D Ay ’ s r E F l E C t i o N s o N t H E H A r B o r Hannah Jaffe ’16
and and water become intertwined in Fred Holland Day’s expressive, Prussian blue photograph little good Harbor, Maine (fig. 28). in this cyanotype, there are passages in which the trees and shrubbery on the land cannot be discerned from their reflection in the water beneath them; in other passages, the reflections have more distinct forms than the objects they mirror. little good Harbor served as a retreat for Day and his friends because of its isolation, far from the tumult of city life. He explored the idea of retreat in this photograph by transforming the harbor’s natural landscape into a sublime alternate reality. the ethereal quality of this cyanotype brings the viewer into another world just as its setting did for Day. Born in Norwood, Massachusetts, in 1864, Day was a philanthropist, photographer, publisher, and prominent figure in the Arts and Crafts movement. in 1893 he established his own publishing company, bringing into print books by authors such as oscar Wilde and louise imogen guiney, one of his close friends.1 in the 1880s and 1890s, he made many of his artworld connections and friendships, including a relationship with the visionists, a group of aspiring artists and writers.2 His friends from those formative years eventually began to accompany him on trips to Five islands, Maine, where they sought retreat and experimented with art and photography. Day’s affinity for Five islands began in 1897, when guiney bought a home in the harbor. Naming it “Castle guiney,” Day and his circle regarded their friend’s home as a sanctuary away from the frenzy and chaos of city life. in a letter to Day, guiney described little good Harbor as a “wild place which i shall dearly love until it begins to civilize.” 3 Day’s cyanotype little good Harbor, Maine frames the view from the inlet of the harbor out toward the larger expanse of water. A house sits atop the hill in the upper left corner as a boat rests in the water beneath it. According to art historian Patricia J. Fanning, the house is likely guiney’s, bought by Day in 1909. the lack of pergola and no evidence of a dock under construction indicate that this photograph was taken before Day began work on the property in 1910; such details help to better approximate a date for the
photograph.4 trees and shrubbery surround Castle guiney, and other islands can be seen in the distance. the harbor appears calm yet full of life with its dynamic forms and abundance of greenery. it was this setting that served as a source of inspiration for Day and functioned as a backdrop in many of his photographs. As one of the first Pictorialists—a group of photographers who sought to create expressive photographs that could be considered fine art—he valued the ethereal quality of little good Harbor. the harbor lifted his photographs beyond the realm of the quotidian and transformed them into an expressive Arcadia as he garnished his nude male sitters with shepherd’s staffs, bows, arrows, and grapes. Many of these sitters also had experience beyond the camera; for example, Day’s friend Clarence White established a school for photography in little good Harbor, and several of Day’s sitters attended.5 little good Harbor was therefore the home for a variety of artists, from amateur photographers such as White’s students to writers such as guiney. it was a world detached from regular life for Day, his friends, and his sitters. Day’s cyanotype of this landscape captures the ethereal quality that is characteristic of Five islands. Just as the place does, this cyanotype transcends the humdrum and discord of life and situates the viewer in a world that eclipses reality. the hazy quality of the image gives the entire photograph the appearance of a reflection. this, in combination with its blue hue, makes the cyanotype appear as though it has been submerged in water. in the upper left side of the image, the land and its reflection in the water merge together and form a misty triangular shape, which creates balance in the composition, as another triangular shape appears in the bottom right corner. little good Harbor served as a peaceful retreat for its visitors, and this print is no different; the compositional balance that exists within the photograph soothes the viewer. this tranquility works in tandem with the celestial qualities of the image, submerging the viewer into a universe beyond the photograph.
Fig. 28: Fred Holland Day, American, 1864-1933, little good Harbor, Maine, 1905-1912, cyanotype, Worcester Art Museum, sarah C. garver Fund, 2015.42 56
Published on Feb 10, 2016
Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period Edited by Nancy Kathryn Burns, Assistant Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Kristina Wilson...