Thursday, March 27, 2014


I collect 19th and early 20th century U.S. cabinet cards.  I know people associate me with snapshot collecting, but as the years have passed since the 2007 D.C. show at the National Gallery which used my collection to tell the story (or a story) of the history of the snapshot, I have searched for another area which might yield some interesting finds and which there would perhaps be less competition for images.  I found it in cabinet cards. The area is rich in content, understudied, undervalued (generally), and underappreciated (mostly). There is no book written in English which deals exclusively with the cabinet card and its history. Not a one. Nada. 

My thought would be that if ever a museum show is mounted using as its basis my cabinet card collection (or images from many different cabinet card collectors) , the last room or final wall would be devoted to how contemporary artists are using this 19th century photo medium as the groundwork for creating their own art. I am a big proponent of the idea that some collections find me, I don’t actively look for them. That is the case with altered cabinet cards. I didn’t know such work existed and then I started seeing them mentioned on Facebook, etc. And I became intrigued and starting purchasing a few as a natural offshoot of my collecting the originals.  People make contemporary dags, cyanotypes, etc., but the cabinet card is the only 19th century photo medium I know where artists use the physical object as the basis of creating something new and exciting.  In other words, I don’t see or hear of many people taking an old tintype and painting on it (although it has been done to a limited degree).  And while there are altered CDVs, the larger size of the cabinet card offers a richer canvas for creativity.  Going down this road has meant dealing with fine art galleries as some of the artists included here are represented by galleries and don’t sell their work outright to collectors. This work is not sold as photography, but as painted or collage pieces using the photo object as its basis. 

So without further ado, I would like to share some examples of what artists are doing with the cabinet card.  And I should note that this isn’t every artist or altered cabinet card I own, but a representative sample. There are a few artists who are still working on pieces which will hopefully end up in my collection.

 Artist:  Anne La Fever

Artist:  Tom Butler
He is represented in the U.S. by Aucocisco Gallery in Portland, Maine.  His work was recently the subject of a show there entitled "Inner Worlds."  See

Artist:  Warren Munzel

Artist:  Bill Lee

Artist:  Mike Wellins

Artist:  Jonah Samson

Artist:  Amy Johnquest

Artist:  Alex Gross
His work is represented by the Jonathan LeVine Gallery in NYC.
This piece is entitled "Legolas."

Artist:  Colin Batty
Batty's work will be featured in a show at The Peculiarium (founded by Mike Wellins who is one of the artists featured here) in Portland, Oregon, from 4/2 - 5/15/2014

Artist:  Lynn Skordal

Artist:  Marianne Clancy
Encaustic (Heated beeswax to which colored pigments are added).

Artist:  Margaret Meehan
From her "Barnburners" series
Gouache and vintage glitter glass

Artist:  Rachel Phillips
From her "Divinations" series
Note website and process for making this work on the featured folder for the work above.  Her cabinet card art will be featured in an exhibition in July at Jack Fischer Gallery in San Francisco.


  1. These are amazing....thanks for sharing!

  2. Wonderful collection, a treat to see these all together!

  3. Wow~ so thrilled to be in the company of all these wonderful altered photo artists. Thank you Robert, for including me. I loved your write up and choices..:-) and thanks Stacy for providing this forum and wonderful ongoing online treat for all of us photo lovers!

  4. I hope there is no (unbeknownst to the artist) historical value to this cards, I would prefer an artistically altered COPY of the original. Just my $0.02.

  5. Great collection, Robert! Are there any examples from the 19th century of this kind of work? THAT would be extra cool!

  6. I would love to share with you some of the cabinet cards I just completed! I love giving these old photographs new life. Nice collection here!