Preservation Through Photographs

In The Bookman: an Illustrated Magazine of Literature and Life Vol. 32 No. 3, on page 41 in the advertisement section, I found an ad for a picture of the destruction of Richmond during the Civil War. The main hook is that everyone that fought in the Civil War is dead and the only ‘witness’ that never dies is a photograph. There is a big image of the picture printed at the top and the bottom is split into another description and an order form.

It’s next to other advertisements, some for books and one for travelling. Since this is just an advertisement, the rest of the journal doesn’t specifically relate to this. This issue had a lot of advertisements, but this one stood out because the whole top half was a picture. The other thing that made this one stand out was that the bottom half was separated diagonally instead of rectangularly like most of the other ads.


This idea of a photograph being the only witness makes me think of Pirates of the Caribbean and the line about how stories get spread if there aren't any survivors. I think it's an interesting premise - photograph as witness that never dies. Jonathan Sterne, in The Audible Past, talks about audio technolovy similarly - records and recordings of people now dead (ie, Elvis) somehow still embody them when played (or something like that; it's been a year since I read it). At the same time, I wonder about the preservation of the materiality of a photograph as witness. Photographs often aren't waterproof and, especially in battle zones, seem like they could be susceptible to any number of material solvents. Nonetheless, it's a compelling advertising hook!

Definitely an interesting idea. And please remember to link to any posts that you describe, and include the date along with the volume and issue number. The date is the more relevant information to your audience.