Vesper Bells Eickemeyer, Rudolf  (American, 1862 - 1932)

Originally taken in 1894, the subject of this photograph is the grandmother of the photographer Rudolf Eickemeyer Jr., who endured a month of sittings in a dairy barn on her farm outside of Yonkers, New York before Eickemeyer was satisfied with the final result. The photographs made at this sitting were the subject of a five-page essay – “How a Picture Was Made”, in the third issue of Camera Notes (January, 1898; pp. 63 – 66).

“How a Picture Was Made,” revealed the painstaking revisions he made to create a deceptively simple portrait of his grandmother, “Vesper Bell.”  This five page essay described the long complex interaction between photographer and subject mediated by the camera. Eickemeyer deliberately destroyed the notion that the process was automatic, unplanned, or mechanical. Narrative meaning was strengthened by changing the old woman’s activity from simple devotion to a homely scene of chores interrupted for prayer. Added props and adjusted light improved the composition. Each modification required a new print and planning. “Vesper Bell” went on to win medals in London, Calcutta, and Vienna.” Several variants of the sitting were also reproduced as halftones in the issue accompanying Eickemeyer’s essay. (fPhotoSeed.com; Mary Panzer)