Olrehambaatt-Photo (Unknown Photographer), "Double Exposure of a Man", ca. 1880, vintage albumen cabinet card, 6½ x 4¼”. Courtesy of Robert Flynn Johnson, private collection, San Francisco, CA.

Olrehambaatt-Photo (Unknown Photographer), “Double Exposure of a Man”, ca. 1880, vintage albumen cabinet card, 6½ x 4¼”. Courtesy of Robert Flynn Johnson, private collection, San Francisco, CA.

Olrehambaatt-Photo (Work by an Unknown Photographer from the Collection of Robert Flynn Johnson)

Since the earliest days of photography, manipulation was used by photographers who aimed to push the boundaries of photography and test the limitations of the negative. These photographers belonged to a movement that belonged to the later 19th and earlier 20th centuries called “Pictorialism,” which referred to an approach in which the artist used methods of manipulation as a means of “creating” an image rather than simply recording it or providing visual “truth.” One of the many methods of manipulation used by photographers in the Pictorialist era was called combination printing, which included anything from the layering of negatives to exposing on one sheet of paper to the stitching of multiple negatives together. That process is seen here in these two-framed pieces from the collection of Robert Flynn Johnson, wherein the same individual appears twice in one frame, occasionally with small adjustments of attire, gesture, and facial expression. The Victorian photographer Oscar Gustave Rejlander (English, born in Sweden, 1813-1875) is credited with creating the first multiple exposure negative “trick” photograph in 1856, and so while cabinet card format photographs of the 1880s featuring this technique are not uncommon, such “trick” photographs from this earlier period are rare. By the 1880’s, photographers had become adept at seamlessly joining multiple negatives, clearly a precursor to the widespread use of Photoshop today. As an early example of “twinning” in photography, these Civil War-era cabinet cards provide a poignant counterpoint to the work of contemporary photographers Kelli Connell and Cornelia Hediger, also included in the exhibition.

Dubbed the “John Szarkowski of vernacular photography, the sultan of snaps” by gallerist James Danziger, Robert Flynn Johnson is a photography collector based in San Francisco, CA. Many of these photographs were purchased years ago, at estate sales and flea markets, or acquired through his former position from 1975- 2011 as a curator for the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Also a longtime former faculty member in the printmaking department at the San Francisco Art Institute, he is the author of two books on anonymous photography: Anonymous: Enigmatic Images from Unknown Photographers (Thames and Hudson, 2005) and The Face in the Lens: Anonymous Photographs (University of California Press, 2009). He is currently an professor of Art History at the University of California, Santa Cruz.