Why aren't there more photographs?
February 22, 2019 9:20 PM   Subscribe

What are some examples of famous people/events/etc that are surprisingly under-represented in photographs? For example, there are only two surviving photographs of Chopin. What are some other important subjects that we don't have many photos of? (Speaking after the advent of photography, of course.)
posted by mermaidcafe to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Vincent Van Gogh. Two photos thought to be of him as a child are now suspected to be of his brother Theo. There's possibly one of Vincent as an adult (and it does look strongly like some of his painted self-portraits), but it's not authenticated.
posted by lisa g at 9:59 PM on February 22, 2019

Per Jessamyn's Wikipedia effort as described in this AskMe, a large percentage of notable non-white-cis-male people were either not photographed, the photographs didn't survive, or digitization efforts haven't brought them to prominence.
posted by XMLicious at 10:25 PM on February 22, 2019 [8 favorites]

I don't think there are any photos of Mary Shelley.

When Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House, despite the presence of several war correspondents and a photo taken of soldiers posing in front of the building, there were no photos taken of the meeting itself.
posted by theory at 11:27 PM on February 22, 2019

There's only one confirmed photo of Emily Dickinson (another possible one turned up a few years ago but I don't think it's been authenticated).

John Willis Menard, the first African-American elected to the US House of Representatives (he was denied his seat), has only one photo.

There's one photo of Chief Seattle and one photo of Blind Lemon Jefferson.
posted by theory at 11:47 PM on February 22, 2019

Best answer: The iceberg that (probably) sank the Titanic

This is the only confirmed authentic photograph of Billy the Kid; the Wikipedia article goes into more detail on other possibilities.

The only living photograph of the (now-extinct) quagga

Lincoln at Gettysburg

And here's an Oddee.com article on more "one of a kind" photos, including Einstein's original lecture on e=mc^2, "Father of the Delta Blues" Charley Patton, and the man who killed Houdini.

(All found by googling variations on "only known/surviving photo")
posted by Rhaomi at 12:57 AM on February 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

While the Napoleonic Wars pre-dated photography there are a few photos of the veterans who fought in the war in their Napoleonic uniforms captured in 1858.

And while Napoleon died before photography was invented; The Duke of Wellington was photographed at the age of 75 in 1844.
posted by Mitheral at 1:06 AM on February 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

There seem to only be two photographs of Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:14 AM on February 23, 2019

Best answer: Not everyone agrees about how many photographs of Delta blues musician Robert Johnson exist, but it's not many.
posted by box at 8:01 AM on February 23, 2019

Best answer: There are very few photographs of Neil Armstrong walking on the Moon. There is video of him, but hardly any photos. All the famous photos from Apollo 11 on the Moon feature Buzz Aldrin in the shot. Despite what people may claim, it was simply because the mission plan had Armstrong holding the camera for most of the EVA.
posted by bondcliff at 8:06 AM on February 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

There aren't many photos of Sarah Winchester.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:43 AM on February 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Not photographs, but: There are only snippets of Isadora Duncan on film, as she usually refused to be filmed. There's also practically nothing of Nijinsky.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 3:03 PM on February 23, 2019

Everyone's heard about when the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire in 1969. You've probably seen the one photo that's been used over and over to depict the event. Turns out there is no known photo of the 1969 fire--the one that's always shown was from an earlier fire (from 1959 I think), and in fact the river already had a long history of catching fire for many years before that: at least 13 times some section caught fire, since 1868.
posted by qurlyjoe at 7:08 PM on February 23, 2019 [7 favorites]

Crazy Horse, of course. He had his reasons.
posted by BWA at 10:08 AM on February 24, 2019

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