Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Victorian Photographers

Every now and again I realise that the header of this blog includes mention of vintage photos and the guilt creeps up in my peripheral vision that I have not spent as much time on them as they deserve. A large proportion of my 'dealing' life is spent with photos and many of those are Victorian cartes des visites or Cabinet Cards.

For those not familiar with the genre, here probably isn't the place to give a history of this little phenomenon of early photography. Suffice it to say that before the advent of affordable photography for the masses, a trip to the local photographic studio (pretty much one in every commercial road) wasmuch more common than it is today. The photos that this brief episode in photographic history produced are now collected and for multiple reasons. I know people who collect photos taken by photographers from a particular place (a kind of local history I guess), others collect them for the chronicle they provide of the fashions of the day, some people collect them by subject matter, dogs being a strange but common example, or toys or perhaps those which show real contemporary interiors.

The backs of these cards, however, are almost as interesting as the fronts. They are mainly used by collectors to help in dating the photograph. Early CDVs and Cabinet Cards have very simple backstamps, sometimes literally stamped on with a rubber stamp. As time goes on the backs of the cards became more and more elaborate with fancy designs and gilt printing and so on. It was also de rigeur to add any Royal Warrants (of course) but also to make note of prizes won at that other great phenomenon of the age: exhibitions. All of this helps to provide rough dating material for the photograph. But they are perhaps not as much appreciated as they should be for their sheer exuberance of design.

In the small selection below there are clear examples of aesthetic movement taste, the influence of the classical, high Victorian and, of course, nice examples where influences from all the design and cultural movements of the time can be seen mashed up together.

The picture really DO need to be clicked and enlarged to appreciate them.

PS. Thank you to all who have posted comments here in the last little while. I do read them and appreciate them (and the emails generated directly to me from items posted here).

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