Smithsonian

Another Look (Street)

Smithsonian photography curator Merry Foresta recommends looking closely at the edges of a photograph. They are the borders between what we choose to include in the picture and what we choose to leave out.

It looks as if the photographer meant to include these things. They are dovecotes, where carrier pigeons were kept. The telegraph came to San Francisco around the time of this picture. Before, pigeons were used to carry messages.

Look! Here is one of the new telegraph poles.

Look! This building is the headquarters of the Pacific Express, the brand-new telegraph company.

Here is a Chinese immigrant in a rickshaw. Rickshaw drivers delivered telegraph messages around San Francisco.

San Francisco was a booming town in the 1850s. It is ten till three in the afternoon. Where is everybody?

Merry thinks this blur is a group of pedestrians who are moving too quickly to be seen. The exposure time for this picture was about fifteen seconds.

Shadow are cast by the buildings on the left. What might account for this isolated shadow?

Actually, it is not a shadow. It is probably an image of the buggy that is moving away from us. The buggy probably stopped there just long enough to show up as a dark spot.

The picture seems to tell the story of a new technology, the telegraph, replacing an old means of communication, the pigeon. Who would want to tell this story? Probably not someone in the pigeon business.

A method for printing photographs was invented in the 1850s. Photos could now be used for many purposes. The telegraph company probably hired the photographer. The picture may have been used as an advertisement.