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Photos and Engravings of Walt Whitman

Note: These images and their descriptions are borrowed from the much larger collection at the Walt Whitman Hypertext Archive


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1848. Photographer unknown. Courtesy Walt Whitman House, Camden, New Jersey. This daguerreotype was made in New Orleans, during Whitman's residence there between February and May, 1848, while he worked on the New Orleans Crescent.
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July, 1854. Steel engraving by Samuel Hollyer of daguerreotype by Gabriel Harrison (original daguerreotype lost). Courtesy of the Bayley Collection, Ohio Wesleyan University. Walt Whitman said, "The worst thing about this is, that I look so damned flamboyant--as if I was hurling bolts at somebody--full of mad oaths--saying defiantly, to hell with you!" He also worried about the portrait because "Many people think the dominant quality in Harrison's picture is its sadness," but he nevertheless liked the portrait "because it is natural, honest, easy: as spontaneous as you are, as I am, this instant, as we talk together." Whitman guessed that at the time of this portrait he weighed "about a hundred and sixty-five or thereabouts: I formerly lacked in flesh, though I was not thin. . . ." The engraving appeared in the 1855 and 1856 editions of Leaves of Grass, then again in the 1876 and 1881-1882 (and following) editions, as well as--in a cropped version--in William Michael Rossetti's 1869 British edition of Walt Whitman's poems. In reprinting it in the 1881 edition, Whitman insisted on its facing "Song of Myself" because the portrait "is involved as part of the poem." Some of Whitman's friends did not share his enthusiasm for the image; William Sloane Kennedy, for example, hoped "that this repulsive, loaferish portrait, with its sensual mouth, can be dropped from future editions, or be accompanied by other and better ones that show the mature man, and not merely the defiant young revolter of thirty-seven, with a very large chip on his shoulder, no suspenders to his trousers, and his hat very much on one side." Whitman recalled how, when the 1855 Leaves of Grass came out, the portrait "was much hatchelled by the fellows at the time--war was waged on it: it passed through a great fire of criticism." William O'Connor liked it, Whitman said, "because of its portrayal of the proletarian--the carpenter, builder, mason, mechanic," but Whitman didn't share his view. 
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About 1862. Mathew Brady, New York. Courtesy Alderman Library, University of Virginia. Whitman described this photo as having "a sort of Moses in the burning bush look." Talking about this photo in 1888, Whitman said, "Somebody used to say I sometimes wore the face of a man who was sorry for the world. Is this my sorry face? I am not sorry--I am glad--for the world." "This picture was much better when it was taken--it has faded out," Whitman noted; "I always rather favored it." In an 1863 notebook, Whitman records receiving photos from Brady.
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About 1866. Mathew Brady, Washington. Courtesy Ohio Wesleyan University, Bayley Collection. Whitman recalled that this was one of Anne Gilchrist's favorite photos, though Whitman worried about "a suspicion of theatricality in it." "I have no great admiration for the picture myself," Whitman noted; "it is one of many, only--not many in one: the sort of picture useful in totaling a man but not a total in itself." The photo, Whitman said, "is not permanent--will not last: it is too self satisfied."
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1869? Photographer unknown: Oscar Lion Collection, New York Public Library, ascribes it to E. F. Hunt, Camden, NJ, but this seems too early for a Camden photo.  Courtesy Gay Wilson Allen. The notebook referred to in #24 above also contains notes for a poem about a photograph Whitman refers to as "Tarisse's head," and in Whitman's 1867-1875 address notebook, he records a "Mr. Leybold J. C. Tarisse 424 Penn av. bet 4th & 6th sts." In an 1869 Washington Chronicle article, Whitman, describing the best photographs of himself, noted that "Mssrs. Seybold & Tarisse, on the Avenue, below Sixth, have a good head, just taken, very strong in shade and light." The notes for the poem suggest this might be the portrait being described: "From Shadows, deep & dark I peer Out." William Kurtz was a master of shadow in his portraits, which gained a reputation of being in the "Rembrandt style." Saunders notes that Whitman did not care for this photo because it was tinted (Whitman disapproved of retouching negatives, since the "photograph has this advantage: it lets nature have its way").
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1871. Henry Ulke and Brothers, Washington, D.C.  Courtesy Ohio Wesleyan University, Bayley Collection. Whitman spoke of people's reaction to this photo, "Some of them say my face there has a rogue in it. [William] O'Connor called it my sea-captain face. Some newspaper got hold of a copy of the photograph and said it bore out the notion that Walt Whitman was a sensualist. I offered one to a woman in Washington. She said she'd rather have a picture that had more love in it. It's a little rough and tumble, but it's not a face I could hate."
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