The most interesting period of studio
photography artistically is considered by many to be between the
1860s and 1914, before the start of World War I in Europe. As studio
photography came more and more into its own and became more and more
viable commercially, the photographer developed different techniques
and ways of displaying their client's image. This wasn't done just for creativity's sake, but also to
create new types of product that would increase both business and profit.
In the 1850s there weren't many
people trained as professional photographers. The "photographers"
then were often scientists, pharmacists or chemists, not to mention
with other occupations that nothing at all to do with photography or
In the 1860s more people became
specialized in photography. They realized that they might be able to
become financially successful if they could learn how to attract potential clients with an attractive and
artistic product and also learn how to mass produce these portraits
for wider distribution.
At this time, the studio photograph
was usually an albumen print mounted
and glued onto some sort of cardboard. It was necessary then, as it
is today, to create new products, perhaps
by improving the design or varying the size of the photograph, as the public would get
bored after a time with one product and become more easily attracted
(often referred to using the abbreviation CdV) first became available in
the mid-1850s, though they only became very popular for a time in the
1860s. The CdVs were generally used by studios into the
1870s, and were even used through the first decade of the twentieth
century. This type of photograph was similar to the "calling card", and at 2
1/2 by 3 inches, was almost as small. They were not used often as
calling cards, however, because the cost for a large number of CdVs would be
relative high and not affordable for the average person. These photographic prints were made from albumen and were
glued onto thin pieces of cardboard. Thus, for a period of time, the CdV was very popular throughout the
world, as they could be made in plenty and relatively cheaply.
At first, CdVs were often used as greeting
cards for a specific holiday. Later, family members and friends,
previously having no way of exchanging portraits of one another, could now do so by having their photograph taken and
having multiple copies made. No matter where a person lived--perhaps someone had
to another town or country and left their family for good--they could now have
photos taken of other members of their family or friends before
emigration, to bring along with them as precious mementos. These photos could even be mailed to anyone anywhere
in the world where there was mail
service. Surely these images would also find their way into the family photo
The very early CdVs were a bit wider than
the later ones, which would fit conveniently into the newly created CdV
photo albums, first produced in the 1860. These CdVs were often
exchanged among friends or used as cards of introduction, collected, then
put into these albums. Perhaps a person's portrait might have been taken as a
sign of of that person's or their family's status or upward mobility, or there
might have been an engagement or marriage. Families would be able fill an
entire album with photos of their loved ones, from grandparents to
their children or cousins. Perhaps they may also have included photos of their
residence, or the farm or town in which they lived. The album may
also have contained photographs of their visits to family burial plots that
showed them next to the gravestone of a loved one.
In a sense, photography was the great equalizer.
Before, portraiture was generally available only to the financially
well-off. In addition, the earlier photographic product produced by such
techniques as the daguerreotype and ambrotype had to be sent with great
care in a case protected with glass, and this couldn't easily be transported or
mass-produced. Being able to produce the CdV created great opportunities for the
photographer with a bit of imagination and entrepreneurship.
At first, these CdVs were made very simply--smaller than a business card
with perhaps the name of the studio or subject imprinted on the
back of the photo--they were not very fancy. Not long after, the imprint
on the back of these photos were made more elaborate as photographers or
studios realized that they could both advertise themselves and their
products on the back of the photograph, while at the same time creating a
more attractive product.
The CdV was first developed by a Parisian
photographer named Andre Adolphe Disderi in 1854. He received a patent for
his standard formatted CdV card size of 2 1/2 by 4 inches (generally the size
of the photo would have the slightly smaller dimensions of 2 1/8 by 3 1/2
inches.) By employing a sliding plate holder and a camera with four lenses,
he was able to take eight negatives all at once on one 8 by 10 inch glass
plate. This certainly reduced the photographer's production costs--each
time the photographer would print a negative, he would be making eight or
prints of the same photo at the same time. Disderi's method didn't become
popular until five years later in 1859. In the United States during the time of the American
Civil War, many soldiers would pose for these CdVs, wanting to leave
copies with their
families as a last photo of them before they went off to war. This
also occurred in the countries of Europe, before young men would go off to
war (or when they came home.)
Most of these CdVs, because they were so
small in size, could not accommodate very elaborate backgrounds or include
more than one, maybe two people. Some had a very smart business mind and
realized that if only they could get famous people to pose for these types
of photos, they could produce these images in great quantity and sell them
throughout the world. It is said that CdVs were made of England's Queen
Victoria, Prince Albert, and other members of the Royal Family. It is also
said that those made of the Royal Family sold over 100,000 copies and
compelled others to have CdVs made of themselves. Even Queen Victoria herself became an
avid collector of these photographs! Certainly, because of the
anticipation of profits, the photography
business became quite competitive. Once very simple in design and content,
the CdV was now made more elaborate and valuable, and CdVs made with the
their favorite authors, actors, painters, heroes, etc. motivated many in
the new middle-class to become collectors. There were many who also filled
their own photo albums with studio portraits of famous people.
It was realized by photographers at some point
in time that those who took the photographs of famous people, who owned the
rights to them, could also make enormous profits. In England, for example, at
the average price of a CdV was five shillings; mass-produced they would
cost the photographer twenty-five pence for a dozen.
You can see in the photographs below that,
because of their small size (you can left-click on any of these thumbnail
images to see the fully sized versions), only one person, or perhaps a few
people, if posed closely
together, could be fit onto these tiny photographs. Usually the CdV was of one
person, or perhaps a couple. Also, these CdVs were not generally photos
solely of a
person's face, but were taken as a full or three-quarter pose. The props
used in these photos had to be simple: perhaps a chair, or a balustrade
and curtains, or a column. As you will see, within a short amount of time
the studio portrait grew in dimension, and much more variety was made possible.
SOME EXAMPLES OF CARTES-DE-VISITE
|By the mid 1870s, camera
lenses were improved to the point where the photographer could now get closer to the
sitter, and the resultant product could be a bust portrait
(head to chest) that would fill up much of the photographic
|Cabinet portraits were first
introduced in 1866 in England and subsequently in the United States.
Its use quickly spread around the globe. This card was larger
than the CdV, measuring 4 1/2 by 6 1/2 inches, the photo
itself being 4 x 51/2 inches. Because of the larger dimensions, the
available area of the photograph nearly tripled, allowing for
greater creativity and more elaborate settings and
By 1890, the
popularity of the CdV declined dramatically, and the use of cabinet
portraits increased to about ninety-percent of the portrait
trade. There were albums produced from 1867 to 1910 that
held both CdVs and cabinet photos. These photographs could
also be created in such a matter that the backside of the card could be made
into a postcard, with room for a message, address and stamp.
This was a sure way to encourage the taking of photographs
that could be mailed to
anywhere in the world.
Many of these cabinet portraits had the name of the
photographer or studio imprinted on the bottom of the front of
the card, and often on the back. Many cards or "photo mounts"
were generic, and
just had the words "visit portrait" or "cabinet portrait"
imprinted at the bottom. Though these two terms were
different, they were basically the same product.
Without any additional
evidence, it is often hard to deduce in what year a studio
photograph was taken. One might better judge the year by
the costume type or the style of dress of the individual, rather than what
type or size of studio photograph it was. It is also a problem
to date such photographs precisely because a studio might have
had some old, blank cards
in storage (without
photos mounted on them), that they may have possessed and not
used for many, many years. So it is perhaps a good idea to
have a knowledge of the different styles of clothing, e.g.
those worn in
the countries of Eastern Europe, if that is where the photograph was
The cabinet portrait was
popular until the early twentieth century when Kodak invented
the brownie camera, with which people started taking many of their
own family photographs at home.
SOME EXAMPLES OF CABINET PORTRAITS
studio name unknown
"Old Man with a Hat,"
"Cabinet Portrait" on front; "Dager" studio
on imprint on back
"Heller Family" (prob.)
S. Bleiweis studio
"Woman in Babushka"
N. Deputat studio
"Yankele et al"
Around 1890, more and more studio
portraits were created as vignettes, i.e. portraits where the edges of
the image were somewhat blurred
out, giving it a bit of a fuzzy appearance. Look carefully at the first image
below of Elizaveta Epstein, taken in Odessa in the final days of
the year 1900. Other examples are shown for your perusal, most all
of which were probably taken in the 1890s or at the turn of the
twentieth century. You will notice at the bottom of the photo mount
(i.e. the piece of cardboard that the actual photo is mounted/glued
onto), that there is an imprint, usually the name of the
studios which, back then, was often also the name of the
photographer. Sometimes the town where the studio was located is
imprinted onto the bottom of the card along with the studio name;
occasionally even the street address is included too. Sometimes
there is no indication of any studio information, even though it is
clearly a photo that was taken in a studio, and just the words
"cabinet portrait" are imprinted at the bottom of the mount.
SOME EXAMPLES OF VIGNETTES