that digitisation within archive collections can bring. If you would like to share your thought on this topic, or would like to know more, please email me at: R.Maloney@sussex.ac.uk
If you would like to find out more about the Elton/Ehrenberg collection, you can access the catalogue here: http://www.thekeep.info/collections/getrecord/GB181_SxMs96
And keep your eyes peeled for our next blog post to find out more about Julie Ehrenberg!
Rachel Maloney, Archive Technician for the German Jewish Collection housed at the Keep. December 2016.
Clare Sheridan – A Woman Ahead of Her Time
22 March 2016
Nestled in a few boxes at The Keep are many photographs and negatives (dating from around 1915 to the 1950s) of the fascinating sculptor, photographer, journalist and writer Clare Consuelo Sheridan (nee Frewen).
Jenny Geering, who has been digitising some of this material, writes about this extraordinary woman.
Clare was born in 1885 to Moreton Frewen, a man of good gentry who suffered some financial misadventures, and his wife Clarita, the daughter of an American financier. She had a varied and interesting childhood, enjoying trips to London, seeing her cousin Winston (Churchill) and spending time with her mother and aunts. There were also visits with King Milan of Serbia (he doted on Clare, calling her ‘darling’, and brought all the children gifts; he may also have been her mother’s lover). There was a sense of loneliness too, as her parents did not have much time to spend with their children; they were left under the supervision of a nurse and subsequently a governess.
At the age of 14, Clare was sent to a convent in Paris but this was a miserable time for her. Despite speaking fluent French, she was not able to relate to other girls of her own age and they bullied her for being English. After Clare declared that she wanted to be Catholic, not Protestant, so that she could fit in with the other girls, her mother withdrew her from the convent and sent her to live with a Protestant family in Darmstadt. After some time being ‘finished’ (going to opera and museums), she returned home to her parents.
Becoming an Independent Young Woman
In May 1903, Clare met a young man named Wilfred Sheridan at her first ball and was instantly smitten with this charming and handsome man. He too was taken with her but was aware of her family’s financial problems. Other ‘suitable’ men showed interest in young Clare, but she did not reciprocate. Her cousin Winston stayed in touch via letter and when she shared the fact that she’d like to write a book herself, he supported her dream of finding independence for herself.
At this point, Clare and her parents lived mainly at the beautiful Brede Place in Sussex and they entertained famous characters of that time, including Rudyard Kipling and Henry James. These authors encouraged Clare with her literary pursuits and passions. Soon after this, Clare befriended the Prime Minister’s daughter, Violet Asquith, who asked if she would write an article on her behalf for the National Review; Clare took to this with great gusto and earned her first income.
Despite a proposal from a kind, older suitor, Clare could not escape thoughts of Wilfred. Her Aunt Jennie invited both Clare and Wilfred to dinner and , hearing of her prior proposal, Wilfred himself proposed and Clare accepted. In October 1910, they were married in a large ceremony attended by members of the royal family and the Cabinet.
Children and the First Sculptures
Clare gave birth to a first daughter, Margaret, in 1912 and her second daughter, Elizabeth, in 1913. Sadly Elizabeth became ill with tuberculosis and passed away in 1914. Wanting to create a memorial for Elizabeth’s grave, Clare learned how to sculpt with clay and relished this creative outlet. At the same time, she took many photographs of Margaret, their home and her family and spent time creating sculptures of the heads of her friends’ children.
When the First World War broke out, Wilfred left Clare, who was pregnant again, at home whilst he went and fought. At the end of September 1915, Richard ‘Dick’ Sheridan was born and a few days later Wilfred Sheridan was lost in battle.
Her Own Income
By 1919, Clare’s independence and income were growing – she was able to earn hundreds of pounds a year but it still was not quite enough. Thanks to a very large donation from an American colonel who admired her work, Clare was able to focus more on her bust bronzes – her subjects included her friend Princess Patricia of Connaught, former prime minister Herbert Asquith, and writer HG Wells. In mid-1920, Clare was invited to travel to Russia to sculpt busts of revolutionaries. The British government objected to her going but, being the stubborn, determined young woman she was, she went anyway, and stayed for a couple months, allegedly having affairs with a few of her sitters. Cousin Winston discovered her exploits and was livid, as were many people back in England. Soon after, she left for America.
Initially Clare spent time doing publicity (which she resented) for her new book Mayfair to Moscow but soon she was arranging an exhibition of her art and taking commissions again. She had to stand up to her father (who was never very supportive) and to justify herself as a mother to her own children, but things improved and Clare’s writing became well known across America. She was offered a trip to LA at the expense of MGM Studios as Charlie Chaplin was eager to meet her after reading Mayfair to Moscow. Clare and Charlie got on wonderfully, despite having incredibly different backgrounds, and even little Dick adored him. However the press put pressure on their relationship and it soon came to a close.
She spent the next few years travelling through Europe as a journalist and, after returning to London in the mid-1920s, published two novels on travel in quick succession. During the early 1930s, Clare visited Africa, where she took many photographs, but at around this time Dick became heir to the Frewen House at Frampton, which the family needed to sell.
Tragically, Dick died of complications from appendicitis in 1937, and Clare was inconsolable. Her loss did not stop her travelling, however; she set off for America, where she joined an art colony on a Native American reserve. Here she started carving wood into beautiful art, which she later exhibited.
Second World War
Once war started, Clare returned to Brede Place. By 1942, Winston had asked her to do another bust of him, possibly to represent a time of such prominence for him. After the war, Clare converted to Catholicism and moved to a Franciscan convent in Ireland. Clare still expressed herself with her sculpture whilst living here, moving in to her own house but still visiting the convent. Life had begun to quieten down for Clare by the end of the war but she still wrote and released a book called To the Four Winds. At this point, Clare had really rejected England but still travelled and made her way to Greece, where she began to carve in marble. Clare came down dysentery after visiting Biskra and seeing no improvement, returned to England as she sensed the end was imminent. Clare Sheridan finally passed on, on 31 May 1970 aged 84, leaving a legacy of art, writing, photographs and stories behind her.
The Clare Sheridan material held at The Keep forms part of the Frewen Family Archive. It includes photographs and glass-plate negatives, drawings and illustrations, newspaper cuttings, letters and family papers. The material is currently being catalogued and is not yet available to order, but watch this space for future updates!
Digitisation news: one thousand parish registers, and counting!
12 August 2015
Eighteen months after beginning work scanning the parish registers of East Sussex, volunteer John Phillips has scanned his thousandth register. ‘I have to keep a thorough count in case I’m given the same one to do twice!’ he commented. ‘It’s an achievement but now I’m working towards the next thousand.’ The scanned parish registers are available for visitors to consult on the digital image viewers in The Keep’s Reference Room, allowing us to conserve the original documents while still providing access to the handwritten records. ‘A thousand digitised volumes saves a thousand trips to the storeroom,’ said John.
Pictured below right is a page from the thousandth volume, a 1939 confirmation register from St Anne’s Church, Eastbourne.