Portrait Day

Photo albums are living artifacts, which means that the images in them change and are rearranged over time. This is certainly true for the Chapman albums. They were reordered and relabeled to fit the interests and the needs of the family and its memories. This process obscures other stories, especially those in which family members in friends visited the studio together. Here we have reassembled some examples. It was a day unlike any other. Family members carefully dressed in their best clothes and headed to a tintype studio where their portraits were taken.

Arabella and her older brother Will were photographed as children in the same studio, circa 1864. It is the earliest image we have of Arabella. Note the pattern of the floor tiles and the decorative table cloth, both of which are clues that these images were taken in the same place, likely on the same day. When we look at the reverse side of these tintypes, we find stamps that offer additional clues. These images were taken during the Civil War, when a stamp tax on photographs subsidized the war effort. Written on the stamp is the name of the photo studio, Radley and Van DerZee, who opened their studio at 51 State Street in 1864. Handwritten captions, on the frames and in one case on the image itself, preserved the identities of the subjects.

Some time later, Arabella’s sister Harriet Alfarata, and her brother Charles also visited a photographer’s studio. These portraits depict the two in the same studio, as suggested by the floor pattern and the banister prop.

In this tintype, Arabella, her father, and younger brother all posed for a group portrait.

2.09. Arabella Chapman, John R. Chapman, John T. Chapman. Tintype.

2.09. Arabella Chapman, John R. Chapman, John T. Chapman. Tintype.

Family portraits could also include close friends and associates. Arabella’s father and brother posed here with family friend, William Brent. Brent was a waiter, like Arabella’s father. Brent also had a single portrait taken on that day, and it too survives in the Chapman albums.

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