12
Nov
13

Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection at Historic New England, Boston, Mass. now available online

Historic New England

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I had never heard of this photographer before, but it is such a joy that these photographs have been digitised and are now available online. How gloriously elegant these yachts were (but still at the cutting edge of technology of their day), when compared with the ugly, contemporary America’s Cup trimarans.

All the photographs in this posting are wonderful for their classical eloquence and framing of the subject. I especially like the first image, George W. Wells (1900, below), as the photographer stands on a tug belching smoke that has gone out to meet the largest schooner in the world at the time. With land in the distance and a rope snaking across the water back to the tug, the lack of sail – along with the darkness of the hull and the attitude of the ship – make it seem as though this were a ghost ship. The other image I particularly like is Start of Schooners (1920, below). The angles of the three ships as they manoeuvre on a seemingly becalmed sea adds a wonderful aura to the photograph.

Can you imagine trying to take these photographs using a large format camera with dry-plate glass negatives on the open sea? While dry-plate photography with its fast exposure time and ease of use had made photography more practical, the difficulty of getting an in focus image on an open, exposed, rocking ship would have been enormous. That the artist achieved such outstanding results says a lot about his previsualisation and his expertise and craftsmanship as a photographer.

Marcus

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Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All images © Historic New England

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer) 'George W. Wells' 1900-10-26

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer)
George W. Wells
1900-10-26
Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection
© Historic New England

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The first arrival of the new George W. Wells in Boston, then the world’s largest schooner and its first six masted schooner. The tug Storm King picked her up off Highland Light and N. L. Stebbins probably went on the Storm King to take this photo.

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer) 'George W. Wells' 1900-10-26

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer)
George W. Wells
1900-10-26
Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection
© Historic New England

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer) 'Gadabout' 1893-10-07

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer)
Gadabout
1893-10-07
Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection
© Historic New England

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Taken on the day of the first America’s Cup race between Vigilant and Valkyrie, 15 miles to windward and return, starting from Sandy Hook Lightship, Vigilant won.

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer) 'Egeria' 1886-07-09

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer)
Egeria
1886-07-09
Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection
© Historic New England

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“Historic New England announced that it’s collection of Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographs will be accessible online on August 22, 2013. Stebbins, a celebrated marine photographer, captured the quintessential New England pastimes of yachting and racing, as well as an extraordinary variety of marine vessels. This spectacular photographic collection consists of approximately 6,000 original prints. Dating from the early 1880s to c. 1922, the images depict recreational sailing vessels, steamships, ferries, and police boats, as well as boatyards and other dockside facilities. The images are a record of an important era in maritime history and document commercial and recreational maritime activities that would eventually fade away due to changes in transportation and technology. Architectural views are also part of the collection.

Born in Meadville, Pennsylvania, Stebbins developed a love of ships at a young age, and made an ocean voyage to South America as a young man. He published several books on marine and naval topics, including The New Navy of the United States (1912), The Illustrated Coast Pilot, with Sailing Directions (1891), and The Yachtsman’s Album (1896). Stebbins took roughly 25,000 photographs before his death in 1922. The digitization of the Stebbins collection is an important step in Historic New England’s ongoing Collections Access Project, which launched in 2010. The Northeast Document Conservation Center and the Boston Public Library in conjunction with the Digital Commonwealth participated in the effort.”

Text from the Art Daily website

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer) 'Puritan' 1885-08-03

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer)
Puritan
1885-08-03
Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection
© Historic New England

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Goelet Cup, Newport 

“Mr. N. L. Stebbins, the marine photographer, succeeded in getting a large number of views of the Puritan, Priscilla and other yachts in the race for the Goelet cups Monday [1885-08-03].” (Source: Anon. “Yachting Spray.” Boston Globe, August 9, 1885, p. 6)

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer) 'Mayflower' 1886-09-07

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer)
Mayflower
1886-09-07
Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection
© Historic New England

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First race for the America’s Cup 1886, Mayflower won against Galatea

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer) 'America's Cup Race: Start, Vigilant and Valkyrie' 1893-10-07

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer)
America’s Cup Race: Start, Vigilant and Valkyrie
1893-10-07
Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection
© Historic New England

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First America’s Cup race, 15 miles to windward and return, starting from Sandy Hook Lightship, Vigilant won

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins (January 9, 1847 – July 10, 1922) was a noted American marine photographer, whose surviving photographs document an important era in the development of American maritime activities, as sweeping technological and social changed revolutionized activity on the water, in military, commercial and leisure spheres… He became interested in photography in about 1882, shortly after the introduction of dry-plate photography, with its fast exposure time and ease of use, made photography more practical. With an interest in the sea, and little competition in that area, it was natural that he should specialize in maritime photography.

Over his working career as a commercial photographer (from 1884 to 1922), he took approximately 25,000 images. Of these, about 60% were of marine subjects (the majority of those being of leisure activities, but many are of military and commercial scenes, a valuable record for historians). The remainder include a wide variety of commercial work, including the theatre, railroads, home interiors, etc. His collection at his death included about 20,000 negatives, almost all on glass plates (the usual medium for high-resolution negatives in his time); it was bought by another photographer, and on his death, many of Stebbins’ plates were sold for scrap (tradition holds that they were used in greenhouses).

A few plates found their way to the Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, and another small group eventually wound up at the Mariners’ Museum, but the bulk of the remaining collection (about 5,000 images total, of which a little over 2,500 are the original glass negatives) were rescued for Historic New England by William Appleton, the founder of the Society. Almost all are of maritime subjects; very little of his non-maritime work survives.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer) 'America's Cup Race: Two minutes after start, Valkyrie & Vigilant' 1893-10-09

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer)
America’s Cup Race: Two minutes after start, Valkyrie & Vigilant
1893-10-09
Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection
© Historic New England

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Second America’s Cup race between Vigilant and Valkyrie, equilateral triangle, starting from Sandy Hook Lightship, Vigilant won

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer) 'America's Cup Race: Vigilant at the mark' 1893-10-05

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer)
America’s Cup Race: Vigilant at the mark
1893-10-05
Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection
© Historic New England

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First America’s Cup race, 15 miles to windward and return, starting from Sandy Hook Lightship, Vigilant won.

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer) 'Colonia, Vigilant & Jubilee' 1893-08-11

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer)
Colonia, Vigilant & Jubilee
1893-08-11
Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection
© Historic New England

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Defender

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer)
Defender
1895-07-20
Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection
© Historic New England

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First trial race between Defender and Vigilant, 30 miles windward and leeward from Scotland lightship. Defender’s first race and win. Defender, designed and built in 1895 by N. G. Herreshoff to defend the America’s Cup against Valkyrie III. Her bottom was polished bronze, but her topsides, deck beams, and some of her deck framing were aluminum (making her a giant battery with electrolysis).

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer) 'Elsemarie' 1895-08-02

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer)
Elsemarie
1895-08-02
Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection
© Historic New England

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Goelet Cup, Newport

N. L. Stebbins took photos from the Amadis (Boston Globe, Aug. 3, 1895, p. 1-2). Volunteer won the slop class (after Defender had been disabled by a broken gaff); Emerald the schooner class.

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer) 'Gitana' 1888-06-10

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer)
Gitana
1888-06-10
Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection
© Historic New England

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer) 'Jubilee' 1893-09-07

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer)
Jubilee
1893-09-07
Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection
© Historic New England

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First trial race to choose an America’s Cup defender

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer) 'Start of Schooners' 1920-07-10

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer)
Start of Schooners
1920-07-10
Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection
© Historic New England

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer) 'Troubadour' 1888-08-14

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Nathaniel Livermore Stebbins 1847-1922 (Photographer)
Troubadour
1888-08-14
Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection
© Historic New England

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Historic New England website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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