19th Century House Project
Large houses of the 19th Century have been a passion of mine from a young age. When I was growing up we had a series of TIME-LIFE books in our home about different regions of the United States, one of which was titled, “The Old South.” It had great photographs by the TIME-LIFE photographers of antebellum plantation mansions that kindled a lifelong passion. To me, those pictures are imbued with the very essence of that bygone era—one of languid opulence and gentle languors that define the melancholic impressions of the time and place itself.
Around the same time, I had a friend who lived on the property of a large old Victorian house. From my first view of it I was obsessed. It spoke to me, luring me with its mystery and forlorn gloom. A decade later when I finally saw inside I was mesmerized with its grand center hall and staircase, 12-foot ceilings and long high hallways. Another 10 years after that a developer demolished it, and I’ll never forget seeing the magnificent house, which had stood for over 100 years, reduced to a pile of rubble. Those experiences made a deep impression and so I began this series to express my passion for them through photography. The pictures are, by nature, part fine art renderings and part architectural survey, but my intent leans toward the former. I want to showcase the ornate design, advocate for historic preservation, and inspire more people to help preserve them.
The final presentation is 24x32 framed gallery prints for the interiors and exteriors; the transfers are scanned and output on an archival inkjet printer, then matted and framed at 16x40.
This sequence of photographs consists of the house exteriors in pictorial format. My intent is to show them as they exist in their present surroundings and to remove all evidence of modern clutter (wires, cars, AC units, etc.), so that they look as much like they would have when new. The pictures also show the relationship of the structures to the landscape, and the grandiosity of their design.
The interior details and give evidence of a deeper level of understanding and intimate involvement. We could never have this experience by viewing the exterior alone, which is why it is important for me to see and photograph inside. As I contemplate the hallways and rooms I consider the lives of the people who occupied the spaces and it makes them seem less strange and distant; you feel closer to them and begin to see they were probably not very different from ourselves. The pictures give us the means to imagine life in high style in the 19th century. *NOTE: These photos are now part of my Commercial Photography offerings, as they are more suited to that type of photographic application than fine art. The intent, however, is still the same as written above.
This iteration consists of multiple exterior detail photos so that the overall character of each house can be felt. The details are not small, rather each mini-series uses a combination of long, medium and closeup shots to tell a more complete story. This is a cinematic type of technique elucidated by the great photographer and photography educator John Paul Caponigro.
While working on my MFA I became enamored with the work of Alfred Steiglitz and the Pictorialists. I wanted to develop a hand-worked process that would give me the romantic and atmospheric aeshetic of their pictures. I subsequently developed a method consisting of digital and traditional processes to achieve an Impressionistic look.
All Content © James T Callahan Photographer