Issue #191  4/1/2012
Discovery of 18th-Century Photography Hoard Found in Peekskill, NY Basement

By Al B. Umen

(edited from an A&P wire dispatch)

A major discovery that is bound to shake up the photographic world was revealed when a trove of photographs were found to be the earliest known, which were dated "1788". The photographs were found in the basement of Earl and Betsy Grimsby of Peekskill, NY. Unfortunately, they didn't have an attic so that the Grimsby's had to discover the pictures in the basement.

Mr. Grimsby, a retired henchman and amateur yodeler, was in his basement wood shop when he noticed a brick askew in the wall. With his curiosity piqued (and Earl rarely piqued) he removed the brick to discover what he would later label as "Earlytypes," not to be confused with the Fresh Prince (or prints) from Deauville.

He found 15 images of the same gentleman wearing a tricorn hat and pointing his index finger vigorously at the camera. On the verso is the date "1788" and the name of the artist, Hobbs Burlew. The pictures are on sanded shingles along with a written formula of "one part silver nitrate, one part egg white (easy over), and an undecipherable sentence that reads like "Bacon? Why should I order bacon now?"

Recent research shows that Mr. Burlew (1755-1789), a Methodist actor and preacher, dabbled in the black arts, but only at night when it was very dark. An article in the newspaper of record for the period, "Ye Olde Goode Times", mentioned that the Good Rev. Burlew liked to perform conjuring tricks, especially with his index finger. Further research will have to discover what he did with the other fingers. It goes on to say that he was busily at work in his basement (many people of the 18th century worked in basements, some in cellars) conceiving the idea of fixing the shadows if they ever needed repairs.

Historians believe that Burlew came up with idea of photography after his subscription to the "Camera Obscura and Other Fun Things to Do" in the "Dark Quarterly" ran out.

We are not sure how the actual image was created on a shingle, but early notes have the artist toying with poultry products and other forms of livestock in attempt to "capture those damned shadows – but they keep moving!" That last passage was found in a scribbled, faded note found in Burlew's britches that was dated March 19, 1788.

Burlew was to die shortly after his great discovery and, thankfully, not before. His last words were recorded by his wife Annabelle: "Is it blasphemous to say 'F' Stop?"

The cache of Earlytypes will be donated by the Grimsbys to the Library of Congress in exchange for dropping their overdue book fees, although the Grimsbys did tell us that a certain French auction house did offer to put them up for sale.