Images and Words: An Online History of Photography

Introduction | Contents | Foreword | Testing

McGraw HillRobert Hirsch Seizing the Light: A Social History of Photography, Second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2009)
Chapter: 4 Section: 2
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4.2. The New Transparent Look

The introduction of the collodion process solved a series of technical problems and heralded a new aesthetic ideal as well. Photographers had been dissatisfied with "the imperfections of paper photography" and wanted a negative capable of delivering "fineness of surface [and] transparency."1 They desired a negative/ positive process capable of rendering a consistent tonal range with ample density and detail in the highlight and shadow areas. Collodion’s transparent glass support solved these difficulties and resolved the aesthetic concerns of clarity, chiaroscuro, and resolution, signaling the demise of what D. O. Hill saw as the artistic virtues of the calotype—its rough and unequal texture. [2|4|2|869]

 
Hill & Adamson
D.O. Hill, R.S.A.
1843
Salted paper print
21.4 x 16.4 cm
 
George Eastman House
Record Id: 1979:0012:0009
 
LL/35636
 
 

"Transparency" referred to a direct translation of reality in which subjects were not "suggested," as in the calotype, but were clearly stated and defined without overt intervention, as in the daguerreotype. Naturalism began to be the benchmark of photographic practice. Its goal was not to interpret or interact but to concretely represent the world, naturally, with previously unmatched depth of clarity, capable of preserving enormous amounts of visual information. The glass support of the collodion replaced the obscure shadow areas of the calotype with a clear, distinct, and unobstructed view. The idea of naturalism would lead to a decline in retouching the negative for serious artistic effect, and indirectly supported the notion that photography was an authorless process in which the subject imposed its presence onto a plate. Such an uncompromised natural image was thought to be "truer," easier to see and understand than anything previously obtainable. [2|4|2|870]



 
A new printing paper was essential to retain the detail and sharpness of the glass negative. The first practical albumen paper, with a smooth and glossy surface, was designed by Blanquart-Evrard in 1850 and rapidly supplanted the matte surface of the calotype, remaining in use until the end of the nineteenth century. According to J. Towler’s 1864 edition of The Silver Sunbeam, when making albumen paper, one was supposed to use only fresh eggs and then get "the white of egg, entirely freed from the germ and yolk, and beat the egg up well with a wooden spatula until it is completely converted into froth. This operation must be performed in a place as perfectly free from dust as possible; and then the albuminous mixture is covered with a clean sheet of paper and put aside to settle for a number of hours." Fortunately, while photographers could make their own albumen paper, it also could be purchased already prepared, spawning the beginning of the manufacture of presensitized paper. [2|4|2|871]

 
J. Towler (author)
Title page for "The Silver Sunbeam (Eighth edition)" by J. Towler (New York: E.& H.T. Anthony & Co., 1873)
1873
Title page
Google Books
The enlarged eighth edition includes a large number of woodcuts.
 
Interestingly the woodcuts are usually placed on pages that have no relationship at all to the textual content.
 
LL/34520
 
 

The laborious steps in the albumen paper process included beating the mass of egg white; allowing it to froth in earthenware vats; fermenting it in tall glass jars; filtering it, beating it again, refiltering it, and salting it with chlorides; and dying it pink, mauve, or blue. Then paper, such as Rives B. F. K., was floated by hand in the mixture. Next, the paper was dried and stored for three to six months, so the albumen could completely harden, and then it was coated again and hung up to dry in the reverse direction to equalize the unevenness of the first coating. [2|4|2|872]

Albumen paper gave a new look and consistency to photographic printmaking, allowing for the production of editions, where the first to the last images all look the same. Such consistency had not been possible with the calotype, where differences in the surface and texture of the paper support and the hand-applied emulsion produced noticeable changes when multiple prints were made. This new found consistency diminished the distinctive differences of the individual print, causing it to lose its uniqueness and reducing its market value as an artistic object. Another major atttribute of the paper print—its replaceability—also meant that people did not give the photograph the respect they had given the daguerreotype. A damaged albumen print was not considered a catastrophe, as another print could be made. [2|4|2|873]



 
This idea of the replaceability of photographs was encouraged as the photograph became synonymous with other machine-produced objects of the industrial culture. Photography became commercially viable, as more of its components could be carried out by a division of labor that allowed a few skilled managers to control an operation of unskilled employees. Assembly-line production techniques and attitudes replaced those of a personally crafted object. By 1894, the Dresden Albumenizing Company’s staff of 180 opened 60,000 eggs daily for the production of double-albumenized paper.2 Repeatability had substituted for the calotype’s distinctive atmosphere and character, as easy replication became the order of photographic business by the end of the 1850s. [2|4|2|874]

 
Anon.
Dresden Albumenized Paper
1892
Advert
Google Books
The American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times - Almanac for 1892, Volume 6, Advertising section, p.117.
 
LL/35310
 
 

The collodion process produced a tremendous demand for albumen paper. The new paper not only provided more detail than a salted paper print, but it changed the surface look of the paper photograph. The albumen’s glossy surface sheen gave photo-based images a novel appearance. This glossiness was considered very modern and machine-like and was accepted as part of the new system of representation. It also further removed the photographic print from traditional printmaking, where shininess was an undesirable characteristic. In collodion’s early days, practitioners diluted their albumen with salt water to reduce the gloss to a luster. As the wet plate’s popularity grew, photographers used undiluted albumen to reveal the abundant detail of their glass negatives, raise the contrast level, and provide a greater luster to the print. By the 1860s double-coating of the paper with albumen became a standard practice, giving prints a truly glossy appearance. [2|4|2|875]

The base color of the paper, once the dominion of each photographer, became standardized as commercially prepared papers, with a limited range of colors, achieved market domination. These new surface changes provided unmistakable evidence that the image originated from a photo-based process. Albumen prints were gold-toned to make the print more stable and alter their intense red-brick color to a more acceptable warm purplish-brown or even a blue-black hue. [2|4|2|876]


Ambrotypes
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Japanese Ambrotypes
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4.3. The Ambrotype

The rapid commercial adoption of the collodion process and the immediate invention of a series of spin-off processes—the ambrotype, the tintype, and the carte de visite—ensured collodion’s rapid domination of the field. The ambrotype was a collodion, positive-looking image on glass that when first introduced was referred to as a "collodion positive." The name ambrotype was devised by the Philadelphia daguerreotypist Marcus A. Root in 1855, from a Greek word meaning "imperishable." When first shown in the United States, in December 1854, they were called daguerreotypes on glass and often were mistaken for daguerreotypes because they too are laterally reversed, one-of-a-kind objects that are frequently hand-colored, made in the same-size formats, and put into similar cases. In Europe ambrotypes were generally referred to as amphitypes. The ambrotype lacked the highly reflective surface of a daguerreotype and appeared somewhat dull in comparison, but it was less expensive to make. Frederick Archer and other calotypists discovered that the density of a collodion negative could be varied through a bleaching process. When such a bleached image was viewed by reflected light against a dark background, it appeared as a positive. This effect can be observed with any negative, even without using a bleaching process. In practice, most photographers underdeveloped or underexposed the glass plate to achieve the same effect. After processing, the plate was varnished on the front to protect the image surface and then lacquered with an opaque black on its backside or placed against black paper or velvet. It is often possible to identify an ambrotype because its backing has deteriorated. When the black varnish starts to crack and fracture the image can give a visual sense of separation and physical relief (fake 3-D) as well as a ghostlike translucence. [2|4|3|877]

 
Anon.
Untitled Portrait - Ambrotype with half the backing removed to show positive and negative effect
1858 (ca)
Ambrotype
Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin
LL/33130
 
 
Additional examples:
 
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LL/33130 LL/6897 LL/18521 
LL/9194 LL/17453 LL/17454 
LL/13036 


History of the Miniature Case
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The Henry Clay case
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Ambrotypes
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Japanese Ambrotypes
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Ambrotypes often were set in elaborately designed, molded, and hinged cases called Union Cases. Introduced in the early 1850s, Union Cases marked the beginning of thermoplastic molding in the United States and were produced in hundreds of designs featuring scenes derived from classical works of art and popular culture concerning history, nature, patriotism, and religion. Sometimes the photographer’s name and hometown were imprinted on the gold-colored interior mat or the case’s velvet "pillow" as an abbreviated form of advertising; other times, a printed card with greater detail would be secured inside the case. The case gave the ambrotype a physical weight. Secured with a catch, it also maintained an element of surprise, a sense of drama as one held a jewel box-like object in one’s hands, wondering what was going to be pictured inside. As the case was opened this sense of theater became part of the viewing experience. [2|4|3|878]

 
Holmes, Booth and Haydens (maker)
Berg 1-9
n.d.
Union case
Private collection
Courtesy "Nineteenth Century Photographic Cases and Wall Frames"
© Paul K. Berg - Used with permission
 
LL/11887
 
 
Additional examples:
 
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LL/11887 LL/11893 LL/11895 
LL/11900 LL/11906 LL/11917 
LL/11889 LL/11891 LL/11899 
LL/11905 LL/11903 LL/11911 
LL/11912 LL/11921 LL/11918 
LL/12483 LL/11999 


Ambrotypes
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Japanese Ambrotypes
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Ambrotypes were generally used in portraiture. The posing was usually intimate, featuring tight head and shoulder shots, which worked well with the small format generally chosen. The glass surface of the ambrotype could reflect a viewer’s image into the scene, though not as intensely as the daguerreotype. A negative image could be produced by holding the ambrotype at different angles to the light, but it was still much easier to view than a daguerreotype. Unlike most American daguerreotypes, some ambrotype cases had hooks on the back for wall hanging, and others had pop-up legs to allow the picture to stand upright in its frame. By the mid-1850s the ambrotype had surpassed the daguerreotype as the portrait medium. [2|4|3|879]

 
Anon.
Butcher with Rabbits
1860 (ca)
Ambrotype, 1/4 plate
Christopher Wahren Fine Photographs
Christopher Wahren Fine Photographs - Auction (Skylight Gallery Catalog 28,April 30, 2009, #21)
 
Showing a butcher with two rabbits. Pink tinting applied to butcher's face and hands. Housed in a period passe-partout mount with faux tortoiseshell design. Overall dimensions of mount 6 x 5 inches (15x12 cm).
 
An extremely unusual image of a French butcher preparing this tasty foodstuff. Despite numerous pet rabbit images, this image of a rabbit being prepared for food is the first such I have seen. In the 19th-century and earlier, animals (particularly small ones like rabbits) were killed much closer to the time of consumption. (Christopher Wahren)
 
LL/32287
 
 
Additional examples:
 
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LL/32287 LL/11345 LL/8164 
LL/15288 LL/11243 LL/11341 
LL/6627 LL/29789 


Ambrotypes
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Japanese Ambrotypes
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In July 1854, James Ambrose Cutting (1814–1867) tried to profit from the American portrait business by patenting a method for sealing collodion images in their cases.3 Outraged over Cutting’s "ambrotype patent," American photographers banded together for the first time, eventually forming the National Photographic Convention, to fight what they considered to be an illegal patent. The patent was reversed in 1868 thanks to this organized effort and to the rising popularity of new imaging systems such as the stereograph and the carte de visite. By 1861, however, the ambrotype was on the way out and the making of collodion pictures on paper was in.4 [2|4|3|880]

 
Edward Anthony
Bottle of Developer based upon the patent of James A. Cutting used in the collodion process
n.d.
Bottle
Collection Matthew R. Isenburg
LL/9710
 
 
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LL/9710 LL/32778 


Tintypes
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Tintypes - Exterior views (1860-1900)
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4.4. Pictures On Tin

A second collodion spin-off method was the ferrotype, first described by French photographer Adolphe Alexandre Martin in 1853. The name ferrotype (in Latin ferrum is iron) was originally used by Robert Hunt in the mid-1840s for a paper negative process (Energiatype) that utilized an iron-compound developer. Basically an ambrotype made on a thin piece of sheet iron instead of glass, the ferrotype was an enameled black or brown-black plate that was coated with collodion and sensitized just before exposure. The process was patented in February 1856 by Hamilton L. Smith (b. 1819), who assigned his patent rights to his collaborator Peter Neff. The patent only covered how to produce what Neff advertised as melainotypes. Neff attempted to exploit the process’s commercial potential by building a tinplate factory, sending out teachers to instruct daguerreotype operators in the new method, and giving away a 53-page manual, The Melainotype Process, Complete. Tintypes, as they were known in America, were made in a variety of sizes, the most common being 2 1/4 x 3 1/2 inches (the same size as the carte de visite), and were often hand-colored. The name, tintype, evolved from popular usage. The tintype never achieved a high level of market influence, but it did find a niche and outlasted all the wet-plate processes (a dry tintype process was introduced in 1891). It was used by itinerant and street photographers until it was replaced by the Polaroid process in the 1950s. [2|4|4|881]

 
Anon.
Fireman
n.d.
Tintype, 1/6 plate
Be-Hold
Courtesy of Larry Gottheim - Be-Hold (46 / 62)
 
LL/9053
 
 
Additional examples:
 
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LL/9053 LL/33131 LL/11353 
LL/29767 LL/10831 LL/27074 
LL/8638 LL/9065 LL/24289 
LL/11542 LL/6933 LL/22007 
LL/24363 LL/32255 LL/9081 
LL/30977 LL/30978 LL/24358 


Tintypes
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Tintypes - Exterior views (1860-1900)
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Tintypes were the visual currency of soldiers and their families during the American Civil War because they were lightwight, durable, and cheap, with little "gem" sized tintypes, taken with a multilens camera, being sold in multiples for 25 cents. Many tintypists were unskilled in other photographic processes, and occupied the lowest rung on the photographic ladder. In fact, big city studio photographers considered tintypes to be low-class pictures practiced by "cheapjacks" who were only interested in making quick money, who knew nothing about photography, and whose deceitful practices diminished the profession’s reputation. Those who specialized in the process often traveled from town to town, working on the street, out of a wagon, or in a rented room, using a modified camera that doubled as a tiny darkroom and allowed all the processing to take place inside the camera. Such cameras had slotted bottoms to hold canisters of developer and fixer for processing. After fixing, the plate was given a quick rinse in a bucket of water, waved through the air to speed drying, and handed to the customer. It was considered an instant process since it could be done in about a minute. The tintype was never as popular in Europe, where it was used almost exclusively by street and seaside photographers. Like most daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, tintypes are generally unsigned works. Its practitioners are the largely forgotten and unnamed photographers we know today as "anonymous" or "unknown photographer." [2|4|4|883]

 
Anon.
Ferotype Preservers
n.d.
Packaging
Collection Matthew R. Isenburg
LL/9726
 
 
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LL/9062 LL/9728 


Tintypes
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Tintypes - Exterior views (1860-1900)
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The tintype’s image did not jump out at the viewer but lay flat as if it were rolled onto the tin surface. The tintype’s tonal range appeared uniform because its black backing absorbed a great deal of light, and it did not possess the mirrorlike sheen of the daguerreotype or the glass depth of the ambrotype to enhance contrast. However, what the tintype lacked in aesthetic qualities it made up in social significance: Citizens could have their likeness recorded for less than 25 cents, further democratizing the process of commemoration. The tintype’s universal affordability also spoke to the nineteenth-century American notion that societal position was not solely predetermined by one’s birth status, visually denoting the American Dream of possible upward mobility. Democracy not only gave the industrial classes a taste for the arts and letters, it also brought a technological spirit to the arts. [2|4|4|884]

 
Anon.
Memorial Still Life (Washington State)
1870 (ca)
Tintype
7 x 5 in
 
Paul Cava Fine Art
Courtesy of Paul Cava Fine Art
 
LL/10835
 
 
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LL/10835 LL/30995 LL/18512 
LL/18513 LL/6932 LL/11629 
LL/10836 LL/10883 LL/11977 
LL/11628 LL/6921 LL/30013 
LL/11070 LL/24366 LL/13258 
LL/29770 LL/24361 LL/10833 
LL/24292 LL/6929 LL/9069 
LL/9072 LL/4353 LL/2757 


Tintypes
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Tintypes - Exterior views (1860-1900)
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The tintype’s lower price, its practitioners’ lack of formal artistic training, and its immediacy reduced the specialness surrounding the act of having a picture made. Pictures became less serious, more spur-of-the-moment affairs. The idea of casual pictures for amusement became popular with tintypes and was further encouraged when tintypists introduced humorous background scenes of painted canvas with cutouts through which sitters could insert their heads. People’s "camera attitude" shifted as they played and acted informally for the camera. This type of unpremeditated silliness and lack of respect had seldom been previously pictured. Discounting any technical limitations due to long exposures, smiles had been considered inappropriate for an occasion that was seen as making a social statement about the sitter. The spontaneous tintype spirit of picturing the vernacular was the precursor of the snapshot sensibility, which can also be observed in photobooth portraits. [2|4|4|885]

 
W. Stevens
Advertisement for tintypes
1904
Tintype, advertisement
Charles Schwartz Ltd
Courtesy of Charles Schwartz Ltd (www.cs-photo.com - #9215)
 
From the reverse of a tintype mounted in a red paper frame is a sketch of a tent which advertises tintypes. Banners on tent read:
 
"Tin-Type Buttons-Just out-they are hot stuff"
 
LL/9063
 
 
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LL/9063 LL/10832 LL/37192 
LL/42539 LL/41276 LL/41715 
LL/9062 LL/6919 


The Second Empire through the Lens of A.A.E. Disdéri
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Carte de visite
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Carte de visite: Backs
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Carte de visite: Storage and display
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19th Century Photograph Album covers
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4.5. The Carte de Visite and the Photo Album

The third spin-off from collodion was the carte de visite, or visiting card. A number of photographers claimed credit for introducing the carte de visite, but the idea was patented by André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri (1819–1889) and introduced to the public in Paris in 1854. [2|4|5|887]

 
André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri
The New Salons of Disderi, the day of the opening [Nouveaux salons de Disderi, le jour de l‘inauguration.]
1860, 14 April
Engraving
Private collection of Michel Mégnin
Source: Le Monde Illustré (April 14, 1860)
 
LL/29561
 
 
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The Second Empire through the Lens of A.A.E. Disdéri
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Carte de visite
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The concept of using photographs on documents such as licenses, passports, permits, and visiting cards was proposed by Louis Dodero of Marseilles in 1851. The carte de visite, or carte, was a 2 1/4 x 3 1/2-inch photograph, usually a full or bust-length portrait, mounted on a 2 1/2 x 4-inch paper card. A number of exposures were made with a multilens camera on a single collodion wet-plate and were contact-printed onto albumen paper. Individual exposures were cut apart and mounted on cards. The multilens, referred to as tubes, could be individually uncovered (there were no shutters), making possible a variety of poses on a single plate. The intent was to take the time and expense needed to make one print and divide it by many prints, reducing the cost of each unit. Numbers were the deciding factors; the more cartes people had made, the greater the photographer’s profit. Enhanced savings were also realized since retouching was not needed, as many defects were not noticeable in the small prints, and the processing procedures could still be performed by unskilled labor. Daguerreotypists like Abraham Bogardus initially dismissed the carte. Bogardus recalled his first impressions of the carte as "a little thing; a man standing by a fluted column, full length, the head about twice the size of the head of a pin. I laughed at that, little thinking I should at a day not far distant be making them at the rate of a thousand a day." [2|4|5|888]

 
Anon.
A carte de visite back advertising a supplier of the card stock used to make CDVs.
n.d.
Collection Matthew R. Isenburg
Often the industry supporting 19th century photographers is overlooked and this is an important part of the history of photography. This rare CDV showing the prices was produced as an advertisement for Andrew H. Baldwin a supplier of the card stock used to produce CDVs.
 
The message reads:
 
  This kind of card, light or dark buff not printed, $2.25 per 1000, or 2.75 if Round Corners. All the higher grades of cards printed in this style, $1.00 per 1000. Printed without the cut, 75 cents per 1000.
    ANDREW H. BALDWIN,
      No. 1 Chambers Street,
Cor. Chatham & Duane,  NEW YORK.
 
LL/9873
 
 
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LL/9873 LL/9874 LL/9875 
LL/9798 LL/31518 LL/32935 
LL/9951 LL/9952 LL/9950 
LL/9949 LL/30997 LL/30998 
LL/29704 LL/29705 


The Second Empire through the Lens of A.A.E. Disdéri
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After a slow start the carte became a hit in May 1859 when legend has it that Napoleon III, leading his army out of Paris on a military campaign against Austria, stopped to have a publicity portrait made at Disdéri’s studio. It proved a successful public relations tactic for both men as people flocked to have their carte made at the same place as the emperor. Disdéri became a celebrity and was appointed Court Photographer. In 1860 Disdéri redecorated his studio, the "Palace of Photography," in the ornate Second Empire style with portraits of della Porta, Niépce, Daguerre, and Talbot along with allegorical statues signifying Chemistry, Painting, Physics, and Sculpture. The Apotheosis of Light was painted on the ceiling. By 1861 Disdéri was reported to be the richest photographer in the world, eventually opening branch studios in London, Madrid, and Toulon. His Paris studio had a staff of 90, could make thousands of prints a day, and promised 48-hour delivery. [2|4|5|889]

 
André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri
The Imperial family
1858-1859
Carte de visite
Paul Frecker
Napoléon III grasped the power of manipulating his public image through visual propaganda, and firmly embraced the medium of photography. Despite his string of mistresses, he presents himself here as the apogee of bourgeois respectability and moral probity, the archetypal family man.
 
LL/13385
 
 
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LL/13385 LL/11258 


John Jabez Mayall - Royalty
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The carte did not become chic in England until August 1860, when John Jabez Edwin Mayall (1813–1901), who learned daguerreotypy working in a Philadelphia gallery and returned home to become one of London’s most elegant studio photographers, published his Royal Album, consisting of fourteen carte portraits of the royal family. Hundreds of thousands of cartes of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were sold, leading to an explosion of celebrity photographs. Photographers courted personalities to sit for them, often paying a fee to the sitter and/or royalties based on sales. The practice of collecting and exchanging photographs and placing them in embellished, manufactured albums began with the Royal Album cartes. Mayall’s carte business reportedly generated more income than any other English photographer’s, with his studio turning out a half million cartes a year. Mayall also patented the Ivorytype in 1855, a method in which a photographic image was printed on artificial ivory that had been sensitized with either albumen or collodion. This imitation effect was popular as it played off the association of ivory as a valuable object reserved for the power elite. [2|4|5|891]

 
J.E. Mayall
The Queen and Prince Consort
n.d.
Carte de visite, albumen
Charles Nes Photography LLC New York - Paris
LL/5917
 
 
Additional examples:
 
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LL/5917 LL/5916 LL/5923 
LL/5918 LL/11230 LL/22320 


 
FOOTNOTES
  1. Frederick Scott Archer. “The Use of Collodion in Photography,” The Chemist, no. 2 (March 1851), 257.
     
  2. The Photogram, vol. I, 1894, 159.
     
  3. Cutting and Isaac Rehn, his friend and business partner, both took out patents covering several photographic ideas that were not their own. Nevertheless, the U.S. Patent Office gave Cutting the legal right to sell licenses for the use of collodion photography. He hired agents in several areas of the country to sell permits ($100 per town of 5,000 people) and bring legal proceeding against photographers who were making collodion pictures without a license.
     
  4. In 1862 Cutting was committed to the Worcester, MA, Insane Asylum and remained there until his death in 1867. The administrator of Cutting’s estate filed for an extension of his patent. Some of America’s most influential photographers, including Mathew Brady, Abraham Bogardus, John Carbutt, Alexander Hesler, and John Whipple, met on April 7, 1868, at the Cooper Institute in New York to form the National Photographic Convention for the purpose of establishing America’s first national photographic organization and to fight the ambrotype patent.
     

 

Sections

 4.1 The Albumen Process=> 4.2The New Transparent Look
 4.3The Ambrotype 4.4Pictures On Tin
 4.5The Carte de Visite and the Photo Album 4.6The Cabinet Photograph: The Picture Gets Bigger
 4.7The Studio Tradition 4.8Retouching and Enlargements
 4.9The Stereoscope 4.10The Stereo Craze

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