Sep 182015


In the early 20th century, photography fought to be acknowledged as an authentic art-form in its own right. Consequently, some photographers of the era took inspiration from classical painting and sculpture. This work is a perfect example, taking as its muse Greek architectural decoration, specifically the elegant and noble frieze of the Parthenon at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece . . .

The photographer’s name is Nikolas Boris, about which there is some historical information. Research has found that he was a Greek artist and graduate of the Art Academy of Athens who, as a teenager, immigrated to the United States in 1917, and quickly began a successful career as a photography with a studio in Cincinnati, Ohio. Although almost unknown today, in his time, Boris was a well known and respected artist, publishing his work in the leading photography magazines of the day. He was known for both landscape and portrait photography that embraced the aesthetic of classical oil painting. The Smithsonian Museum owns nine of his photographs made in Greece during the 1920s. This piece is likely from the same era of his career. (For those seeking more information on Nikolas Boris, the 1930/Janurary—December/vol. XXXVII issue of the photographic monthly, Camera Craft offers a brief biography, as well as high praise reviews of his work.)

The bottom margin of the mounting board is signed with the artist’s name and the total of the piece: “Bas Relief”. The name is a reference to the sculptural friezes of the Parthenon in the Acropolis in Athens which depict similar scenes; by placing the models against a mottled backdrop with diffused lighting,and shooting the pose with a shallow depth-of-field, the artist conveys the sculptural technique of low-life stone carving so famously used by Phidias in the Parthenon’s frieze. One last note on the title of this photograph: I believe this is a very early edition of this piece; apparently, later editions (only one of which I was able to locate) were re-named “Greek Athletes”.

Although very old and in less than perfect condition, this photograph still retains is primal power, the artist’s vision and classical composition captured for immortality. This is a rare artwork, and very likely the only one like it you will find available anywhere else! And it will make a stunning addition any decor or collection of early photography, representations of athleticism in art, or, indeed, any admiration of the male figure in motion.

status: sold


 Posted by at 2:02 AM
May 032015



Countless faces: portraits of men, women, and children; endless landscapes; Manifest Destiny and the westward expansion of the nation; the American Civil War; the advent of the automobile . . .  What marvelous, strange and wonderful, or even tragic moments has this lens witnessed and documented?

Manufactured in Paris by famed opticians, Jean Theodor Jamine and Alphonse Darlot, and produced in great numbers in the second half of the 19th century, lenses like this were the Nikon of their day.

Whenever you think of the archetypal, antique wood-box camera, a photographer standing under a black shroud behind it, this was the lens on the front, Jamin-Darlot’s most popular model: the Cône Centraliser featuring rack-and-pinion focus, and a reversible lens-element for taking either portrait or landscape photographs.

This exacting instrument is a triumph of machined brass and ground glass, handmade with precision yet idiosyncratic characteristics that make it desirable to this day — both for aficionados of traditional large-format, wet-plate photography, and also modern devotees that mount these lenses to the latest digital cameras!


status: sold

 Posted by at 12:41 AM
May 012013

This odd looking device is the hipster of the vintage camera world: kooky, quirky, and infectiously lovable. This is the same model Warhol used to create so many of his most famous portraits and prints. The long snout makes what is essentially just a big plastic box with a hole in it something special. It’s this distance between the lens on the front and the film in the back that virtually eliminates any distortion caused by the lens itself, so subjects appear very nearly as we see them with our eyes. It’s a very basic bit of kit: just the casing, lens, shutter-release, a slot to hold the film, and a 60-second timer to measure the film’s developing time. In fact, it’s so basic there’s no focus! To ensure crisp clarity, the photographer looks through the range-finder eyepiece (that’s the periscope-like pipe on the side) which displays a double image that’s actually a composite of two, almost identical views of the subject: one from the top and one from the bottom end of the range-finder; these two views show a parallax that can only be resolved by physically moving the camera closer or farther away form the subject. This back-and-forth eventually became known as the “Big Shot Shuffle”. Andy dancing behind a Big Shot camera: now that’s something I’d love to see!

status: sold

 Posted by at 3:37 AM
Feb 242013

This is a stanhope; sometimes called an optical bijou. It was invented by René Dagron in 1857, and it’s a device for viewing microphotographs: detailed pictures no bigger than the head of a pin (1 square millimeter). Popular in the late 19th Century, these tiny scopes were, in fact, all the rage at the 1859 International Fair in Paris. They were often incorporated in rings, pendents, watch fobs, and one industrious instrument maker even mounted them inside violin bows. The images, predictably, were often of tourist attractions, historical cities, religious sites, and portraits of royalty (or, as in the case of the luthier, of famous conductors).

The example here is in the shape of a spyglass, made of ivory; it is, of course, very small—smaller than an British pound coin. I believe the image of a popular pantomime star of the era; the word “SILLY” below the portrait probably refers to the tradition in the United Kingdom of men playing the “dame” in this traditional yule-time theatrical show.


status: sold

 Posted by at 2:46 AM
Feb 222013

I find explorations in social history one of the most interesting activities of dealing in antiques. So often the objects we collect, the treasures that take pride of place in our homes, were once personal, everyday possessions.

Of course, photography is an obvious example. In an age where we effortlessly take hundreds—is not thousands—of photos a year, it’s astonishing to think that there was once a time not so long ago when a soul might pose for a photograph just once in their entire lifetimes. The result was an object to be venerated, to carry close to your heart, and to cherish forever. That’s why I think there’s something so melancholic, sad even, about photographs that have lost their loved ones; hidden away in a box in the attic or abandoned in a careless thrift-shop…

When I come across these old photographs, I always relish looking at them, savoring each and every detail: the faces, their expressions, their clothes… And sometimes I’m moved to take them home, to adopt them, to make them part of my family-tree. When I first saw this young lady, she immediately caught my eye; such poise and beauty I could never resist!

This image is an ambrotype, a glass plate coated with a photographic emulsion; a fairly primitive process that was only used between 1855 and 1865. Based on the fashion of her clothes and hair, as well as the material and composition of the ‘union case’ itself, I have been able to date this portrait to 1858. She’s starting to buckle a bit at the edges, but she still looks gorgeous considering her age—now more than 150 years old!

An old-fashioned, true and timeless beauty . . .

(Coda: If a picture is worth a thousand words, then what story does this one tell? In my quest to discover more clues about the sitter, I delicately dismantled the union case to discover another figure hidden under the brass matting: a young, ghost-like child gazing directly at the camera. How wonderful and strangely compelling…!)


 status: available

 Posted by at 12:50 AM
Jul 282012

Doesn’t everyone love an old, hand-painted photograph? Here is a lovely example of the form by a A. Mc Leod; the scene is of Bras d’Or Lake, Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada, and the scene is early sunset over the lake: A natural beauty of from antoher era!

status: sold

 Posted by at 3:41 AM
Nov 262011

Rare Coca Cola Memorabilia: A very nice sepia-toned, black and white photograph of the famous Coca-Cola Building designed by Robert V. Derrah and built in 1936-39 (consequently declared a landmark and historic-cultural monument #138 in 1975 by the city of Los Angeles; the building still stands at 1334 South Central Avenue). 

Well known for his maritime-inspired designs, Derrah used iconic shipboard elements including portholes, catwalks, promenade decks, hatches, a multitude of rivets, and the even a prominent prow like the bridge of a cruise liner; it’s a classic example of what’s now known as Streamline Moderne.

Judging from the cars and clothes in the photo, this was taken right after the building was completed in 1939. The picture has the look and feel of a corporate headquarters trophy-shot, and I imagine this probably hung in some executive’s office (and the slender wooden frame is certainly of the era, as well).

The photograph was a recent estate sale find, and it’s provenance is, unfortunately, a mystery. However, this is a museum-quality photograph, professionally shot and printed (on substantial, quality paper), and the sepia tone is a rich golden caramel color that keenly enhances the pictures feeling of quality and nostalgia.

A classic beauty of elegant and historic photography!

status: sold

 Posted by at 12:57 PM

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