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The Photographic Studios of Eastern Europe


A studio photograph is not merely an picture of a person or persons, an image fixed on some form of paper and glued onto a piece of cardboard, but is importantly a record of a particular moment in the historic past. This stands in contrast to the creation of an oil painting, e.g. a portrait, where the subject would pose for an extended period of time over many sittings. During this time, the artist would have the opportunity to learn more about the subject, i.e. their personality, work, and life experiences. This in turn would aid the artist in determining what kind of image of the sitter he or she wished to portray. These photographs, especially in the early years of photography, were generally the only permanent, visual images that most of the world would ever be able to afford and have of their family members, and each was proudly held by the person of whom the photograph was taken.  Often these photographs would be taken with someone who had emigrated as a memory of the family and life they left behind. Perhaps they would be sent by mail to relatives both domestically and abroad, or perhaps they were passed down from one generation to the next as a family heirloom.

When photography was initially invented, photographs could not be reproduced unless additional photographs were taken and prints were made from these. Such was the case in the mid-nineteenth century with the development of the daguerreotype, ambrotype, and tintype. Other techniques, such as the use of the calotype and the collodion-glass method of photography, made it possible to produce multiple copies of the same image. The ability to have a negative on glass that could be used to reproduce original copies was, of course, a boon to photographers. This ability provided an opportunity for greater financial gain and commercial success for the both the photographer and his studio.

With the invention of photography, more people could now have their images preserved for posterity, including a great many who previously could not have afforded to have their portrait painted onto a canvas. Importantly, with the newfound ability to make multiple copies of photographs, images could be produced en masse and sent around the world to be sold to the curious. These images could now describe the world in a way never before seen by man. Before the invention of photography, people would most often hear the news of the world by word-of-mouth or by reading a written account in a local newspaper. Now people could actually have a visual account of what was going on in the world ("A picture is worth a thousand words"), e.g. images of wars, poverty, and the human condition. This imagery was very powerful. Now real images of battlefields and the horrors of war could be seen by the masses. A person who might look at these photographs could assign their own words and descriptions to such emotionally evocative scenes. next...

Above: Son of Brana and Mordecai Trakhtenberg
of Kishinev, Bessarabia, date unknown.




The Fathers of Photography

The Studio Portrait

and Design

Itzik Chonovitz,

of Vilnius

"A Photographer's Life:
A Family Story Told"
"The Baroness and Barons Groedel,"
Budapest, Hungary



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