In this series, Lagniappe presents a different work from the collection of the New Orleans Museum of Art each week, with commentary by a curator.

In 1829, Glenalvin J. Goodridge (1829-1867) was born into a family that considered themselves part of a growing population of free blacks in York, Pennsylvania. Goodridge opened his first daguerreotype studio in 1847. In the late 1850s Goodridge was joined in the business by his brothers William O. (1846-1890) and Wallace L. Goodridge (1840-1922).

This tintype portrait of Gertrude Watson Goodridge holding her son William O. Goodridge Jr. is a remarkable testimony to a family of photographers and a unique example of photographic authorship.

Tintypes do not use any negatives to print, but rather an image is fixed directly onto a printing surface. One of the first mass-produced photographic formats, tintypes are now largely anonymous, as there was often no place to record the name of a maker or model.

In this case, however, William Goodridge likely exercised some privilege as a photographer, scratching a legend from the surface of this portrait before the emulsion dried.

This photo reads: “WO Goodridge, Jr., born March 12, 1883, first photo taken May 6, 8 weeks old.” So we know that in addition to being a tender portrait of mother and child, it is a record of William Jr.’s first time in front of a camera, and illustrates an important moment in the photographic life of William Sr. — taking a picture of her newborn son for the first time.

This photograph is on display at NOMA as part of “Called to the Camera: Black American Studio Photographers” through January 8.

Brian Piper is Assistant Curator of Photographs at the New Orleans Museum of Art.


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