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: 7
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19th Century Photographic Studios: Exteriors
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19th Century Photographic Studios: Interiors
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19th Century Photographic Studios: Backgrounds
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19th Century Photographic Studios: Properties, accessories and novelties
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4.7. The Studio Tradition

The affordability of the collodion processes led to the rapid expansion of portrait making. In 1841 there were only three portrait firms in London; in 1851 there were less than a dozen, but in 1861 more than 200.1 Skilled posing, lighting, and retouching allowed photographers to push the boundaries of portraiture, expanding the enterprise of studio photography. [2|4|7|913]

 
Nadar
Nadar, self-portrait
1856-1857
Salted paper print
9 1/4 x 7 3/8 in (23.6 x 18.7 cm)
 
Creative Commons - Wikipedia
Courtesy Musée d'Orsay, Paris
 
LL/33101
 
 


Nadar: Galerie Contemporaine
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One of the most highly skilled studio portrait makers was Gaspard Félix Tournachon (1820–1910), known as Nadar. Originally an acclaimed caricaturist, becoming a photographer was a natural extension of his talent for recording a subject’s essential characteristics. His ability to create stinging caricatures earned him the nickname "Tourne à dard" (one who stings), which he shortened to "Nadard" and then to "Nadar."2 His studio was a meeting place for Paris’s intelligentsia, and where Nadar produced portraits of his guests: Charles Baudelaire, Alexandre Dumas, Gustave Flaubert, Victor Hugo, Franz Liszt, and George Sand. Acting as an artistic director, he posed his best-known clients but relied on his staff to carry out the actual work. This arrangement was taken for granted and typifies the teamwork that went into the making of the majority of images attributed solely to most well-regarded studio photographers.3 [2|4|7|914]

 
Nadar
Alexander Dumas
1870 (ca)
Carte de visite
Stereographica - Antique Photographica
Courtesy of Bryan and Page Ginns (#17 / 178)
 
LL/17464
 
 
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Nadar: Galerie Contemporaine
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Nadar’s original approach was direct and simple, making use of plain dark backgrounds and, when possible, full natural light. Later, through the aid of reflectors, screens, veils, and mirrors, he made considerable use of side lighting to model the features of the face. Possibly influenced by his friend, Adam-Salomon, who employed unusual lighting methods and poses learned from his painter associates, Nadar positioned his sitters in such a way that often hid their hands in order to emphasize facial expressions and bodies. Favoring three-quarter views, he organized his subjects around recognizable gestures and looks that revealed the character’s essence while breaking down the sense of distance between subject and photographer. Sitters were encouraged to discover their own poses with a minimal use of props. Nadar knew his sitters, and the intimacy of the portraits, and his understanding of their often familiar human fragility, record the bonds of friendship and remembrance of shared events. Although a comrade, Nadar was not necessarily reverent: He did not flatter his sitters, but often seemed on the verge of revealing one of their secrets. His restrained portraits of French novelist George Sand unobstrusively convey her dominating personality as a literary talent and nonconformist who protested the unequal treatment of women by openly wearing trousers, smoking cigars, and taking lovers like a man. [2|4|7|915]

 
Nadar
George Sand
1860 (ca)
Woodburytype
23.2 x 18.7 cm
 
George Eastman House
Courtesy of George Eastman House (GEH NEG: 4885)
 
LL/6913
 
 


Nadar: Galerie Contemporaine
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The subjects in many of Nadar’s portraits seem to have been participating in the act of photography rather than just undergoing it. Spontaneity was in play, often revealing a part of the sitter’s inner psychological being. Nadar understood the wet plate’s ability to render detail, but he was not obsessed with it. He knew how to suppress detail and sharpness, moving sitters through different levels of focus to bring out their essence. In his work, the sitter’s clothes were an important element of personality, used to build an atmosphere of class, ethnic, and social character previously unachieved in photography. These qualities, combined with his talent as a caricaturist, enabled Nadar to go after the "moral intelligence" of the sitter and expand the boundaries of the social portrait. [2|4|7|916]

In 1856, Nadar observed: [2|4|7|917]

Photography is a marvelous discovery, a science that has attracted the greatest intellects, an art that excites the most astute minds—and one that can be practiced by any imbecile. . . . Photographic theory can be taught in an hour, the basic technique in a day. But, what cannot be taught is the feeling for light. . . . It is how light lies on the face that you as artist must capture. Nor can one be taught how to grasp the personality of the sitter. To produce an intimate likeness rather than a banal portrait, the result of mere chance, you must put yourself at once in communion with the sitter, size up his thoughts and his very character.4 [2|4|7|918]

 
Nadar
Portrait de Gustave Doré
1875 (ca)
Photoglyptie par Goupil
23 x 18.7 cm
 
Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain
© direction des musées de France, 2007, Inventory no: XXIII 87
 
LL/41191
 
 
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LL/41191 LL/41194 LL/41195 
LL/41199 LL/41203 LL/7952 



 
Always experimenting, Nadar made the first aerial photographs in 1858, coating his wet-plate while in a hot-air balloon. In 1861 he photographed with artificial light, using Bunsen batteries in the catacombs of Paris. The failure of the revolutionary Commune of Paris financially ruined Nadar, and in 1871, he handed the business over to his son Paul (1856–1939), who continued on as a fashionable commercial portraitist through the turn of the twentieth century, photographing such notables as French writer Marcel Proust and many of those characterized in his monumental work In Search of Lost Time (1913–1927). [2|4|7|919]

 
Honoré Daumier
Nadar Elevating Photography to the Hieght of Art [Nadar elevant la Photographie a la hauteur de l'Art]
1862, 25 May
Lithograph
George Eastman House
Courtesy of George Eastman House, Gift of Eastman Kodak Company: ex-collection Gabriel Cromer (GEH NEG: 20032)
 
LL/6893
 
 
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LL/36146 LL/9806 LL/32827 
LL/42077 


The Commercial Portraiture of Camille Silvy
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Nadar: Galerie Contemporaine
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A French aristocratic and amateur photographer, Camille Silvy (1834–1910) ran a lavish London portrait studio and had a style that was the antithesis of Nadar’s. Silvy favored intricate sets of his own design, with painted backdrops creating the proper atmosphere for his upscale clients. He specialized in posing the fashionable in front of mirrors, to soften the light and to manufacture a luxurious glow that accented the sitter’s attire and hairstyle. Known for his exemplary taste and understanding of how to pose women, Silvy cultivated his reputation by publishing a series of cartes called The Beauties of England, which were acclaimed for their elegance, refinement, and vivacity. He closed his studio, which employed forty people, when the carte fad fizzled. Silvy’s photographic career, lasting just over a decade, was cut short due to health problems—associated, perhaps, with the collodion process. (In fact, Silvy’s death was probably hastened by his exposure to photographic chemicals. Numerous reports tell of early photographers being made ill or poisoned by improper handling of photographic chemicals.) [2|4|7|920]

 
Camille Silvy
Camille Silvy (Self portrait)
1863-1864
Carte de visite
Paul Frecker
Silvy’s daybooks, held in the archives of the National Portrait Gallery, show seventeen self-portraits taken at the studio during his time in London. Some of these show him alone, some in the company of his wife or mother, while two show him in fancy dress. This portrait, however, does not appear in the daybooks, so it probably dates to the period covered by the missing volume, meaning that it was taken some time between July 1863 and June 1864. Stylistically, the backdrop and the properties in this portrait fit with that assumption.
 
LL/12757
 
 
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LL/12757 LL/12764 LL/12767 
LL/12772 LL/12774 LL/12794 
LL/33117 LL/33118 

Antoine Samuel Adam-Salomon (1811–1881) was a Parisian sculptor who took up photography part time in 1858. Using his knowledge of modeling clay, Adam-Salomon was able to bring forth the plastic, three-dimensional effects of his two-dimensional subjects. He introduced what was called Rembrandt Lighting, the use of high side light to achieve distinct visual projection of a sitter’s face after the style of the Dutch painter. Greater facial contour enhanced the characterization of the sitter. Adam-Salomon, whose prints were known for their rich range of luxurious tones, also paid homage to painting by draping his sitters in velvet and posing them in the style of the Old Masters. [2|4|7|921]

 
Antoine Samuel Adam-Salomon
Charles Garnier, famous architect of the Opera in Paris.
1875 (ca)
Woodburytype
19 x 23 cm (approx)
 
Private collection of Jan Weijers (Servatius)
LL/27081
 
 

Since his work venerated the traditions of painting it was appreciated by critics who believed the insemination of classic artistic ideas was necessary to elevate photography from a means of mechanical reproduction to an art. Yet Adam-Salomon’s work was also criticized for downplaying the individual attributes of subjects in favor of making them part of a formal configuration. In 1867–1868 he became embroiled in controversy when he was accused of achieving his effects by retouching (a microscopic examination revealed that he did retouch his prints). [2|4|7|922]

 
Antoine Samuel Adam-Salomon
Alphonse Karr, French writer
1875
Woodburytype
19 x 23 cm (approx)
 
Private collection of Jan Weijers (Servatius)
LL/27082
 
 

Napoleon Sarony (1821–1896), born in Quebec the year Napoleon Bonaparte died, opened his first New York studio in 1864. No taller than his namesake, Sarony was referred to as "the Napoleon of Photography" because of his flamboyant and volatile approach to making portraits. A natural actor, Sarony enjoyed parading down Broadway in an astrakhan cap and a calf-skin waistcoat (hairy side out), with his pants tucked into highly polished cavalry boots. [2|4|7|924]

 
Sarony
Sarony, N.Y., photographing me
1872-1925
Drawing, pen and ink
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
Cabinet of American Illustration [CAI - Furniss, no. 3 (A size)]
 
The artist is Harry Furniss (1854-1925).
 
LL/29780
 
 
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Sarony’s studio was equally flamboyant. His Wunderkammer or wonder room, as it was called, took up an entire building and featured a hydraulic elevator, an Egyptian mummy, stuffed birds, Russian sleighs, Chinese gods, armor, statues, musical instruments, bamboo umbrellas, chests, Indian pottery, a maze of pictures, and a crocodile suspended from the ceiling. The forerunner of the modern museum in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the wonder room was a place where the nobility and the wealthy kept their collections of diverse objects for the purpose of celebrating the strange and marvelous. The contents were selected solely according to the owner’s fancy and were presented unsystematically, in a way designed to astonish and amaze. [2|4|7|925]

 
Sarony
G.L. Fox
n.d.
Stereoview, detail
Jefferson Stereoptics
Courtesy of John Saddy (Auction, Tues. August 29th & Thurs. August 31st, 2006, # 06-3, Lot 243)
 
LL/13804
 
 
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LL/13804 LL/11061 LL/19917 
LL/30063 LL/19914 LL/6637 
LL/19913 LL/10905 

Sarony was an early photographic specialist, who concentrated on theater personalities, reportedly making 40,000 portraits of members of the profession. Skilled at retouching, he used this concentration to achieve "effect" and to satisfy the vanity of his clients. As a photographer he was the equivalent of a modern-day director, cajoling, parodying, and even intimidating his sitters to elicit dramatic and expressive representations. To overcome the difficulties of 5 to 60-second exposures, Sarony used a mechanical "posing machine" that allowed a sitter to maintain a more flexible and natural position. This device enabled him to capture the emotional energy of the fictional roles of his actor clients, freeing them from conventional portrait poses. Uninterested in the mechanics of photography, Sarony worked with Benjamin Richardson, his cameraman, to whom he gave credit, to make the pictures he desired. Sarony positioned the sitter while Richardson deftly captured his vision. Richardson offered this account of Sarony’s technique: [2|4|7|926]



 
When he photographed Jim Mace, the pugilist, on his first visit to this country, he danced around him, slapping him on the chest and in the ribs in a way which fairly astonished the champion, who enjoyed it hugely.5 [2|4|7|927]



 
One of the first photographers to display the copyright notice on his card mounts,6 Sarony sued a lithography firm for copyright violation over his portrait of Oscar Wilde. He not only won the suit, but established the legal precedent that photography could be an art.7 [2|4|7|929]

 
Sarony
Oscar Wilde
1882
Cabinet card
Be-Hold
Courtesy of Larry Gottheim - Be-Hold (45 / 76)
 
The young poet against an elaborate screen background. Cabinet card copyright 1882 by Napoleon Sarony.
 
LL/10905
 
 


Painting on photographs: A 19th century perspective
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Painting on photographs: Supporting materials
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4.8. Retouching and Enlargements

Although hand-coloring of images was widely practiced, photographers often balked at retouching, for it was time consuming and expensive, and many considered it fraudulent. Hence, anything that Sarony or Adam-Salomon achieved by retouching was of no value to those who believed that making revisions to the negative was blasphemous, which showed how quickly the negative achieved the status of an inviolable container of truth. [2|4|8|931]

 
Anon.
Portrait of a Daguerreotypist
1850 (ca)
Daguerreotype, 1/6 plate
Collection Matthew R. Isenburg
Daguerreotypist coloring a plate with a daguerreian coloring box. Illustrated is the standard box with eight bottles of powdered colors, brushes and a palette for mixing colors. The powders were so fine that they adhered to the plate with as little as the moisture from an expelled breath. (Matt Isenburg)
 
LL/11423
 
 
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Portrait: The Unknown Sitter - African American Portraits of the 1860s-1880s
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However, the new larger-sized cabinet prints revealed characteristics many sitters did not find flattering. Customers demanded that the camera image be softened and facial imperfections eliminated. Photographers thus began to offer sitters the option of having an idealized portrait made, marking the beginnings of image (fantasy) taking precedence over reality. As photographers became more proficient in their use of light, pose, and retouching, they could now modify human appearance and offer illusionary beings as role models, triggering new standards for looks and fashion. Problems surfaced as people forgot that these images were constructions and began to use them as yardsticks to measure their own appearance and came up lacking. This conflict between reality and how that reality is pictured generates the question: Do photographs show how things are or how they look photographed? [2|4|8|932]



 
Before the collodion era, almost all photographic images were the size of the original camera exposure. John Draper experimented with enlarging daguerreotypes in 1840, and in 1843, Alexander Wolcott patented an enlarging device that permitted a daguerreotype to be rephotographed onto a larger plate or a piece of calotype paper. Others, including Talbot, conducted enlarging experiments, but the process was impractical and rarely done. In the early 1850s, however, photographers began to make enlargements with cameras that used reflectors and a copying lens to transmit sunlight through a glass plate negative onto a bigger piece of albumen paper. The first practical solar enlarger was patented by David A. Woodward in 1857. Based on the solar microscope in use since 1740 and designed to make enlargements onto a canvas that would later be painted over, the enlarger was a horizontal device that used a mirror to relay sunlight to a condenser lens the same size as the negative. This light passed through the negative to a copy lens that focused the image onto an easel where the albumen paper was placed for exposures of 45 to 60 minutes. By the mid-1860s, solar enlargers could be seen on the roofs and in the windows of major photographic establishments, and, with improvements, they continued in use until the 1890s. The first vertical enlarger had been designed in 1852 by Achille Quinet of Paris. In 1858, J. F. Campbell’s take on this idea used a camera in an opening in his studio roof to make enlargements on a table below. Campbell continued to refine his device until it came to resemble our modern-day enlarger. [2|4|8|933]

 
John William Draper
John William Draper
1864 (publication)
Engraving
Google Books
Published in "The Camera and the Pencil; or the Heliographic Art" by M.A. Root (Philadelphia: M.A. Root, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, New York: D. Appleton, 1864)
 
LL/34856
 
 



 
Larger images increased the demand for more photographs, which led to more companies producing manufactured photographic goods and services, thus imposing standardization on the practice. Retouching and spotting became everyday procedures, as small defects were now noticeable. As bigger pictures were hung on walls instead of being placed in albums, photographs became more directly related to drawing and painting, causing confusion as to the aesthetic criteria needed to evaluate a photograph. [2|4|8|934]

 
Unidentified Photographer (Campbell Family)
Cuckoo Gordon, Annabel O'Grady, Nancy Swetenham, Sarah Napier, Clara Wellesley, and "Jack"
1870 (ca)
Albumen print, photomontage with watercolor embellishment
32.5 x 22.7 cm
 
George Eastman House
Courtesy of George Eastman House (GEH NEG: 17312)
 
LL/6920
 
 



 
The concept of enlarging meant that a print did not have to adhere to the original construction of the negative, but could act as raw material for the postcamera operations that defined the final image. This was a radical departure from how pictures were previously put together, and it came to shape much of twentieth century practice. Thomas Skaife’s single-lens miniature camera, the Pistolgraph (1858), took instantaneous "shots" by means of a spring shutter that was operated by rubber bands when its trigger was fired. (Skaife was almost arrested for "shooting" Queen Victoria with his "pistol." The image was lost when Skaife had to open his camera to convince police he was not an assassin.) The tiny plates, 1 1/2 inches in diameter, were "hand-enlarged," that is, the processed negatives were projected to their chosen size, but the image was hand-traced onto a piece of paper rather than transferred by photographic means. [2|4|8|935]

 
Anon.
Title page for T. Skaife "Instantaneous Photography, Mathematical and Popular, Including Practical Instructions on the Manipulation of the Pistolgraph according to the mode practised by the inventor and most successful of his pupils" (Greenwich, 1860)
1860
Title page
Google Books
LL/42236
 
 


 
FOOTNOTES
  1. Helmut Gernsheim, The Rise of Photography 1850–1880: The Age of Collodion (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1988), 23.
     
  2. Helmut and Alison Gernsheim, The History of Photography, 1685–1914, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969), 306–07.
     
  3. Many of Nadar’s works were reproduced in the Galerie Contemporaine, a series of 241 portraits by 28 photographers of artistic, literary, and political figures in France, which was published in Paris between 1876 and 1894.
     
  4. Translated from Jean Prinet and Antoinette Dilasser, Nadar (Paris: Armand Colin, 1966), 115–16 (Nadar’s testimony in a lawsuit).
     
  5. Wilson’s Photographic Magazine, vol. 34, no. 482 (February 1897), 69.
     
  6. Copyright protection was extended to photographs in 1865, but it took several years before most photographers started to claim copyright.
     
  7. “Sarony v. Burrow-Giles Lithographic Company,” Federal Reporter, vol. 17, no. 600, (1883) as quoted in Photography in Nineteenth Century America, “The Portrait Studio and the Celebrity” by Barbara McCandless (Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX and Harry Abrams, NY, 1991), 69–70.
     

 

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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