American Museum of Photography -- View Great Photographs

Faux Snow — An Online Exhibit of Manipulated Victorian Winter Photographs from the American Museum of Photography

Faux Snow — An Online Exhibit of Manipulated Victorian Winter Photographs from the American Museum of Photography

Click on the logo to visit the Museum's Home Page!

An Exhibit of Albumen Prints from Wet Plate Collodion Negatives  made in  studios but showing snow, snowballs, snowfalls and winter sports

Napoleon Sarony (New York, 1821-1896)

Helene Menzeli, Dancer

Albumen cabinet card, 4 x 5.5 inches, circa 1875

Sarony was unquestionably the leading theatrical photographer of his time. He was famous for his use of backdrops and props: “An Egyptian mummy stood guard by the door [to Sarony’s reception room], its case covered by wire screens to prevent probing and curious fingers from rending its wrappings. Stuffed birds, Russian sleighs, Chinese gods, ancient armor, pictures running the whole range of merit, were present in profusion. It was indeed ‘a dumping ground for the dealers in unsalable idols, tattered carpentry, and indigent crocodiles.'”

The Menzeli Sisters (also spelled “Manzeli” and “Menzelli”) were mainstays of the New York ballet and opera stages, but they also performed at other venues. At least one critic in Canada praised them as “the greatest ballet dancers in the country.” It was during an 1878 performance of “Beauty and the Beast” at the Academy of Music in Halifax, Nova Scotia that the sisters created a sensation: “It was the first time ladies had appeared on the Academy stage in the airy ballet costumes and many people were shocked.” Among the most incensed was the critic for the Halifax Morning Herald, who wrote in the June 6 edition,

Our protest was directed against the Menzelli Sisters chiefly, whose obtrusive legs were offensively, immodestly, and vulgarly thrust into the faces of the audience, quite unprepared for any such indecent exhibition. Talk of Spanish bull fights! Why, a Spanish bull fight would be manly and spirited, delicate and refined, compared with this atrocious assault on female modesty, this shocking exposition of the female figure in a state of contortion, and in postures which, if assumed in the street, would lead to the arrest of the performers for indecently exposing their persons.

The blanket in Sarony’s photograph takes on a strange see-through character at the lower left, emphasizing the implied nudity of Miss Menzeli’s legs. Sarony was not afraid of either nudity or overheated controversies, and it is easy to think that he relished this opportunity to delve into both –all set in the midst of a swirling fake snowstorm.

Click here for:
Next Full-Size Image ||||| Return to “Faux Snow” Gallery ||||| Museum Home Page

Description of Sarony’s studio from Photography and the American Scene by Robert Taft (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1938) pp. 346-7.
Quotations from Halifax newspapers researched in the electronic performance database of the University of New Brunswick Library

Copyright © MMIX The American Photography Museum, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
American Museum of Photography and the logo are Service Marks of The American Photography Museum, Inc.
Web Design: Becker Information Group, LLC