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Perry Cuskey

Re-creating a photograph

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One of the things I was hoping to do at Shiloh this year was to attempt to re-create one of the three known photographs dating from April 1862. Can't say that I managed to do so, but I gave it a try, and the results are below. First though, a little background, even though a number of you no doubt already know about this....

At some point after the battle ended, an unknown photographer arrived at Pittsburg Landing and began taking pictures of the battlefield. No one knows for sure who this person was or how many photographs he (she?) ended up taking; but we do know that only three of those photographs survived. Two of them are nearly identical images of several boats at the landing. The other picture - the one I tried to re-create - was of the siege guns along Grant's Last Line.

I had a brief talk with Stacy Allen one afternoon at the park, and I asked him about those photographs. For one thing, there is a lot of uncertainty about which way the camera was facing for the picture of the siege guns, whether it was facing toward the east or toward the west. Whichever way it is, the key to this picture's location is the small earthworks visible behind the siege guns. As you know if you've been to the park, this earthwork is still there.

Stacy told me that he's about 50/50 as to which direction he thinks the picture was taken, which gives you an idea of how hard it is to figure out. I spent over an hour one day trying to figure it out myself, and close to that long a few days later. Bottom line, I really have no idea. Which isn't surprising. If Stacy Allen can't tell for sure, goodness knows I can't. Looking one way, it seemed to me that the foreground fit but the background looked off. Looking the other way, it was the opposite, with the background seeming to fit but the foreground not looking quite right. And with the thick undergrowth nearby, it's difficult to tell in any case.

One thing I am fairly certain about though. If the original image was facing toward the west, you cannot re-create it standing next to the modern-day siege guns in the park. It's too far away. So as you'll see below, the image I took facing toward the west does not show the modern-day guns.

Stacy did bring up something else though, relating to when the picture was taken. He believes that the photographer, whoever it was, probably arrived at the landing with Halleck on the night of April 11th. If that's the case, then I would guess the picture, and the two of the boats at the landing, were probably taken the following day, April 12th. Again though, that's just a guess. It could have been later, but obviously before the guns were moved in preparation for the advance on Corinth.

When you see copies of this particular image, sometimes you'll see it with the guns facing to the right, other times to the left. We know of course that they were facing south, but one of the images is obviously flipped, and therefore incorrect. The burning question of course is which one. The answer, frustratingly, is that we don't know.

Here's the original, with the guns facing toward the right, or south.....

6932200792_506784bf2b.jpg

And here are my two admittedly not perfect re-creations. The first one is looking toward the east, toward the landing and visitors center area....

6932201006_3a6a35450e.jpg

Even assuming this is looking the right direction, it's too far to the right to match up with the original. It's also taken early in the day and is therefore looking into the sun, but it's the best one I managed to get looking this direction.

This next one is looking toward the west, and as you'll see, the image has been flipped, or reversed, so that it matches the 'look' of the original. If the original image was indeed facing toward the west, this is what the flipped image would generally look like....

6932201202_9cd37cc6f3.jpg

Again, these aren't perfect re-creations, but they were the best I could do for now. Here's some smaller, side-by-side comparisons for you....

6932200792_506784bf2b_m.jpg 6932201006_3a6a35450e_m.jpg

6932200792_506784bf2b_m.jpg 6932201202_9cd37cc6f3_m.jpg

So what do you think? Was the original facing east, or did someone flip out and flip the image, and the original is actually facing toward the west?

Perry

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Interesting exercise, Perry. Here's my opinion. In the original photo, the left side of the nearest tree is in shadow and the front rims of the nearest gun's wheels are in direct sunlight. Therefore, the left side of the photo would be (in general terms) a "northerly" direction. The right side would be (in general terms) a "southerly" direction. That means the camera is facing (in general terms, again) in an easterly direction. We'd have to know the time of day of the original photo to make a more specific determination about direction. However, my guess is that the original was shot in the afternoon a bit before mid-afternoon. (The sun is low enough to cast clearly visible shadows but not so low as to cast shadows longer than an object/person is tall.) If that guess is right, the nearest gun is probably facing more to the southwest or even west, while the background guns face more to the south.

If you flip the original photo, it becomes a morning photo with the nearest gun aimed to the southeast or even east. Probably not likely.

John

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Sorry for the long delay in replying, John, but thanks for the great post, and I think you may have hit it on the direction and time of day. As you indicate, the shadows are a big key, and we can therefore do a little shadow-dancing comparison between the historical shot and my two modern-day, imperfect reproductions.

First, here's the original again, this time with the cannons facing toward the left. Still south of course, but now reversed from before....

7102170401_a30619b502.jpg

Now then, here's the second of my two re-creation shots. As noted before, this shot is facing toward the west. The first time I posted it though, I flipped it around. Below is how it actually looked. Compare the shadows in this shot with the historical shot above.....

7102204697_2cab99a086.jpg

The shadows in the modern shot are falling on the opposite sides of the trees from the historical shot, so they do not match up. If the historical image was facing west, and taken in the morning, the shadows in both pictures should be falling in the same general direction. But they don't.

Now, both of my pictures were taken between about 8:00 and 8:30 on April 9th, which translate to around 7:00 to 7:30 on the same date in 1862. If the original was a morning shot, it was probably later in the morning than my two versions. But clearly, the shadows are not on the same side of the trees in the two pictures above.

Here's my other modern shot. This one is looking toward the east, but this time has been flipped to match the original again....

7102181035_d91a00607a.jpg

As before, the shadows do not line up. I think I'm standing too far toward back-end of the cannons here to line up properly with the original. So scoot me over to the left in the shot above, and push everything in the image more toward the right. The shadows are still wrong compared to the original. But, if I had taken this shot around mid-afternoon, with the sun behind me, I think the shadows in the two shots would match pretty closely. Plus, the background in the two image look closer together to me than in the modern-shot looking to the west.

So at this point I'm leaning east. The mystery photographer in 1862 appears to have been standing west of the cannons, aiming his camera back toward the east with the sun behind him. I don't know as we've solved the puzzle, but this does look like a big clue. Thanks John! :)

Perry

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Dear Perry Cuskey,
 
My hat is off to you. You have done an incredible job of re-creating the Shiloh Siege Guns photograph.
 
 
I have some good news. That photo of the siege guns is a mirror image of the original scene. Back in the 1860s ALL glass plate negative photos were mirror images. Why? It was a limitation of the technology of the times.
 
Here is one online source of information that backs me up on all of this:
 
"What is a Glass Plate Negative?
 
"A glass plate negative is a reversed photographic image transferred onto a piece of glass, which is then developed into a photographic print. This technology came in to use in the early 1850s."
 
http://contentcat.fhsu.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/stafford
 
With deep respect,
 
Editor

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Thanks Editor. :)

 

Good article. It looks like your univesity has a pretty impressive collection of those photos.

 

The  problem we have with this particular picture is that we Don't know for sure which way the camera was facing, west or east. It's typically shown with the cannons facing either left or right, but we don't know which way is correct, beyond knowing that one of the images I is obviously flipped around. Examining the ground in the modern-day park would seem to be the way to solve the mystery, but unfortunately it doesn't seem to help. 

 

I  wrote above that I was leaning toward the camera facing east, but when I was there again the following year, I still wasn't sure. Part of the problem is that the cannons in the original image are between the camera and the earthworks, which would seem to place the camera to the east of the image, and facing west, based on the position marker for the siege guns in the park. Plus, they appear to be sitting in front of at least one smaller field gun located near the earthworks, which again could suggest the camera is facing west.

 

By the time I left, I was almost convinced that west was the right direction. Almost. :)

 

I think the foreground looking west matches better with the original, but the background seems to match better looking east. It's hard to be certain due the difference in undergrowth from then to now though. 

 

The other big mystery is figuring out who the photographer was, and why only three pictures survived. Maybe someday we'll solve one or more of those mysteries. But for now I guess we're left wondering if east is west or west is east. ;) Thanks again.

 

Perry

 

 

 

 

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