Down East 2013 ©
Nearly a century before William Wegman and his weimaraners proved that pups in outrageous outfits could convey something amusing (and, frankly, mildly disturbing) about the connection between man and his best friend, two Lewiston photographers had already perfected Wegman’s shtick. But for Harry L. Plummer and his partner, Jennie Flagg, dressing up this dog in a bonnet and plaid shawl back in 1894 probably had more to do with drawing attention to their new photography business than it did creating fine art. The two photographers had taken over the photography accounts of Curtis & Ross just the year before (according to city directories, Curtis & Ross split off the dry-plate manufacturing side of their business and sold it to Eastman Kodak), and they must have been desperate to draw attention to their Lisbon Street studio. Rather than the purebreds that Wegman poses in locations from Rangeley to Manhattan, though, Flagg and Plummer have chosen this older (judging by the grey around its snout) mixed-breed for their model. The pet shows remarkable obedience and talent in keeping the wire-rimmed spectacles balanced on its nose and in its ability to remain perched on its hindquarters without tipping over the wooden chair. (One has to wonder if the leather upholstery survived this photo shoot unclawed.)
Although the limitations of the photographers’ glass-plate negative made much of the wording on the front page of the Lewiston Evening Journal illegible to those who would have picked up this cabinet card, the wonderful magnification properties of computers allows us to discern both the date — Tuesday, August 28, 1894 — and several of the headlines and advertisements. The Royal Baking Powder Company, on the far right of the page, occupied the same premium location above the fold that was responsible for making it into one of the country’s most recognizable brands. One headline on the left side of this 5 p.m. edition discussed a circus’ arrival — always a popular event in the Twin Cities — while another at center trumpeted “Republican Enthusiasm” for the upcoming election.
Finally, these two clever photographers’ composition has been given an inadvertent boost by the most expansive article on the front page, a story that details not the goings-on in Lewiston but rather the “Defeat after Defeat” of French troops battling Tuareg nomads near Timbuktu. For people living in Lewiston around the turn of the century, a story of war from the depths of the Sahara would surely have seemed as out of place as a photograph of a dog dressed up as an old woman.