Warning: The Photographer General has determined that this gallery may be habit-forming.
Graphic Antiquity was opened just a month ago in an tiny space opposite the Georgetown Post Office. It deals in original, but still inexpensive, vintage photographs. Most are late 19th-century images of places and people, famous and infamous, in America and abroad. For those who'd love to collect old photographs, but can't afford the big bucks now required in the masterpiece market, this shop can satisfy the yearning without breaking the bank.
The owners are Cliff and Michele Krainik who for 10 years have been running a successful vintage photography catalogue business from Chicago. "But since much of the material was in the East -- along with most of the customers -- it made sense to come here," says Cliff Krainik, 33, who started collecting photographs when he was 10 and has never stopped.
Though the bins and drawers are not yet completely filled with the nicely matted, carefully researched stock, there is enough here to keep the curious in thrall for hours -- including curators from the National Portrait Gallery. There are daguerreotypes, tin-types, stereographs, large albumen prints and hundreds of "Cartes de Visite." The latter, images of individuals printed from glass negatives, were in vogue worldwide from 1860 to 1890 and used as calling cards in some circles. Mathew Brady, the great Civil War photographer, set up shop on Pennsylvania Avenue where he made "cartes" for everyone from Abraham Lincoln to John Wilkes Booth and his brother, the beleaguered actor Edwin Booth, here portrayed with his daughter Edwina on his lap.
Lillie Langtry is here at $40, Oliver Wendell Holmes for $40, and Joseph Henry and Louis Pasteur at $45 each. The original Tom Thumb was photographed by Brady, as were Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker, who retired from P. T. Barnum's circus, bought a plantation, married normal unjoined sisters, and sired 22 children. This curiosity should satisfy any crowd.
Cliff Krainik -- a gold mine of information -- will tell you that Chang became a drunk and died of penumonia in 1874. When Eng realized his brother was dead, he too died of fright, as he long feared he might. Both the image and the accompanying tale go for $65.
Early photographs of Black cowboys, Indians and the American West; the Middle East and Asia; early ballon flights, and Washington in the 1890s -- all are here in images ranging in price from $35 (for a "carte" of a French journalist photographed by Nadar) to $300 (for a "carte" of Lincoln photographed by Brady). What distinguishes this material from the photography-as-art vintage market is that here the subject matter is primary, rather than the name of the photographer or assured rarity. But rarity isn't everything.
Hours at the gallery (at 1214 31st St. NW) are Tuesday through Saturday, 10:30 to 6.
A good example of what's available in that more rarefied art-photography market is the show of Lewis Hine images now at Lunn Gallery, 3243 P St. NW.
Best-known for his powerful photographs of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island in the early decades of this century -- and their subsequent lives in the New York tenements -- Hine worked from 1908 to 1930 for the National Child Labor Committee, trying to awaken public interest in child-labor abuse. To this end, the committee felt "an expert photographer could render valuable service." They were right, as this show masterfully attests.
Hine never settled for easy condemnation, and during the years he photographed the grimy tenements, farms, mines and factories where children's arms and fingers were being ground up in dangerous machinery, he never lost the ability to distance the subject sufficiently to add tension to the art.
His composition is classic, balanced, with every element reinforcing the hopelessness waste of these young lives. For example, in one dramatic photograph of a 15-year-old boy injured after working 18 hours straight, Hine lets a shaft of light do the unpleasant business of focusing on the three remaining fingers, while he renders an otherwise dignified portrait.
Not everything is downbeat: Positive images of well-dressed boys working for a New Orleans bank and young women learning to sew under the tutelage of skilled craftsmen suggest that Hine was only against dangerous, dead-end, unskilled jobs.
In some cases, numbed faces tell all -- as in "Messenger Boy," a portrait of a 14-year-old who looks decades older. Hine often hid the knockout punches in his captions. In a tenement scene, for example, an impoverished family sits around a table picking nuts, and Hine's caption reads: "Mrs. Annie De Martius . . . nursing a dirty baby while she picks nuts. Was suffering with a sore throat. Dec. 1911." Another describes "Katie Kuritzko, 7-year-old oyster shucker. Has mumps now."
These 87 intimately scaled gelatine-silver prints were among the 5,000 duplicates purchased when the NCLC archive was sold to the library of the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Prices are $300 and up. Some prints are unique, but none exists in more than six copies. With the help of young photo-historian Ronald J. Hill, the gallery has put out a catalogue of images not previously published. The show, Lunn's last before he moves downtown to 406 7th St. NW next fall, runs through the summer.