A Maritime Album: 100 Photographs and Their Stories

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This book depicts the relationships of mariners with their vessels and the sea. Each photograph chronicles a fragment of the mariner's experience over the past 200 years - shipbuilding, the making of a wooden skiff, commercial fishing and whaling, amateur sailing, deep-sea diving, naval encounters, and much more. In his introduction, John Szarkowski shares his artistic rationale for selecting the particular images that appear in this book. Benson's essays, which accompany the photographs, unify image and story in...
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Overview

This book depicts the relationships of mariners with their vessels and the sea. Each photograph chronicles a fragment of the mariner's experience over the past 200 years - shipbuilding, the making of a wooden skiff, commercial fishing and whaling, amateur sailing, deep-sea diving, naval encounters, and much more. In his introduction, John Szarkowski shares his artistic rationale for selecting the particular images that appear in this book. Benson's essays, which accompany the photographs, unify image and story in a vignette of time and place, of historical, societal, and individual meaning. This book is the catalogue for a traveling exhibition that will open in December 1997 at The Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
The catalogue for a traveling exhibition of the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia, this fascinating book features 100 historical photos depicting the complex, often deeply passionate relationships of mariners with their vessels and the sea. Each photo chronicles a fragment of the mariner's experience over the past 200 years—shipbuilding, the making of a wooden skiff, commercial fishing and whaling, amateur sailing, deep-sea diving, naval encounters, and much more.

At once beautiful, informative, and affecting, each of the 100 black-and-white photographs in A Maritime Album, with their exquisite textures and pearly light effects, chronicles a fragment of man's relationship with the sea. Selected and sequenced by eminent photographic historian John Szarkowski from an archive of more than 600,000 maritime images, the photographs in A Maritime Album capture an era in which photography came of age and steam power transformed both transportation and Western culture.

The resulting book is not so much a history of technology as an extraordinary tribute to the triumphs and the perils of life at sea over the past 200 years.

The eclectic mix of photographs in "A Maritime Album" reflects the entire seafaring spectrum: The sights and sounds of shipbuilding, sailing, fishing and whaling, deep-sea diving, and naval encounters are depicted in all their gritty glory. Some are the deliberate work of famous photographers, while for others the photographer was simply a chronicler with a camera and a remarkable eye for composition and visual impact. Applying electronic andother techniques that he created, master technician and photographer Richard Benson directed the sophisticated electronic reproduction of the pictures. He also wrote an evocative essay to accompany each one. These intriguing, highly personal essays provoke us to consider the deeper societal meaning of the people, events, and objects portrayed in these images. The inspired juxtaposition of Szarkowski's well-chosen images with Benson's thought-provoking vignettes of time and place has resulted in a riveting testimonial to the maritime experience.

Particularly affecting in "A Maritime Album," are the snapshots of people at work (boatbuilders, arms-bearing soldiers, seafaring mariners), including an endearing shot of a father passing down the process of boatbuilding to his son, who takes a short break to beam at the photographer. Equally compelling for its historical significance is the extraordinary photograph "USS West Virginia at Pearl Harbor." The water in Pearl Harbor was literally on fire on December 7, 1941, and this extraordinary photograph shows exactly that: The oil from the ship's bunkers has spread over the surface and burns fiercely.

Connoisseurs, sailors, historians, lovers of the sea, and photography enthusiasts will savor each beautiful photograph in "A Maritime Album," and will marvel at its wealth of ship lore.—Janine Liebert

NY Times Book Review
Not a book of maritime history but a book of splendid photographs that fire memory and imagination about the relationship of humanity to its centuries of traffic with the sea.
W. Jeffrey Bolster
"A moving tetimonial to the exaltation and apprehension of human interaction with the sea." -- New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300073423
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/1997
  • Pages: 246
  • Product dimensions: 9.39 (w) x 11.33 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Table of Contents

FOREWORD 9
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 11
INTRODUCTION 17
A MARITIME ALBUM 219
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First Chapter

HULKS ON THE NORTH LANDING RIVER

JOHN LOCHHEAD American 1909-1991

And so we begin with an ending. Tucked away in the tidal water of the North Landing River lies a group of hulks, as the marine world refers to the worn-out and abandoned remains of its ships. Even when a vessel is small it can be difficult to get rid of, as the backyards of coastal America show, but when the victim of age is a ship, too large for a simple neglectful end, then disposal can be a real problem. These hulls have been run up the lower reaches of the river where a high tide has allowed them to be brought in and pervasive mud has held them firmly in place; the marshy shores are not particularly good places for people to live, and so there were no neighbors to complain as the old ships were nudged into their final resting places.

Nineteenth-century ships, of which these are the likely remains, were especially difficult things to get rid of. They were very long lived, and had the habit of rotting away just enough to become dangerous, leaving the hapless owner with the carcass but not the useful servant. They floated, being made of wood, and because most carried no ballast, sinking was out of the question without loading many tons of sand on board. If this was attempted, the resentful hulk could almost be depended upon to sink in the wrong place, such as a harbor mouth, while on its way to the deep water, and so entail a removal that could bankrupt most small enterprises. An old ship could not be let loose, either, as a one-hundred-foot-long construction of oak and pine could wreak terrible havoc in a storm in the wrong place. When ship construction shifted to iron, and then steel, recycling became practical, as a large hull held many tons of material for the furnaces of the time. Because of this persistent disposal problem the marine junkyard has evolved, usually starting innocently enough, like the incipient one pictured here. Often these aggregates of dead ships covered acres of shoreline as space after space became filled with the massive and immovable remains of the seagoing world.

The tranquil waters of the river mouth are pierced by the vertical ribs of the hulls. These hardwood frames persist longer than the softer skin of the planking, and so the ships gradually turn into skeletons, as we all do in our inevitable return to the earth. These protruding bones have become a symbol of earlier times, and along our coasts there lies a repertory of frame and rib, some jutting from an innocent-appearing beach, and others lying as flooring in dirty and overused harbors. All of them remind us that even giants have a brief life before becoming worn out and obsolete in the face of age and change.

2

FISHING CRAFT ON THE NILE

PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN

Boats come in all types and sizes. This is because they are an ancient invention that has had the chance to evolve into distinct models that suit specific commerce and its location. If we work out an evolutionary tree of these many forms, then the most basic division might be whether a vessel was created for use on the open seas or within the protected water of rivers and bays. These two places have generated radically different hull forms: oceangoing ships must plunge deep into the water, seeking out with their hull shape the more stable realm where wind does not create the turmoil found at the surface, while river craft need to be shallow to move over sand bars and beach themselves on gradually inclining shores. One way to think about this difference is to imagine the hull of a boat to be like a flat plank, and to understand that success in deep and rough water depends upon this plank floating vertically on edge, whereas in calmer locations the plank can be flat on its side, in the attitude it would take if thrown into the water. The plank-on-edge boat requires ballast or low weight to maintain it in that position, and this seemingly odd idea of partially sinking a boat in search of stability rewards the builder with a form that ignores the water's surface confusion but responds instead to the deeper and more dependable rhythmic movement of the sea itself.

Nile River boats such as these blended their types in the Mediterranean Sea, and we find the lateen rig there, fitted onto seaworthy, deep-running hulls. The Mediterranean region is a giant melting pot of nautical types, and every imaginable hull and rig finds its home there. The water is of moderate temperature, and so is a pleasant place to be; the shores hold every type of human being, and the rivers and open stretches experience every sort of weather. Here in America, so justly proud of our short history, we often lose sight of the millennia-long fermentation of invention that this great inland sea supported, out of which many of our ships evolved.

3

ALGONQUIN CANOE

PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN

On a globe we can see that the top of North America explodes into a mass of islands, rivers, and bays. It is almost possible to travel from the East to West Coast along the U.S.-Canada border without ever leaving the water, because the lakes, streams, ponds, and inlets form a network of highways throughout the wilderness. The boat in this picture is a birch bark canoe, a versatile and highly developed craft that evolved only in North America, where it made travel across the continent feasible.

These small boats were lightweight, so they could be carried short distances, and they were made in different styles, according to maker and function. One might have been put together in an afternoon, for the single use of a specific river crossing, while others were constructed with great care and refinement to permit years of working life. We do not know how long these small boats have been around, but their intricate construction and extreme refinement speak of an ancient craft. The modern aluminum canoe and the beautiful canvas-covered Maine canoe are simplified derivations of the perfect craft we see in this photograph.

John McPhee wrote a marvelous short book in the 1970s called The Survival of the Bark Canoe. It describes the disappearance of canoe builders by mid-century and the efforts of a New Hampshire native, Henri Vallaincourt, to relearn the craft. After building early versions based on examples he had seen,Vallaincourt heard of The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America by the great nautical scholar Howard I. Chapelle, a curator at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Chapelle, it turns out, wrote the book because he stumbled on a vast and encyclopedic archive of information, collected toward the end of the nineteenth century, about every detail of the form and construction of the bark canoe. This life work of data collection was done by Edwin Adney, who was obsessed with the canoe. Adney caught up in his net of curious dedication every scrap of knowledge that remained about this dying indigenous American craft. Adney's notebooks, photographs, and detailed drawings reside at The Mariners' Museum in Virginia, and this photograph comes from a glass plate in that collection.

Through centuries of hard work, knowledge such as that embodied by this canoe can reach a stable and usable form. The disruptive technology and population growth of our time can wipe away such an achievement in a few generations. This is why we have museums; they can catch the falling pieces of our history and set them aside for us to view, so we may better understand the future that's been so long in the making.

4

OUTRIGGER CANOE, YARUTO ISLANDS

PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN

This little picture from a traveler's album shows a small outrigger canoe skipping across the water like a bug walking on the surface of a pond. The canoe is a highly developed form of boat called a proa, which was made for inter-island passages in the South Pacific. The proa is a double-ender, with two stems and no stern; the direction of this odd craft could be reversed by shifting the sail and rudder but not turning the boat. To go home, the rig was reconfigured to drive the canoe backward, and the sailors simply moved to face the other direction.

The outrigger design allowed a small boat to be stable while sailing, yet not have to depend on a deep keel for resistance to the force of the wind. The many islands where boats such as this were used had few deepwater piers, so the beach was the normal place to come ashore, and the shallow draft and light weight of a canoe made landing easy. Since the proa traveled back and forth but did not turn around, she only needed a pontoon on one side. When present-day boatbuilders try to achieve record speeds under sail they often build proas, since the practical issues of changing direction and traveling at different points of sail don't enter into speed trials along a measured course. Like other extreme boats, the fastest modern racing proas easily exceed the speed of the wind, and they move so rapidly that the sail is sheeted in to utilize a new wind direction created by the combination of air and boat speed-the "apparent wind." This new and rapidly moving breeze can form a taut and efficient airfoil out of the sail, and the boat is pulled along by the pressure differential this shape can generate. All modern rigs use this principle, but racing sails behave more like airplane wings than the older sheets of canvas that both pushed and pulled a boat across the water.

5

THE JOSEPH CONRAD

PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN

If we asked the ship to pose for an idealized portrait she couldn't do a better job than this. The light is that moving afternoon sort, when the sun breaks out to illuminate the foreground against a dark and cloudy sky; movie folks call it the magic hour. The ship leans to a fine breeze, but somehow moves high out of the water across a relatively flat sea, so her full hull can be seen, with the chainplates clear against the dark iron of her sides. Every sail draws to perfection, and even the main course obliges with its triangular shape, so we can see the perfect foresail beyond and ahead of it, curving against the solid wind. The skipper wears black, his nautical hat and proper coat silhouetted against the canvas. The two whaleboats are painted a contrasting white, so they stand out against the gray of the sky.

If there is a certain unreality about this picture, it derives in part from the fact that this was a training ship, built and run for the specific job of defining the manhood of young men who had chosen a life at sea. Sailing before the mast was doomed by the advent of steam power, and it was impossible for mature sailors to imagine a new generation of mariners who didn't know the craft and hardships of sail. Training ships were built in all countries having merchant or military fleets, and these continue in use today, far past the time of the last commercial sailing ships. Because they were created for educational purposes, these boats existed outside the brutal economic restraints that dominated the commercial world. They had a relatively comfortable budget on which to run, and used large and obedient crews to make sure every line and painted surface was in perfect order. No dirty or corrosive cargo gets loaded here, and no shells or cannonballs would ever touch the painted topsides.

The Joseph Conrad was built in Denmark as the Georg Stage, and she is afloat today under her new name at Mystic Seaport. The Conrad was not always on the right side of the surface, however, for in 1905 she was rammed by a steamer and sank with the loss of twenty-six young men. The sinking was rapid and fatal in part because the ship had no watertight bulkheads, such as the ones that kept the destroyer USS Shaw afloat (plate 67). When she was raised and rebuilt, these lifesaving improvements were added, and so this small, full-rigged ship was able to keep doing her job of preparing new generations for a life at sea.

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