DaguerreotypesThe term "occupationals" as a general photographic category came into common usage during the second half of the twentieth century. I do not recall seeing it in print in the nineteenth century photographic literature I have read. It started as the jargon of the photo-collector and dealer trying to describe a classification of images to each other. It is now used by museum curators, historians, and others attempting to describe a certain type of image.
Strictly speaking, an occupational is a photograph showing a person or group with an object or items that tell us something about their job or profession. It has been widened to now include anything in the image that gives the viewer a clue to the subject‘s interests, hobbies or even prized possessions. At one end of the spectrum it is a clear message sent by the sitter or sitters from the past to the present that is easily understood much the same way by all who view the image, while at the other end it asks more questions than it answers.
Of course, the more one knows about the mid-nineteenth century, the more accurately one can read and understand these images. Though most were taken in a studio setting, they could be taken in a home or work place, or even in situ. In summary, a term which is still in common usage in twenty-first century photo-collecting circles refers to a nineteenth century genre of photograph that was not described by that term when it was exposed.
© Matthew R. Isenburg (2006)