Preface

This book and exhibition were assembled because I believe an American art treasure has gone unrecognized.

I was dismayed by the wanton destruction of painted tintypes by antique dealers who discarded the works and sold their frames separately. Most photographic collectors and curators showed a similar disdain for painted tintypes, which they regarded as unsophisticated and unworthy of attention. Those who did collect painted tintypes were generally not interested in their frames.

I called the exhibition "Forgotten Marriage" because these images were not intended to stand alone. Photograph and frame were created as a single work of art. The separation of the two destroys that work.

The last twenty years of my life have been devoted to collecting and writing about vintage photography. I have concentrated on opening up the uncharted regions of photographic history. By dealing with topics that are not directly in line with traditional art history, I have been able to focus on photography's social utility: how photography entered into the lives of ordinary people, how it was used by the poor, the working class, and by ethnic and religious minorities. The portraits in this exhibit represent the extension of photography's wonders to all segments of American society.

In the 1980s, I came to believe that painted tintypes were a part of the American folk art tradition. The late Dr. Robert Bishop and Gerard C. Wertkin, his successor, Director of the Museum of American Folk Art, supported this viewpoint and encouraged me to continue my work in this area. This book incorporates the culmination of fourteen years of research into the relationship between folk art and photography.

This book not only addresses the cultural significance and aesthetic value of these framed images, but also the importance of copy prints and reproductions in the early photographic industry. Most painted tintypes were enlarged from smaller photographs - a fact which has remained largely unknown until now.

I am delighted to share my discoveries. I sincerely hope you enjoy looking at these photographs and frames as much as I have enjoyed collecting and studying them.