In the days before cameras and sophisticated photographic technology, we relied on different processes to capture the human image. I was really drawn to this video from Mark Osterman, a photo process historian (yes, there are such people!) at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, NY.
Mark Osterman: f295 Symposium on 21st Century Photography
First, if you haven’t been to this world-class institution—the world’s oldest photography museum, housed in a glorious Colonial Revival mansion—you’re missing out; this is a must-see destination for any photographer. You’ll see some amazing early photographic equipment and unforgettable images from all over the world.
Osterman actually built his own physionotrace, which he used in the video. A 1783 French invention, with modifications made continually throughout the early 1800s, the device allows an operator to use candlelight to trace a person’s physiognomy, specifically the profile. The result is a silhouette (here’s mine), which got its name from French finance minister Etienne de Silhouette; he enforced severe wartime economic policies in 1759, and his name started to become associated with anything cheap—and cutting a profile from black card was the least expensive way to record what a person looked like.