Caught by the Camera’s Eye
Among the millions of research images in the department of image collections are thousands of people captured along with views of architecture and art. Some creatively posed, some accidental passers-by, tourists, curious children, or families showing off their homes (and dogs), the folks populating these 19th-century photographs give a fascinating glimpse of the fashion and habits of their era.
This selection of British and American photographs includes a variety of photo types from the 1850s through the 1880s. Only one photograph has tentatively identified sitters; for the rest, we can only hypothesize about the identities and occupations of these inhabitants of the past.
This image of the church at Winterbourne is one of a group of four photos of churches taken in April and May of 1859. These Gloucestershire churches, including Pilning (next photo), Frenchay, and Almondsbury, all lie within a five-mile radius, and each had been recently built or restored. The late 12th-century church at Winterbourne underwent a massive renovation beginning in 1843. The photographer may have asked these passers-by to pause to lend scale to his composition.
As with Winterbourne (previous photo), the church at Pilning is one of a group of four churches photographed in April and May of 1859. The Pilning church was a new construction completed in 1855. Perhaps these workers were part of the building crew.
Salted-paper prints have a matte finish with the silver image appearing embedded in the fibers of the paper, resulting in a soft focus picture, usually of a pale reddish brown or purple brown color. Waxing the print helped protect the bare paper surface and increased the appearance of detail. Salted-paper prints were gradually replaced in the 1850s by albumen prints.
In 1851, Frederick Scott Archer invented the wet plate collodion negative process, which used a glass sheet coated with a layer of clear collodion immersed in a solution of silver nitrate. The collodion glass plate negative shortened exposure time and increased the detail and sharpness of the image compared to the earlier waxed paper negative process.
Albumen prints became the preeminent photographic process from the mid-1850s until the advent of gelatin silver prints in the late 19th century. The term albumen refers to the egg whites used as a binder to adhere the silver image to the paper surface. Albumen prints have a similar color to salted-paper prints, but are glossier and have increased detail and resolution.
This lovely view of the Magdalen College Bell Tower includes at least nine people strolling across the Magdalen Bridge on Oxford’s High Street or looking down into the river below.
Built in 1792, Tullichewan was the home of Glasgow merchant William Campbell at the time this photograph was made. During World War II, the estate was requisitioned by the Royal Navy. After the war, a former owner returned briefly, but as upkeep costs became increasingly exorbitant, the castle was abandoned and finally demolished by explosives in 1954.
Saint Mary had been recently renovated when this photograph was taken. The three central figures are apparently two workmen and another man, possibly the rector or perhaps the architect of the restoration. Another figure is nearly hidden, leaning against the gate at the right. The photographers Burton and Pateson were active in Lancashire.
Here the view of the garden is the focus, with the house forming a quietly impressive background. Sadly this house, too, like Tullichewan, was impressed during World War II and never recovered. Abandoned since 1972, Friends of Bank Hall are working to save it from ruin.
Green Hill was the Gardner family summer retreat in the verdant Boston suburb of Brookline. This group appears to include an early view of Isabella Stewart Gardner (second from right) just a few years after her marriage to John Lowell (Jack) Gardner (far left). Within a few years, Mrs. Gardner had become one of Boston’s most influential art collectors and philanthropists.
While this artistic composition shows a hunter resting against a tree, the landscape itself is really the subject of the work.
With the rapid expansion of British railroads in the 1840s, more affordable travel was available to a new variety of working class tourists. They enjoyed the seacoast and countryside, touring great houses, castles, and cathedrals along the way. Photographs became standard souvenirs. The romantic ruin of Kenilworth Castle, popularized by Walter Scott’s 1821 novel, Kenilworth, was a frequent subject for photographers, as it had been for painters a generation earlier.
Guidebooks for tourists were commonplace by the mid-19th century. These fellows may be consulting their guidebook for opening times of this venue. Bradshaw's Handbook for Tourists in Great Britain & Ireland of 1858 describes Hever Castle as follows: “Once the residence of the unfortunate Queen Anne Boleyn. . . . many of the rooms present the same appearance as during the visits of Henry VIII. The Castle is still inhabited; it is surrounded by a moat, the entrance embattled and defended by a drawbridge and portcullis. . . . It is open on Wednesdays.”
This image shows children at play in the Close. The residences along Vicars’ Close were built between 1363 and 1412 to house the chantry priests of the adjacent Cathedral. Of the original 42 houses, 27 survive today, some of which are still home to the Vicars Choral.
Francis Bedford was a respected commercial photographer of landscape and architectural views and a founding member of the Royal Photographic Society. At Queen Victoria’s request, Bedford accompanied the Prince of Wales as the photographer for his tour of Egypt and the Near East in 1862. Here we see one of Bedford’s Welsh views.
Early tourists appear in this carte de visite. Note the third person in the far center background. Cartes de visite were small albumen prints mounted on 2.5 x 4 inch cards, which were the size of then-popular calling cards. The carte de visite format was patented by Parisian photographer André Adolphe Eugène Disdéri in 1854, and his portraits of Emperor Napoleon III made the format a huge success. While predominantly used for portraits, cartes de visite of major monuments and tourist locales were also common.
One of the four main gatehouses, or “bars,” along York’s walls, Micklegate (from the Old Norse “mykla gata” or “great street”) was the traditional ceremonial gate for monarchs entering the city. In this photo, local children loiter near the gate at left, and passing beneath the arch appears the ghostly figure of a cart and driver.
When construction began on the new castle at Balmoral in 1854, Prince Albert chose Scottish photographer George Washington Wilson to document the work. Wilson subsequently became portrait photographer to the royal family, and in 1873 he was officially appointed “Photographer Royal” to Her Majesty Queen Victoria. The castle gardens were private until well into the 20th century, making the view in this carte de visite of great interest to tourists and armchair travelers alike.
Located north of the American Falls and within sight of Horseshoe Falls, this suspension bridge officially opened on January 2, 1869. Note this portrait of a photographer, posed here with a camera. The card was published by the notorious entrepreneur and sometime photographer Saul Davis.
Stereographs (also called stereograms) are double photographs mounted on heavy cards and viewed with a stereoscope to give a three-dimensional impression of the subject. The first portable, three-dimensional viewing device was invented by Scottish physicist Sir David Brewster in 1849, and stereographs became increasingly popular after being displayed at the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition in London. Stereographs documenting exotic sites, world events, or famous works of art and architecture were sold at tourist sites as well as in stationery and department stores.
By the mid-19th century, the picturesque site of Goodrich Castle had become the subject of many paintings and poems and was a well-known tourist destination. This artistic view by Captain George Bankart was exhibited by the Amateur Photographic Association (APA), which was active from 1861 through the 1870s. This and following photographs by APA members appeared in an album documenting the association’s prize winners from 1862 to 1872.
This interior photograph of the Long Gallery at Haddon Hall shows three individuals, perhaps visitors, since they are wearing coats and hats. Interior photography required long exposure times and was tedious for the subjects who had to sit entirely still in order not to appear blurred. Early portrait photographers often used head rests keep the sitters’ heads imobilized. Here, the visitors were fairly successful holding their poses; only their faces are a bit blury.
Photography was often used by those who could afford it to document their homes and pastimes. Here we see an outing at Arbury Park, with ladies in summer attire.
The gentlemen seem to be considering a boat ride across the lake.
Photography was a fashionable hobby for the upper classes, as this scene captured by the Marchioness of Anglesey for the Amateur Photographic Association exhibition attests. “Amateur” referred to the members’ love of photography, as well as to the “less than professional” connotation the word carries today. Many members of this society were military officers or nobility; indeed the Prince of Wales was Honorary President of the Association in 1862.
The gelatin silver process used gelatin as the binder instead of albumen and became the most common photographic process starting in the early 1880s and continuing through the 1960s, when color film replaced it in popularity. Early printed gelatin images can have a similar color to salted paper and albumen, while developed gelatin prints, common after 1900, are usually neutral black.
To the left, a woman watches the photographer.
On the right, a boy leans against the railing beside the river. Behind him is an older boy at work. The passage under the High Bridge, called the Glory Hole, was a notoriously narrow channel through which boats had to maneuver to reach the sea.
Built c. 1170, this house was part of the 12th-century Jewish community in Lincoln and is one of the earliest and most beautiful medieval stone residences preserved in England today. At the time this photograph was taken, a china and curiosity shop occupied the ground floor.
Whitehall was built from 1764 to 1769 for Maryland Provincial Governor Horatio Sharpe. Sharpe returned to England in 1773 and did not return. Whitehall was purchased by John Ridout and remained in the family until 1895, so the men shown here may well be members of the Ridout household.
In the early 1870s, new, larger, 4.25 x 6.5 inch cabinet cards began to supplant the smaller cartes de visite. Cabinet cards were popular until the early 20th century, when Kodak’s cameras began to make personal photography the norm.
Robert Bracklow was a member of the New York Society of Amateur Photographers which later merged with the New York Camera Club to become the Camera Club of New York under the leadership of Alfred Stieglitz.