Glass-plate Photography in Brown County: The Images of Douglass, Hohenberger, Ping, and Whitaker
In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, photography became an artistic medium and utilitarian tool. Most early photographic methods produced one of a kind image (i.e, daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes). However, glass-plate photography changed this, and allowed photographers to easily duplicate images. The use of glass-plates continued into the early 1900’s, but was eventually replaced by flexible film. Although glass-plates were cumbersome and fragile, photographers continued to use this method well into the 1900’s in Brown County, Indiana.
From family portraits and nature specimens to artful landscapes and nostalgic scenes, the early images captured by these photographers were both documentary projects and art objects. Photographers in Brown County used their cameras as entrepreneurial tools, scientific instruments, and a creative medium. The four photographers in this exhibition reveal a range of aesthetic sensibilities brought to photography at the turn of the 20th century. A young entrepreneur, Otto Ping from Pikes Peak offered his camera for hire, often shooting important community gatherings, family portraits, or local farmsteads. James Whitaker was a studio photographer in Nashville, Indiana, who made portraits of locals, but also took his cumbersome camera into the field to shoot local landmarks like old mills, the log jail, and historic bridges. Writer and orchardist, Benjamin Wallace Douglass used his camera to record agricultural processes, but he also enjoyed the artistic aspects of photography. He operated the Hickory Hills Orchard in Northern Brown County, where he grew and canned apples, wrote articles, and made photographs. Perhaps the best known photographer to use glass plates was Frank Hohenberger, who used this method in his early years of photographing Brown County for the Indianapolis Star Newspaper, for which he wrote a regular feature, “From Down in the Hills o’ Brown County.”
This small exhibition explores the artistic side of Douglass, Hohenberger, Ping, and Whitaker’s photographs. While Ping and Hohenberger have books devoted to their photographic work, Douglas and Whitaker have received little attention. It is our hope that this small exhibition will help uncover additional images by these lesser known Brown County photographers.
Presenter: Jon Kay | Director, Traditional Arts Indiana | Curator of Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Mathers Museum of World Cultures
Clinical Associate Professor, Folklore and Ethnomusicology, Indiana University
Cost: $5 admission at the door