PHOTOGRAPHY by CHARLES EISENMANN
With his studio located in the Bowery, New York City, photographer Charles Eisenmann began photographing portraits of show people from dime museums in the 1870s. While photographing “ordinary” people in the basic conventional form, Eisenmann continued working on his archive of “freaks” throughout the 1870s and 80s, which he sold in the cabinet style as collectables.
Clothed in stand collar uniforms and bustle dresses from the Victorian Era, each portrait is carefully directed to enhance the visual wonders of the models’ distinct physique.
“Dwarf Fat Lady” Sophia Schultz was a frequenter to Eisenmann’s studio. Sometime during the 1880s, she began to grow facial hair, which was reinforced with a little pencil work.
Born with a beautiful face and giant feet, Fanny Mills came with a dowry of $5000 cash and a “well stocked farm” in Ohio from her desperate father, to any single men willing to take her as bride.
People with amazing appearances live amazing lives. The four-legged Myrtle Corbin bore 2 and 3 children respectively from her two separate vaginas.
In the 19th century, physical deformation was not so much a handicap as a talent. As in modern society where we strive to fix any deformities towards an ideal perfection, if the situation allows and is not life threatening, physical deformation was used to an advantage. Many of the performers in dime museums received good wages and married with happy lives. Much like Eli Bowen, whose feet grew directly out of his pelvis.
The beautiful JoJo, “The Russian Dog Face Boy” processes the charm and elegance of the beast in the Beauty and the Beast. He was one of the most successful performers and his portraits are one of the most famous in Eisenmann’s oeuvre.
I started to collect these beautiful portraits along with other medical and spirit photographs, after I decided I had seen enough of Surrealism such as Bellmer, Molinier, Man Ray and Cecil Beaton.
Eisenmann’s carefully staged backdrop, props, costume, lighting and angles add to the dramatic and distinct atmosphere of each portrait.
Reaching success with Admiral Dot the Midget, it is known that Phineas Taylor Barnum (known widely as P.T. Barnum) accepted abnormal people as gods, although the notion is a bit sketchy. He left his signature on a portrait by Eisenmann in 1885.
Around 300 vintage prints by Charles Eisenmann, along with an album of 700 abnormal portraits collected by E.H. Jenkins are in the collection of Gallery Naruyama.
Les Jeux de la Popee 1949 Hand-colored gelatin silver prints
Poetry: Paul Éluard
Influenced by dolls of the German Renaissance, Hans Bellmer realized his fascinations through life-sized mannequins with moving ball joints. His book Les Jeux de la Popee (The Games of the Doll) includes original gelatin silver prints, hand-colored by six different Surrealists. The poetry of Paul Éluard, first husband of Gala who is perhaps better known as the wife of Salvador Dali, accompany the photographs.
I have been fortunate to experience the original copy bearing Bellmer’s coloring instructions in Switzerland, and it is unique both in the size of the prints and its overall general impression. Even comparing two later copies of Les Jeux de la Popee reveals differences in trimming and coloring of the photographs, questioning whether or not he was experimenting.
Bellmer’s brother Fritz can be found in hiding behind a tree in one, and looming out bearing his face in the other. The coloring of the doll is also different, thus establishing each copy to be unique.
Les chevaliers de la Table ronde 1937
Poésie critique II 1960
JEAN COCTEAU First edition books, signed on title page
When in search of Jean Cocteau's original books in France, one may come across a buried treasure on the title page. This particular copy of Les chevaliers de la Table ronde is signed for Marcel Achard, accompanied by a drawing reminiscent of a young Jean Marais.
SERGE LIFAR Icare 1940's to 50's Watercolor, ink
Contrary to the conventional belief at the time, Russian-born French ballet dancer and choreographer Serge Lifar did not derive his choreography from music, but rather believed that the music should derive from the choreography. His most representative work Icare, depicted here, was the first work he experimented with this concept.
KOMURA SETTAI Title Unknown Shōwa era (1926-1989) Japanese inkstick on paper
This unsigned, undated drawing by Japanese artist Komura Settai, was authenticated by his disciple Yamamoto Takeo as genuine. Famous for his visual contributions to books by the author Izumi Kyōka (1873-1939), Komura Settai was active across many fields as an illustrator, painter and designer. This image, created for a newspaper article depicts Japanese men and women in western attire, reflecting the Art Nouveau and Art Deco influenced culture in Japan at the time.
ALEKSANDER RODCHENKO The Worker's Club 1925 Gelatin Silver Print / Vintage Print
This photograph by the Russian avant-garde artist Aleksandr Rodchenko, depicts the artist's own installation of the Workers' Club for the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. Lenin's name can be found depicted on the furthest wall. His dynamic constructivist style may have influenced the Japanese artist Komura Settai (1887-1940), known for his minimalist approach and dynamic composition.
Left： Seppuku 1960's Gelatin Silver Print / Vintage Print
Former actor Yato Tamotsu, took up the camera and left an impressive oeuvre of mostly male nudes. With three publications to his credit, Taido, Naked Festival, OTOKO , his gaze undoubtedly focuses on the male figure, and the infamous writer Mishima Yukio was not one to miss out. Yato captures Mishima demonstrating his passion and obsession towards the Seppuku, using tube chocolate as fake blood. The photograph shown above is a part in a series of 7, depicting 7 steps within the ritual. It is said that Mishima often proudly displayed these portraits to his circle of intellectuals and fans.
Right： 1970 Mr. Japan -Takemoto Nobuo 1971 Gelatin Silver Print / Vintage Print
Bodybuilders were one of Yato's primary subjects through the course of his career. Around 40 vintage prints of portraits of bodybuilding champions can be found today, though their whereabouts are often very hard to locate. This portrait of bodybuilding champion Takemoto Nobuo, taken outside the gym, vividly expresses Yato's keen obsession towards the male structure.