Here’s a comparison of the youngest generation to the oldest generation in the show – Anna Friemoth to her great great great grandfather, Pierre Gentieu. Nineteenth-Century photos (and two drawings) compared to Twenty-First Century photos. Yet they have a lot in common. The sharp focus, for one. Attention to detail, and yes, also to style. The spatial relationships. Color, light, and feelings invoked. And all those many years of history.
Pierre painted this idyllic scene of the DuPont Powder Co.’s Lower Yard, in the Brandywine Valley of Wilmington, Delaware, in 1878. It earned him the attention of the du Pont bosses, who gave him a promotion to work in the office. It was so much safer than his manual labor job manufacturing explosives. Perhaps his artwork saved his life, thus attributing to our being, 137 years later, thus to the continuation of the Gentieu name in America. This painting was my father’s only Pierre Gentieu heirloom.
Enter, Anna, 10 years old, five generations down the road. Anna took this picture of the Laurel Valley Plantation along the Bayou LaFourche in Louisiana. It is the location where Pierre, in 1862 as a soldier in the 13th Connecticut, helped free hundreds of slaves, the meaning of which held the most fundamental importance to Pierre* all of his life and through his legacy passed down to his descendants.
The two images share a similar spatial relationship as well as a poetically parallel meaning about life. Note, the point of view, with the expansive foreground that includes a sizable focal plane of water in each one, how the rush of the waterfall in Pierre’s, and the contemplative reflective pond in Anna’s, highlight the modest buildings (rendered at the same angle) in the distance, suggesting hard lives once lived and the continual flow of life.
Totally sincerely with all my heart, I believe this photo that Anna took at the turn of the millennium when she was 10 years old gets right in there; it conveys a really strong bond with her ancestor. The photo itself has such a beautiful relationship to the past.
*see this blog post: Pierre Gentieu’s Camp of the 13th Reg’t Conn. Vols.
This is Pierre’s photo titled, Sportsmen’s Exposition, Madison Square Garden, NYC, two gentlemen pose. The men are dressed in suits and hats and they are looking back to see if they missed anything, after dismantling the DuPont gunpowder booth at a trade show. It looks foreboding, if you were not to read the title. I’ve always thought it looked like Watson and Holmes searching for clues at the scene of a mysterious crime.
Anna’s photo depicts two women in a doorway. One has her arms out, keeping the other from entering the mysterious room that is glowing by the light coming through a large bay window, and hatboxes are strewn on the floor. A photo shoot is going on, it’s Anna’s series, Waiting for Night.
Note the similarities: the hats, and the hat in particular on the woman has a texture relating to the ironwork of the Madison Square Garden balcony in Pierre’s photo. The items are in disarray. The figures are standing at the threshold. Pierre and Anna have captured their subjects at an in-between moment. We sort of know what is going on in those rooms, but now what? The glow of the black and white, the glow of the color. The angular, circular shapes. The outfits. That both of these photos are from behind the scenes.
Pierre’s 1889 drawing of a Lafayette Guard, full-figure, three-quarter view. Pierre was the president of this Civil War veteran’s group. Anna’s Trophy Wife, shot straight-on, like a statue. The colors are soft and similar in value and hue, the headwear on both feature a soft poof rising up the front of the hat. The embroidery on the Lafayette guard is in the same exact anatomical location and direction of Anna’s cone bra. Their hands are occupied, his indicating the masculine association of a bayonet, taller than the man himself, and Anna’s hands hidden; both figures own the role that their costumes suggest, although Anna’s photograph is ironic. Another similarity is the shredded mylar in the dress looking like the sketchy lines in Pierre’s drawing.
The clothing, the monochromatic characteristic of each photo, the juggler looking as if he could be descended from the man in the middle of Pierre’s photo on the left, Mr. Charles Gaino and family with brother James, 1890. The strange landscape above the heads of the family with that tree directly above that middle man, the juggling of the blue man in the dress, with the orange fruit suspended directly above his head. The strange clothing viewed in today’s context.
Anna’s photo, Walker, from her series, Blue Night – apparitions she imagined in the corner of her room when she had a job as a barista, couldn’t sleep, and had to get up at 4:30 a.m.
Two blue photos. Pierre sometimes made cyanotype prints from his glass plate negatives. It was less trouble than making an albumen print — today’s equivalent of a dime store photo. (Or was that yesterday’s equivalent? So maybe it’s today’s equivalent of posting on Facebook.) Anyway, note the shape and tone of the animals — the angle of the cow in Pierre’s photo to the weird angles Anna’s two dogs make at the feet of the woman. Two people, one cow, in Pierre’s photo, and in Anna’s photo – one person, two dogs! And the people are just standing there, behind the animals, looking straight at the camera. And you don’t know why!
Pierre’s Blacksmith Shop, Anna’s shot of London models on a lit set. Two photos separated by two centuries. But look at the similarities – 10 people in each one, taking a break from work, pausing to pose for a photo in their work environment. In each one, a figure is standing on a box. And look at how Pierre’s and Anna’s use of contrast emphasize the horse’s ears and the ears of the model on the left. And not one person is smiling in either of these two photos.
Not one person is smiling in any of these photos.