The last faces of the great century

I have been speaking a lot, perhaps too much, about the faces of the great nineteenth century. These faces are captured by trick of photosensitive chemistries on delicately preserved emulsions on paper or films on silver plates. Last March, I talked about the first woman ever photographed, Dorothy Catherine Draper (1807-1901),  Miss Draper was photographed at the young and beautiful age of thirty-three in 1840. She was through and through of the nineteenth century and died Dec. 10, 1901 in Hastings-on-Hudson, Westchester County, New York, USA, We are left to wonder whether on Dec. 31, 1899 she raised a glass and sang Auld Lange Syne to the new century.

I recently came across a photo-essay with the last nineteenth century images among us, alive today. At best estimate there are now only three such people, all of them women.  The last living man, Jiroemon Kimura, from that century died in 2013 at age 116.  Sadly, but inevitably, the list is rapidly dwindling. As of July 6, 2015 Susannah Mushatt Jones turned 116 and became the world’s oldest living person.

Longevity is one of those freaks of demography and statistics and carries with itself no real distinction, only luck. Still it makes us wonder. The nineteenth century was a great century. It was the century that modern times began, when the world began to abolish slavery, when modern science was born, when we began to conquer the great plagues that ravished mankind, and then of course its denizens saw the birth of photography. The world will see many great things in the years to come, and we may hope that it will think much better thoughts. But the simple fact remains, that in the nineteenth century we first captured the light.

This entry was posted in Essays on Photography, History of Photography.