“Ah! what tales might those pictures tell if their mute lips had the power of speech!”

G.F.E. Pearsall, [Walt Whitman], September 1872 (24.2004)

Attributed to J. C. Tarisse, [Walt Whitman], ca. 1869 (2010.41.3)

“W. always objected to sending out these pictures because the photographer has immodestly painted the cheeks. N.J. 1908” (Written on verso)

Whitman disapproved of retouching negatives or prints, since the “photograph has this advantage: it lets nature have its way.” whitmanarchive.org

Mathew B. Brady, [Walt Whitman], 1869-71 (2010.41.1)

…It was while looking at this photo in 1889 that Whitman explained what he saw to be the difficulty of photographing him properly: “my red, florid, blooded complexion—”my gray dull eyes—”don’t consort well together: they require different trimmings: it is very hard to adjust the camera to both.” Whitman attributed his photogenic qualities to his relaxed and natural attitude before the camera: “I don’t fix up when I go to have the picture taken: they tell me nearly everybody does: that is a great item. . . . Startle, strikingness, brilliancy, are not factors in my appearance—”not a touch of them. As for me I think the greatest aid is in my insouciance—”my utter indifference: my going as if it meant nothing unusual. . .” whitmanarchive.org

Edy Brothers, [Walt Whitman], September 22, 1880 (2010.41.2)

Walt Whitman was born, May 31, 1819, in New York, and died, March 26, 1892, in New Jersey. In fact, he’s still here in the Garden State, at the Harleigh Cemetery, Camden.

The Whitman Archive was essential in researching the attribution of these photos and is an invaluable website and resource. A wax cylinder recording possibly of Walt Whitman reading the poem “America” can be heard here.


Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair’d in the adamant of Time.

The Walt Whitman papers can be found at the New York Public Library.

“…Whitman again stressed the illusion of a ‘peculiar life-likeness‘ in the displayed daguerreotypes. ‘What a spectacle!’ he exclaimed. ‘Ah! what tales might those pictures tell if their mute lips had the power of speech!'” (Reading American Photographs: Images As History – Mathew Brady to Walker Evans, By Alan Trachtenberg, pp. 60-70.)

Unidentified Photographer, [Articles used by Walt Whitman], ca. 1940

Unidentified Photographer, [Illustration of Walt Whitman’s burial site, Harleigh Cemetery, Camden, New Jersey], ca. 1940

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