I’ve invited Erica Vetsch to guest post today. She’s my friend, agency mate, history buff, and the author of A Bride’s Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas, the first historical in Barbour Publishing’s new Destination Romances line. Her story is great, as you can tell from my review later in this post, but rather than talk about it, I’ve invited her to share some of the fun facts she learned about early photography while writing A Bride’s Portrait.
Here’s Erica. . .
When researching A Bride’s Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas, I discovered lots that I didn’t know about early photography. Thank you to Keli for letting me tell you all some of those things. It’s been hard to limit it to just five, but these are some of the ones I found most interesting.
1. Sour expressions. I often wondered why the folks in the 1840-60’s looked so sour all the time. Nobody smiled. They all looked as rigid as washboards. I discovered that due to the amount of time it took to expose the picture, the subject couldn’t move or smile or blink or the portrait would come out blurry. This was especially true of early daguerreotypes where the exposure time could take up to twenty minutes! As new technology became available, such as wet-plate and the even more versatile dry-plate techniques, the subjects could relax a bit more.
2. Braces. Due to the length of exposure time, some photographers employed the use of neck braces to clamp the subject’s head and neck into place. OUCH! Sometimes you can see a hand bracing a child’s head or holding them still, though the photographers tried to keep those out of the picture.
3. Photos of the dead. There seemed to be an inordinate amount of interest in photographing corpses. The famous dead were photographed, such as the Clantons and McLaurys who died in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, but even those who weren’t celebrities got their pictures taken after death. Perhaps one of the saddest things I came across was this: Parents often had their babies who had died photographed. This was their only way of preserving a memory of the child. Sometimes the photographers would touch up the portrait to make it appear as if the baby had its eyes open. Often the baby is being held by the mother, or is posed with siblings, and you can read the sorrow in their expressions, especially their eyes.
4. Risk of poisoning. The chemicals used in development, such as mercury, silver nitrate, lye, etc. were very dangerous, and often photographers would become victims of chemical poisoning which would cause them to need to take a sabbatical. Over a long period of time, metals could build up in the photographer’s system and lead to madness or even death. It wasn’t a career for the faint of heart. A photographer took care of his props, his studio, his equipment, the developing, the retouches, the marketing, sales, and distribution. All while trying not to poison himself.
5. Risk of explosion. Not only were the development chemicals dangerous, but the flash powder ingredients used were even more so. Potassium chloride and aluminum were mixed and touched off to provide artificial lighting for photographs.
Potassium and aluminum are still used today to make fireworks, though they’ve found more stable forms of the chemicals to use now. Many photographic studios burned down as a result of improperly mixed and stored chemicals. A photographer could ignite the flash powder prematurely by simple static, or even by spilling a little and stepping on it inadvertently. Early photographers experimented with sulfur-based flash powder, but in addition to the horrible stink, it was even more volatile than Potassium chloride and aluminum powder and was abandoned.
There were so many other fascinating things I learned about photography from a variety of sources, but one of my favorites was Camera: A History of Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital. I was running into so many blank walls in my research, and I was getting frustrated. Then one day I went to a bookstore in downtown Rochester where I almost never go. And there on the clearance table was this book, an absolute goldmine of information on both the history and the procedures of early photography.
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Erica Vetsch is a transplanted Kansan now residing in Minnesota. She loves history and reading, and is blessed to be able to combine the two by writing historical fiction set in the American West. Whenever she’s not following flights of fancy in her fictional world, she’s the company bookkeeper for the family lumber business, mother of two terrific teens, wife to a man who is her total opposite and soul-mate, and avid museum patron.
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Adeline Reid, once the sweetheart of a notorious train robber, is determined to keep her shady past a secret and her heart protected. Her newfound focus on her work has gained her two things—a successful portrait studio in Dodge City, Kansas, and a life free of romance.
Unfortunately, Addie’s inquisitiveness brings trouble back into her life when she unwittingly holds a clue that can expose a killer’s identity.
Will she find herself looking down the end of a gun barrel, or will a handsome deputy nab the murderer before the shooting starts?
Having risen above his dirt-poor childhood, Miles Carr is living the dream of his life—working as a deputy to his hero, Bat Masterson. But when the investigation of a shopkeeper’s murder leads him to the aloof Adeline Reid’s portrait studio, his focus becomes skewed. Can Miles keep his mind on the case with a pretty photographer in his sights?
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A Bride’s Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas by Erica Vetsch is delightful—doubly delightful in fact. Not only does the reader enjoy the tale of spunky photographer Adeline Reid and hunky deputy Miles Carr, but that of a second deputy and his shopkeeper’s assistant sweetheart as well. Vetsch has crafted engaging characters I liked from the start. Addie’s strength is admirable, but it was her sheltered heart that drew me in. Miles is bold on the job, but he harbors doubts about his new-found faith that give him an endearing, vulnerable side. Vetsch brings Dodge City to life with her vivid imagery and does an excellent job with historical detail, weaving it in seamlessly. There’s plenty of action and mystery to keep a reader flipping pages to find out whodunnit. And the touches of humor are a real treat. If you enjoy an Old West romance with plenty of heart—and a healthy dose of heart-pounding action—this is a story you won’t want to miss.
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Win a copy of A Bride’s Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas
To enter the drawing, just leave a comment by midnight Thursday, November 3rd.
On Friday, November 4th, I’ll list the winner’s name here and in a comment.
Congratulations to “the writ and the wrote,” winner of the drawing.