This image, from America and from about 1875, shows three train conductors.
The history of 19C photography is full of non-standard types of image and technique…the first images were relatively unstable and were fixed to metal and glass. That’s why many 19C photographic images have a kind of poetry to them…a sort of mystery, because we don’t recognise them.
It took almost 100 year for photography to become a standardised mechanical process with a consistent type of image and outcome. Optical quality, materials and technologies all play their part in this.
The railwaymen image is a cheap form of photographic image, designed like a carte-de-visite to be carried about like a memento. It’s interesting to see how inconsistent individual appearance was by modern standards. There’s a kind of fashion…but it is a bit all-over-the-place. It’s difficult to tell the difference between good people and outlaws sometimes.
This seems to be especially the case in America – where the size of the country and the diversity of cultural backgrounds would have required powerful normative forces to standardise behaviour. The railway system would have been at the fore-front of driving this consistency across society and the continent.
This image is printed onto thin metal – hence the name tintype – and is as good today, as when it was when made. Metal was more practical than paper in relatively extreme climates and would certainly have been more hard-wearing.
We just bought this on ebay…