A William Ashman Woman

Born in Maryland in 1863, William Ashman (1863-1902) learned his trade from his uncle, William M. Chase. After a stint with David Bachrach’s studio, Ashman left to start his own portrait business in 1877.

The studio continued to operate under the management of Ashman’s associate, Oregon M. Dennis, after Ashman’s death in Saranac Lake, New York.

This is my favorite Ashman cabinet portrait. He has posed her so that light throws the lines of her face into relief, illuminating  a middle-aged woman’s subtle, fading beauty.

William Ashman is buried in Druid Ridge Cemetery, near Pikesville, in Baltimore County, Maryland.

The Retouching Debate

We take retouching for granted today. When retouching of the positive image was introduced in the 1850s, it was a controversial practice. In the 1870s, as the practice of retouching negatives became widespread, retouching “became one of the major controversies of the decade” among photographers (Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. 1).

Retouching stimulated trade by giving portrait photographers a new tool for producing flattering images and hiding technical defects.

The practice required skill, however. The eyes of the gentleman in the albumen cabinet photo above, taken sometime after David Bachrach brought his brother into his business in 1875, demonstrates how bad retouching could ruin a portrait–even at a studio that became as highly regarded as Bachrach & Bro.

In his memoirs, David Bachrach recalls that he began sending out retouching work around 1872 when his nascent studio began making enough–about $200 a week–to support a printer and a receptionist. Before 1872, Bachrach did his own retouching (“Over Fifty Years of Photography,” Part IV, in The Photographic Journal of America, March 1916). Perhaps we cannot hold him wholly responsible for this crude effort.

Julius Hebbel

Julius Hebbel (1853-1905) opened a photography studio in Baltimore in the later 1870s, and the business continued to operate under his name well after his death. I have also found references to Hebbel as a photographer in Westminster, Maryland.

Hebbel was born in Germany and immigrated to Baltimore with his family. His father was a grocer.

Post-1900 card photographs usually have larger, more understated black or gray mounts with a small,unobtrusive studio mark, sometimes embossed, sometimes printed. This toddler’s portrait was taken around 1920.

I have a soft spot for Julius Hebbel because this family photo was the first on which I noticed a photographer’s name.

Hebbel is buried in Baltimore’s Loudon Park Cemetery. Even his headstone reflects the flair of his signature mark on the photograph’s mount.