Vintage 1880s albumen photo of a young family living on a houseboat

From our friend, Kris:

“I recently bought a vintage albumen photograph of a young family living in (what I believe to be) a shantyboat on the banks of a frozen river. The seller told me that this particular image was included in a lot of 1880s photos of Cincinnati, and that the river is most likely the Ohio [River].

“He also explained that the other photos he acquired depict Cincinnati tenements and joined this image in portraying ‘the lowest levels of society’. It somehow saddens me that we tend to look at such pictures this way, judging people on their appearance. I personally was struck by the smile on the lady’s face and it gives me a warm feeling to see how this little family looks perfectly happy with each other. I have been collecting 19th century images for a while and I can truly say this one is one of my all-time favorites.


“I was wondering if anyone might have come across similar photos that would help me find more information about its origin. It is a most intriguing picture, and it brings back to light forgotten witnesses of times now long gone.

“Although un-credited, the photograph’s unusual content has parallels to the work of Jacob Riis, a photographer and author of How the Other Half Lives. Riis published his famous expose of New York slums in 1890 and established himself as a pioneer of photojournalism and social change. Riis and the maker of this image paved the way for later masters such as Dorothea Lange who captured the Great Depression through her lens to document the plight of migrant laborers in the 1930s.”

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