MYSTIC — Mystic Seaport Museum’s latest exhibition, “When This You See, Remember Me,” explores advances in photographic technology and techniques in late-1800s studio photography from the perspective of both the sitter and the photographer.
Based on thousands of portraits in the museum’s collection by local Connecticut photographers Everett Scholfield and George Tingley, the exhibition also features their original backdrops, cameras, coupons and ads.
Scholfield and Tingley worked with bulky and often-complicated equipment. They captured images on fragile pieces of glass and then had to mix and work with chemicals to create photographs. Color photographs did not exist and they could not make enlargements; to make a large photo they had to make a very large glass negative.
“In this age of smartphones and selfies, when everyone has a camera in their pocket, it is hard to imagine what it was like when photography was new and sitting for a formal portrait was a big deal,” said Elysa Engelman, director of exhibits at the museum. “This exhibition returns the visitor to that time and asks them to consider the ways in which photography has changed and ways in which it has stayed the same.”
Using a recreated set based upon artifacts from Scholfield’s studio, visitors will be able to take their own 19th-century-style portrait. They can practice composing a scene viewed upside down through a period camera, learn about the darkroom process, and experiment with props and poses. They then can take their own photo with their camera or smartphone.
Visitors will be encouraged to share their picture on social media with #MSMRememberMe and an Instagram feed of the resulting images will be streamed as part of the exhibition.
The two men’s overlapping careers spanned the years 1865 to 1930. Scholfield was an itinerant businessman and frequently moved to different locations around southeastern Connecticut and Rhode Island, although he eventually settled in New London. Tingley spent the bulk of his career in Mystic. Framed photographs and an extensive slideshow brings visitors face-to-face with a diverse selection of people from those areas, including people of different backgrounds — African-American, Asian, Native American — various occupations — woodcutter, postal worker, musician — and of all life stages, from infants to elders. Most of the subjects are not identified and visitors with local ancestors are invited to see if they can spot a relative in the show. Museum curators are hopeful the collection catalog can be expanded through the public exposure in the exhibition.