Victorian family photographs are always compelling, especially if
they are portraits of our own ancestors, but also for the imagined
lives of their unknown subjects. They constitute a unique domestic
record, giving an invaluable insight into ordinary lives during the
second half of the nineteenth century. This book is the first
comprehensive study of Victorian portrait photography, discussing
both its technical innovations and its cultural conventions. It
investigates in depth the history of the commercial photographer in
Britain between the early 1840s, when the first high street studios
opened, and 1900. During these years portraits sold in their
millions to a mass market, initiating a trend which spread
worldwide. The story of portrait photography in Britain starts with
the publication of the daguerreotype process in France in 1839,
which established photography as an alternative to painted
portraiture. At first photographers were strongly influenced by
painting traditions, and expression, pose, backgrounds and
accessories imitated art rather than exploiting the realism of the
new genre. By the 1860s the small carte de visite format of
portraits meant that cheap photographs could be exchanged between
family and friends. The market exploded and photographic studios
proliferated, recording children from christening gown to long
trousers, marriage partners in all their finery, prestigious
personal achievements and even loved ones in post mortem images.
The photographic studio was under the strict control of the
photographer, who mastered his subjects as a painter would have
done, controlling their serious facial expressions, often dressing
them for the part or clamping their heads andbodies still in
outrageous contraptions in order to allow for the exposures.
Travelling studios were set up in caravans transported to outlying
parts of the country, and itinerant photographers took portraits on
street corners, outside public houses, at fairgrounds and at the
seaside. Towards the end of the century gravity of demeanour began
to give way to smiles, and the 'poke your head through' backdrop
paved the way for our own convention in family photographs - the
ear-to-ear grin. This fascinating book tells an invaluable and
amusing history of Victorian portrait photography. It is
extensively illustrated with a great variety of appealing
portraits, with captions explaining the pictures and often giving
biographical details of the characters who gaze at us from another
era. It also provides details for the general reader of the history
and identification of photographs, explaining the context and
meaning of the portraits handed down to us from our
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