They were taken by photographers as famous as Matthew Brady, of Civil War fame, and as unknown as the chief steward of the SS Iconic rounding a stormy Cape Horn in 1924. The 100 or so images - out of a 1-million item inventory - at the Peabody Essex Museum were not chosen to document the history of maritime photography nor that of a particular region of era. The 19th- and early 20th-century images were selected with the intent that each be "an individual artifact imbued with information about human interaction with the sea," writes show curator Daniel Finamore. The aesthetics of the images were also a primary concern.
Given those criteria, we are treated with such photos as a woman gazing at the bow of a wrecked ship washed up on a Nantucket beach in 1885, slaves captured by HMS London in Zanzibar about 1880, even the baseball team o the USS Brooklyn at the turn of the century. "Capturing Poseidon: Photographic Encounters with the Sea," is at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., through April 11, 1999.