Photo Antiquities Exhibit Looks at Women's Fashions from Different Eras, Cultures

By Shaw, Kurt | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, May 19, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Photo Antiquities Exhibit Looks at Women's Fashions from Different Eras, Cultures


Shaw, Kurt, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Located on the North Side, Photo Antiquities is a small-but- unique museum that offers five galleries covering the wide-ranging history of photography.

Having a distinct Victorian ambiance, right down to the burgundy carpeting and red velvet drapes, the museum is a magnet for history buffs. So it is that the museum's curator Bruce Klein noticed a trend lately in which visitors have expressed interest in the fashions of the many subjects in the images on display.

"We have many Civil War re-enactors and other members of historical groups who come in here looking to research hairstyles, jewelry and fashions," Klein says.

Recently, in honor of Mother's Day, Klein assembled a small-but- tidy exhibit based on women's fashions titled "Women in Photography," and as visitors will see, all of those things and more make up a delightful little journey through history.

"We can see the changes through photography," Klein says. "You can date photographs just by looking at the hairstyles."

For example, in the mid 19th-century, women parted their hair down the middle. From the late 19th- through the early 20th- century, the Gibson Girl style was all the rage, typified by hair piled high upon the head in the contemporary bouffant, pompadour and chignon ("waterfall of curls") fashions. And later, the sleek bobbed look of the flapper girl came into focus.

The exhibit begins with daguerreotypes and ambrotypes from the 1840s and 1850s, respectively, and ends with a silver gelatin print of Marilyn Monroe from the 1940s.

Small and delicate, the daguerreotypes (small images on silver plated copper sheets) deserve careful inspection, often requiring the viewer to tilt his or her head to catch the light bouncing off and revealing the image. Here, many of the mid-19th-century styles of dress can be seen. The ambrotypes, or images on glass, were made from the 1850s to the late 1880s. Several on display here feature women's fashions of the high-Victorian style.

The exhibit includes two very rare daguerreotypes of black women from the 1840s. "You don't see a lot of early photography of African- Americans because it was very expensive," Klein says. "A daguerreotype from 1840 in today's dollars was $800 for one image."

Whereas the creation of daguerreotype and ambrotype portraits were a formal as well as an expensive affair, tintypes, or photographs made directly onto sheets of iron, were more cheaply produced, either in studios or sometimes tents, almost like the photo booths of today.

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