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  E. T. Whitney, Photographer

Edward Tompkins Whitney was born to Ebenezer and Esther (Patterson) Whitney in New York City on April 1, 1820. Little is known about his education or personal life until 1839, when he married New York native Catharine Chapple. A year after the invention of the daguerreotype, Mr. Whitney was introduced to what amounted to little more than a shadow captured onto a plate by inventor Sean Boyden. After settling with his family in New York City, at 38 Robinson Street, Mr. Whitney became a jeweler, along with colleagues Martin M. Lawrence and Jeremiah Gurney, both daguerreotype aficionados. Shortly after they abandoned their jewelry businesses to become full-time daguerreotypists, Mr. Whitney followed, relocating to Rochester, where he became an operator at Thomas Mercer's gallery.

In 1850, celebrated photographer J. W. Black arrived in Rochester, where he shared with Mr. Whitney the wet-plate collodion techniques he had taught Mr. Gurney and Mathew Brady. He opened his "Skylight Gallery" (specifically designed to achieve his desired lighting), and focused exclusively upon photography, which in the early days, required considerable determination and improvisation, from making gun-cotton (nitrocellulose) and gutta-percha bottles and trays from scratch to enduring the arduous process of producing wet plates that required lengthy sittings. As Mr. Whitney's prominence grew within the Rochester community, so too did his professional influence. He became a sought-after contributor to industry journals and developed a powerful alliance with Mr. Brady, frequenting his New York City studios to learn the latest photographic innovations. Unfortunately, like several of his colleagues, harsh developing chemicals resulted in serious physical maladies, which forced Mr. Whitney to sell his studio and briefly convalesce in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Once his health was restored, Mr. Whitney partnered with Andrew W. Paradise, and opened a studio at 585 Broadway in New York City. After the outbreak of the Civil War, he was contacted by Mr. Brady to take combat photographs for the Government. Along with his operator David B. Woodbury, Mr. Whitney journeyed to Manassas, Virginia to photograph the First Battle of Bull Run, equipped with a covered wagon pulled by two horses and loaded with glass, chemicals, equipment, and provisions. They would take a series of photographs (usually credited to Mathew Brady) throughout 1862 in various locations, including Yorktown, Williamsburg, Gaines's Mill, and Seven Pines. Perhaps as a dig at the profit-seeking Mathew Brady, Mr. Whitney later observed, "We endured the hardships of the camp, the difficulties of getting transportation, the sickening sights of the dead and dying, the danger of capture—and for what? To perpetuate for history the scenes of war, refusing to stop by the way to make portraits for money, which many were doing." Sadly, many of the negatives from these battlefield photographs were destroyed.

After the war, Mr. Whitney opened a business in Norwalk with a Mr. Beckwith, with whom he operated a portrait gallery from 1865 to 1871. Afterwards, he operated a solo gallery from 1873 until approximately 1879, and then in Wilton, Connecticut until 1886. His later years were spent in the employ of notorious New York railroad developer (and robber baron) Jay Gould. Seventy-two-year-old E. T. Whitney died in Norwalk, Connecticut on February 5, 1893, and was buried in Norwalk's Riverside Cemetery. Portions of a speech he once gave to a group of fledgling photographers serve as an eloquent epitaph for this talented, but sadly overlooked pioneer: "Brother photographers, what a field you have before you! Be faithful, occupy it, and, should you not get rich, you will have the satisfaction I possess, of feeling that you did the best you could to elevate the art."

2017 Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg (URL:

2017 1863 Photo Rosa, Rebecca, and Augusta, Emancipated Slave Children, from our Schoo's [sic] in New Orleans / Photo. by Whitney & Paradise, 585 Broadway, N.Y. (URL:

1893 Anthony's Photographic Bulletin, Vol. XXIV (New York: E. & H. T. Anthony & Co.), p. 128.

2014 The Brady Bunch: The Case of the Missing Gettysburg Photos (URL:

2016 Edward Tompkins Whitney Corner of State and Main Streets, Rochester, New York (URL:

2015 Family: Whitney, Edward Tompkins (1820-1893) (URL:,_Edward_Tompkins_(1820-1893)).

2017 The Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum (URL:

2017 Mathew Brady, Silas Holmes, H. Hodges, E. T. Whitney and David Woodbury (URL:

1911 The Photographic History of the Civil War, Vol. I (New York: The Review of Reviews), pp. 40-41.

1881 The Photographic Times, Vol. XI (New York: Scovill Manufacturing Co.), pp. 345-346.

1884 Photographic Times and American Photographer, Vol XIV (New York: Scovill Manufacturing Co.), pp. 122-124.

1893 Wilson's Photographic Magazine, Vol. XXX (New York: Edward L. Wilson), p. 120.

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2018-03-17 21:27:31

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