Poe  Portraits
Daguerre by Matthew Brady
versus 'Ultima Thule' by Edwin B.Manchester


Poe daguerre by Matthew Brady
Poe daguerre by Matthew Brady,
painted by John M. Fasano
'Ultima Thule' by Edwin B.Manchester
'Ultima Thule'
by Edwin B.Manchester


The Poe Daguerre by Matthew Brady is in many ways the best daguerre of Poe ever taken. There has been some suspicion that Matthew Brady somehow 'found the photo,' added it to his list of famous sitters, but that Brady did not take the photo at his studios. Whether Poe did sit for Matthew Brady himself is unknowable. It has been asserted that Brady's Daguerre is really a revised version of the well known, 'Ultima Thule' Daguerre of Poe, pictured above.

It is certainly true that both photos are close. However, Poe's brow seems much more furrowed in the 'Ultima Thule' portrait; and very peaceful and relaxed in the Brady photo, and that is not something that any amount of the kind of photographic techniques of the time could have totally erased. Poe does indeed wear precisely the same kind of neck tie, or even the same neck tie, tied the same way in both portraits. However, the 'Ultima Thule' portrait shows Poe with the top buttons of his jacket open, while in the Brady daguerre his jacket is buttoned to the very top. The same is true of the bottom buttons. This gives Poe a slightly more disheveled appearance in the 'Ultima Thule' daguerre.

Poe's hairstyle is also quite different in both daguerres. In the 'Ultima Thule' daguerre Poe's hair has been combed towards his face, and indeed, hair is quite visible in the daguerre as actually brushed onto Poe's forehead. Also, Poe's hair appears to have been somewhat 'slicked down' in the Ultima Thule daguerre. In the Brady daguerre, however-his hair is very naturally curly, implying no 'wetting the hair.' The hairline in the Brady shot is different, as well-with Poe's hair seemingly combed neatly so as not to cover his expansive forehead. In the Ultima Thule Daguerre, Poe's hair does indeed cover part of his forehead, and again, seems to have been brushed that way deliberately.

Yes, it is indeed possible that Brady's technicians did have the techniques to take one quite different photograph, and not only hugely alter Poe's features by taking out the strain, the enormous bags under Poe's eyes, the creases in his face, yes. All that is quite plausible. But that they also 'doctored' Poe's hair, the way he buttoned his jacket, and perhaps most tellingly, Poe's very expression seems to me impossible. Even if they had managed to change Poe's eyebrows from the 'caterpillar like' look of the 'Ultima Thule' photo, it seems impossible that they, or anyone, could have changed the look in Poe's eyes. Even using sophisticated Photo Shop techniques from our own day, it would be very unlikely to be able to literally change the expression in someone's eyes without the photo becoming a hopeless fraud.

I believe the best 'test' for determining whether Brady's portrait of Poe is or is not a clever 'trick photo' taken from a previous daguerre must be for the individual to decide. This is why I print both photos-so that you can form you own opinion. Look at Poe's eyes in the Ultima Thule photo; carefully observe the expression in those eyes; and then look at the Brady Daguerre. I see no resemblance whatsoever between the look in Poe's eyes in the Brady Daguerre and the 'Ultima Thule' Daguerre.

For me, this is enough to call the Brady photograph an original photo of Poe, quite distinct from the 'Ultima Thule' daguerre.



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