History of Photography

History of Photography

A World History of Photography

The Story Behind the Pictures 1827-1991

Photographers' Dictionary
































Chapter 2









Portraits on Paper: Collodion/Albumen

For commercial portraitists, Frederick Scott Archer's invention of the collodion negative seemed at first to solve all problems. The glass plate made possible both sharp definition and easy duplication of numbers of prints on paper from one negative, while the awkward chemical procedures that the wet-plate process entailed were minimized in a studio setting. Collodion opened up an era of commercial expansion, attracting to the profession many pho-tographers who resorted to all manner of inducements to entice sitters—among them elegantly appointed studios; likenesses to be printed on porcelain, fabric, and other unusual substances, as well as on paper; or set into jewelry; photosculpture; and the most popular caprice of them all—the carte-de-visite.

But before public acceptance of paper portraiture was established, photographers were occupied for a number of years with a half-way process, in which the collodion glass negative was used to create a one-of-a-kind image that was less costly than the daguerreotype. While both Talbot and Archer had been aware that a bleached or underexposed glass negative could be converted to a positive by backing the glass with opaque material (paper or fabric) or varnish (pi. no. 53), the patent for this anomaly was taken out by an American, James Ambrose Cutting, in 1854. Called ambrotypes in the United States and collodion positives in Great Britain, these glass images were made in the same size as daguerreotypes and were similarly treated— hand-colored, framed behind glass, and housed in a slim case. In an unusual cultural lag, Japanese photographers adopted and used this technique until the turn of the century, long after it had been discarded in Europe and the United States. Framed in traditional kiriwood boxes, the portraits were commissioned by Japanese sitters rather than intended for sale to foreign visitors.

By the mid-1850s, when this process was supplanting the metal image in Europe (though not yet in the United States), the case-making industry was expanding. The earliest daguerreotypes had been enclosed in cases of papier mache or wood covered with embossed paper or leather and usually were lined with silk, in Europe and velvet in the United States, when they were not encased in lockets, brooches, and watchcases. In 1854, the "union" case was introduced. Made in the United States of a mixture of sawdust and shellac, these early thermoplastic holders were exported globally, eventually becoming available in a choice of about 800 different molded designs.

The tintype, even less expensive than the ambrotype (to which it was technically similar), was patented in 1856 by an American professor at Kenyon College in Ohio. Like die daguerreotype, it was a one-of-a-kind image on a varnished metal plate (iron instead of silvered copper) that had been coated with black lacquer and sensitized collodion. Dull gray in tone without the sheen of the mirrorlike daguerreotype, the tintype was both lightweight and cheap, making it an ideal form for travelers and Civil War soldiers, many of whom were pictured in their encampments by roving photographers with wagon darkrooms.

The combination of a negative on glass coated with sensitized collodion and a print on paper coated with sensitized albumen—the collodion/albumen process— made commercial portraiture possible on a previously undreamed-of scale, despite the fact that the prints themselves were subject to fading and discoloration. From the 1850s until the 1880s, studios in the major capitals of the world invested in ever-more elegant and unusual furnishings in order to attract a well-paying clientele. As the display of status through attire and props grew more prominent, the goal of revealing character became secondary, and portraits often seemed merely to be topographies of face and body, "dull, dead, unfeeling, inauspicious," as expressed in the words of the time.

The skillful handling of pose, lighting, props, and decor visible in the works of the highly regarded European portraitists Franz Hanfstaengl, Antoine Samuel Adam-Salomon, and Camille Silvy became models for emulation. Hanfstaengl, already renowned as a lithographer, opened a photographic art studio in Munich in 1853. He soon won acclaim internationally for the tasteful poses, modulated lighting, and exceptional richness of his prints on toned albumen paper, as exemplified by Man with Hat (pi. no. 54). Hanfstaengl's earlier work—exhibited at the 1855 Exposition Universelle in Paris, where it was criticized for extensive retouching on the negative—is believed to have inspired Adam-Salomon to change his profession from sculptor to photographer. The poses (modeled on antique sculpture) preferred by Adam-Salomon and his penchant for luxurious fabrics and props appealed to the materialistic French bourgeoisie of the Second Empire. The photographer's heavy hand with the retouching brush—the only thing considered disagreeable about his work—is apparent in the lighter tonality behind the figure in this image of his daughter (pi. no. 55).

53. Unknown Photographer (American). Untitled Portrait, c. 1858.
Ambrotype with backing partially removed to show positive and negative effect.
Gemsheim Collection, Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin.

54. FRANZ HANFSTAENGL. Man with Hat, 1857. Salt print.
Agfa-Gevaert Foto-Historama, Cologne, Germany.

55. ANTOINE SAMUEL ADAM-SALOMON. Portrait of a Girl, c. 1862.
Albumen print. Daniel Wolf, Inc., New York.

Besides attesting to the sitter's status, props and poses could offer clues to personality, enriching the image psychologically and visually. The oval picture frame used coyly as a lorgnette and the revealing drapery in the portrait of the Countess Castiglione (pi. no. 56) by Louis Pierson, a partner in the Paris studio of Mayer Brothers and Pierson, suggest the seductive personality of Napoleon Ill's mistress (who was rumored to be an Italian spy). Oscar Gustav Rejlander's portrait of Lewis Carroll (the Reverend Charles L. Dodgson—pi. no. 57), which depicts the author of Alice in Wonderland holding a lens and polishing cloth, suggests through his expression and demeanor the sense of propriety that Carroll believed he was bringing to his photography. This work is one of Rejlander's numerous portraits, which include images of friends as well as amusing views of himself, his female companion, and the children who figured in the genre scenes for which he is better known (pl. no. 266).

As studio photography preempted the role of the portrait painter, the aesthetic standards of handmade likenesses were embraced by the photographic portraitists. Manuals appeared early in the daguerreotype era and continued through the collodion period (and into the 20th century), giving directions for appropriate dress and the correct colors to be worn to take advantage of the limited sensitivity of daguerreotype and glass plates. Included also were instructions for the proper attitudes that sitters should assume when posing. Because the public still believed that hand-painted portraits were more prestigious than photographs, likenesses often were painted over in watercolors, oils, or pastels, without entirely obliterating the underlying trace of the camera image, as in a typical example (pi. no. 332) from the studio of T. Z. Vogel and C. Reichardt, in Venice.

Meanwhile, the professional portrait painter, aware of the public appetite for exactitude, found the photograph a convenient crutch, not just for copying the features but actually for painting upon. Projection from glass positives to canvas was possible as early as 1853; shortly afterward, several versions of solar projection enlargers—including one patented in 1857 by David Woodward, a professor of fine arts in Baltimore—simplified enlargement onto sensitized paper and canvas. When partially developed, the image could be completely covered with paint—as X-rays have disclosed was the case in the life-size painted portrait of Lincoln (pi. no. 58) by Alexander Francois. This practice, common in the last half of the 19th century, was not considered reprehensible because in die view of many painters the role of photography was to be the artist's helpmate in creative handwork. Although such photographic "underpainting'' was rarely acknowledged, the desire for verisimilitude on the part of painter and public and the hope for artistic status on the part of the photographer resulted in a hybrid form of portraiture—part photochemical and part handwork.

56. LOUIS PIERSON. Countess Castiglione, c. 1860.
Albumen print (previously attributed to Adolphe Braun).
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; David Hunter McAlpin Fund, 1947.

Pierre-Louis Pierson  (see collection)


In 1844 Pierre-Louis Pierson began operating a studio in Paris that specialized in hand-colored daguerreotypes. In 1855 he entered into a partnership with Léopold Ernest and Louis Frederic Mayer, who also ran a daguerreotype studio. The Mayers had been named "Photographers of His Majesty the Emperor" by Napoleon III the year before Pierson joined them. Although the studios remained at separate addresses, Pierson and the Mayers began to distribute their images under the joint title "Mayer et Pierson," and together they became the leading society photographers in Paris.
Pierson's 1861 photographs of the family and court of Napoleon III sold very well to the public. Pierson and Leopold Mayer soon opened another studio in Brussels, Belgium, and began photographing other European royalty. After Mayer's retirement in 1878, Pierson went into business with his son-in-law Gaston Braun, whose father was the photographer Adolphe Braun.

LOUIS PIERSON. The Gaze, 1856–57
Albumen silver print
Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York


La comtesse de Castiglione

LOUIS PIERSON. La comtesse de Castiglione




LOUIS PIERSON. Reflet de Miroir de Police Vaurien
Profil dans la glace des deux bras de la Police


57. OSCAR GUSTAV REJLANDER. Lewis Carroll (Rev. Charles L. Dodgson), March 28,1863.
Albumen print. Gernsheim Collection, Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin.

58. ALEXANDER FRANCOIS. Abraham Lincoln, n.d. Oil on canvas.
Collection George R. Rinhart.

Carte-de-visite and Celebrity Portraits

With the possibility of endless replication from the collodion negative, it was only a matter of time before a pocket-size paper portrait was devised. Suggestions along this line, made by several photographers in Europe and the United States, included the substitution of a likeness for the name and address on a calling card—the traditional manner of introducing oneself among middle- and upper-class gentry—and the affixing of small portraits to licenses, passports, entry tickets, and other documents of a social nature. However, Andre Adolphe Disderi, a photographer of both portraits and genre scenes who also was active in improving processes and formulating aesthetic standards, patented the carte-de-visite portrait in 1854. This small image—3 1/2 x 21/2 inches, mounted on a slightly larger card—was produced by taking eight exposures during one sitting, using an ingenious sliding plate holder in a camera equipped with four lenses and a vertical and horizontal septum (pi. no. 226). A full-length view of the figure in more natural and relaxed positions became possible, and it was not necessary for each pose to be exactly the same, as can be seen in an uncut sheet of carte-de-visite portraits taken by Disderi (pi. no. 59).

The reasons why the carte portraits became so enormously popular after 1859 are not entirely clear, but for a considerable part of the next decade this inexpensive format captured the public imagination in much the same way the stereograph view had. Portrait studios every-where—in major cities and provincial villages—turned out millions of full- and bust-length images of working and trades people as well as of members of the bourgeoisie and aristocracy'. These could be sold inexpensively because unskilled labor cut the images apart after processing and pasted them on mounts on which trademarks or logos of the maker appeared either on the front of the card, discreetly placed below the image, or on the reverse. Frequently, elaborate displays of type and graphic art suggested the connections between photography and painting. Backgrounds still included painted gardens, balustrades, drapery swags, and furniture, but sitters also were posed against undecoratcd walls, and vignetting—in which the background was removed—was not uncommon. Adults displayed the tools of their trade, the marks of their pro-fession, and the emblems of their rank; children were shown with toys; and attention was paid to women's attire and hair arrangements. Nevertheless, apart from the informality of pose that imbues some of these images with a degree of freshness, carte portraits offered little compass for an imaginative approach to pose and lighting as a means of evoking character.

As their popularity continued, famous works of art, well-known monuments, portraits of celebrities and of fashionably attired women (at times pirated and reproduced from other cartes rather than from the original collodion negative) appeared on the market. That the wide dispersal of celebrity images had consequences beyor that of a pleasant pastime can be seen in the fact that already in the 1860s such images influenced the course of a public career. Both the moderately gifted Jenny Lind and the unexceptional Lola Montez became cult figures in the United States largely owing to their promotion through carte portraits. Lincoln is said to have ascribed his election to the Presidency at least in part to Brady's carte of him when he still was an unknown, and both the French and British Royal families permitted the sales of carte portraits of themselves; on the death of Prince Albert, for example. 70,000 likenesses of Queen Victoria's consort were sold. Cartes also took over the function formerly performed by lithographs and engravings in popularizing types of female beauty and fashionable attire. Silvy, a French photographer of artistic taste who in 1859 opened a studio in his lavishly decorated London residence, specialized in posing his upper-class sitters in front of mirrors so that the softly modulated lighting not only called attention to attire and hairstyle—fore and aft, so to speak—but surrounded them also with an aura of luxuriousness.

Cartes were avidly collected and exchanged, with ornate albums and special holders manufactured to satisfy the demand for gimmickry connected with the fad. This activity received a boost from the enthusiasm of Queen Victoria, who accumulated more than one hundred albums of portraits of European royalty and distinguished personages. Indeed, the British royal family was so taken with photography that they not only commissioned numberless portraits but purchased genre images, sent photographs as state gifts, underwrote photographic ventures, and were patrons of The Photographic Society; in addition they installed a darkroom for their own use in Windsor Castle. British and French monarchs staunchly supported photography in general because it represented progress in the chemical sciences, which was emblematic of the prosperity brought to their respective nations, and also because the easily comprehended imagery accorded with the taste for verisimilitude evinced by the middle class and their royal leaders.

During the 1860s, portrait studios began to assemble a selection of individual likenesses on a single print. Produced by pasting together and rephotographing heads and portions of the torso from individual carte portraits, these composites paid scant attention to congruences of size and lighting, or to the representation of real-looking space. Designed as advertising publicity to acquaint the public with the range and quality of a particular studio's work, as in this example from the studio of a portrait photographer in Valparaiso and Santiago, Chile (pi. no. 60), the format was taken over as a means of producing thematic composites of political (pi. no. 61) or theatrical figures that might be sold or given away as souvenirs.

One form of commercial exploitation of portrait photography in Europe that did not fare as well as cartes was called photosculpture. Invented by Francois Willeme in France in 1860, this three-dimensional image was produced by a company whose English branch briefly included the usually prudent Claudet as artistic director. The procedure necessitated a large circular studio in which 24 cameras were positioned to take simultaneous exposures of a centrally placed sitter. These were processed into lantern slides, projected, and traced in clay (or wood in one adaptation) with a pantograph, theoretically insuring a head start on exactitude for the sculptor. Despite royal patronage, photosculpture had a short life, although every once in a while this gimmick crops up again as an idea whose time has come.

Editions of prints on paper in sizes and formats other than cartes also were popular from the 1860s on. Because the problems with albumen prints mentioned in Chapter I never were completely solved, carbon printing—often referred to as "permanent"—and Woodburytype reproduction were favored for the production of celebrity likenesses that appeared in the "galleries" and albums issued by photographers and publishers in western Europe and the United States. Well-known examples arc Hanfstaengl's Album der Zeitgnossen (Album of Contemporary Figures), portraits of German scientists, writers, and artists; the British Gallery of Photographic Portraits, undertaken by the studio of Joseph John Elliott and Clarence Edmund Fry (who encountered refusals from politicians who found their likenesses too realistic); and the Galerie des contemporaines (Gallery of Contemporaries)—initiated in 1859 in Paris by Pierre Petit. This project was a precursor of the highly regarded French series, Galerie contemporaine, litteraire, artistique (Contemporary Gallery of Writers and Artists), published intermittently by Goupil and Company between 1876 and 1884, to which all the major portraitists of the period contributed. Less concerned than most studio portraiture with fashionable decor and dress, this collection was "physiognomic" in intent—to evoke the character of the giants of French literar)' and artistic life through pose and expression, as in the commanding presence projected in Etienne Carjat's portrait of Victor Hugo (pi. no. 94). Other such publications catered to the taste for elaborate decor, as in Adolphe Jean Francois Marin Dallemagne's Galerie des artistes contemporaines (Gallery of Contemporary Artists) of 1866 (pi. no. 62), a group of 50 portraits of artists shown posing in trompe l' oeil frames that are suggestive of the conceits of baroque portrait painting.

59. ANDRE ADOLFHE EUGENE DISDERI. Portrait of an Unidentified Woman, c. 1860-65.
Uncut albumen print from a carte-de-insite negative.
Gernsheim Collection, Humanities Research Center, University of Texas.

60. SPENCER Y CIA. Chilean Ladies, n.d. Albumen print.
Neikrug Photographica, Ltd., New York.

Seventy Celebrated Americans Including All the Presidents, c. 1865.
Albumen print. Library Company of Philadelphia.

62. ADOLPHE JEAN FRANCOIS MARIN DALLEMAGNE. Gallery of Contemporary Artists, c. 1866.
Albumen prints assembled into Galerie des artistes contemporaines.
Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.

The best-known photographer of French intellectual, literary, and artistic figures during the collodion era is Gaspard Felix Tournachon, known as Nadar (see Profile). His aim in portraiture was to seek, as he wrote, "that instant of understanding that puts you in touch with the model—helps you sum him up, guides you to his habits, his ideas, and character and enables you to produce ... a really convincing and sympathetic likeness, an intimate portrait." One example—a portrait of the young Sarah Bernhardt in 1865 (pi. no. 65)—typifies Nadar's ability to organize the baroque forms of drapery, a truncated classical column, and die dramatic contrasts of hair and skin and still suggest character—in this case both the theatricality and vulnerability of a young actress who had just achieved her first stage success. As French art critic Philippe Burty wrote of Nadar's entries exhibited at the Sodete Frangaise de Photographic exhibition in 1859, "his portraits arc works of art in every accepted sense of the word," adding that "if photography is by no means a complete art, the photographer always has the right to be an artist." Nadar's later output included many unexceptional portraits of entertainers and modishly dressed women, a direction necessitated by the demands of the middle class for glamorous images that became even more marked when his son Paul took control of the studio in the late 1880s. The style of Paul Nadar's portrait of the royal mistress Lillie Langtry (pi. no. 64), like that of contemporaries such as Charles and Emile Reutlinger (pi. no. 63) whose firm began to specialize in fashion photography in the same years, was oriented toward evoking glamour by seductive pose, bland expression, and attention to elegant attire.

63. REUTLINGER STUDIO. Mlle. Elven, 1883.
Albumen or gelatin silver print. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.

64. PAUL NADAR (1856-1939). Lillie Langtry, n.d.
Gelatin silver print. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.


65. NADAR (GASPARD FELIX TOURNACHON). Sarah Bernhardt, 1865.
Albumen print. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.

NADAR (see collection)


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