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4.12 Key concepts

We can conclude that the ideas relating to idealization, positive characterization and sexual stereotyping had a significant influence on the treatment of all 4 components of the portrait: expression, pose, background accessories and lighting.

Victorian family photographs (like most other primary sources) are therefore selective, partial and biased. Early photographers regarded it as part of their proper function to emphasize those aspects that were considered at the time to be good and
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4.11 Colouring

Image 40 Photographer/Painter: Moryson, Dumfries. Subject: Unknown young boy. Breeching portrait?

The photographic print could also be ‘improved’ by the application of colour on the surface of the finished print. In the 1840s painters of mi
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4.10 Retouching

In addition to the efforts made before exposure to show sitters at their best, portrait photographers regularly retouched the negative to remove or improve any perceived defects or blemishes. Before the 1860s, in Britain retouching was generally criticized for interfering with the ‘truthfulness’ of the photographic image. By the mid-1860s, however, the issue became the subject of intense debate and discussion and the journals published details of the various techniques available at t
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4.9.3 Limited characterisation

The other function of lighting was, inevitably, to assist characterization. Since Robinson advised portrait photographers to show sitters as moderately calm ladies and gentlemen, the lighting in commercial work is usually quiet and uniform, without dramatic contrasts of light and shade. This was intended to suggest tranquillity, harmony and self-control, in keeping with the limited stereotypical characterization discussed previously.

The use of lighting to convey dramatic characterizati
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4.9.2 Idealisation

Early photographers were adept at using natural lighting to idealise the sitter. Manuals of good practice were full of advice on adapting the lighting to soften wrinkles and wreathe blemishes in shadow.

For ladies of a certain age, who often give the photographer a deal of trouble, it is advisable to employ a very soft light falling in front, which softens the wrinkles and protuberances of the face, and obliterates
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4.9.1 Natural light

Activity 18

Can you identify the source of light used to create this portrait?

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4.8.3 Personal possessions

Most accessories in studio portraits were supplied by the studio. However, it was not uncommon for sitters to introduce items that held a special significance for them, such as children's toys, competition trophies and awards gained in the course of a career. As we should by now expect, any personal items were intended to reflect credit on the sitter.

If we can distinguish the routine studio accessory from the prized personal possession, we may be able to elicit a few more nuggets of in
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Idealisation

If we look at the surprisingly small range of items commonly used as accessories we notice that they, too, confer prestige by association or continue the limited positive characterization. Children are often pictured with prestigious, manufactured toys. Do you remember Walter Eastwood's classy tricycle in Image 16? Boys hold whips or hoops suggestive of street games and the outside world; girls clutch dolls or baskets of flowers which evoke the domestic realm.

The book probably appears
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Purpose

By now you have sufficient familiarity with early portraits to know that photographers regularly used painted backdrops and accessories to create a sort of stage set within the studio. These backgrounds came into widespread use with the introduction of the carte de visite in c.1860. Until the Second World War, 2 scenarios remained popular: the interior setting with windows, curtains, table and chair; and the parkland setting with trees, balustrade, rustic bench or stile. This choice of backdr
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4.7 Exceptions

Activity 13

Do you think the contact between the people in Image 29 is different from that in Images 27 and 28? Can you describe the nature of the contact?


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4.6 Touch and feeling

Activity 12

Images 27 and 28 represent the conventional pose of the newly-wedded couple who would visit the studio sometime after marriage to commemorate the event with a portrait. (We shall look at wedding portraits again late
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4.5 Touch

Let's consider more closely the nature of touch and physical contact normally displayed in Victorian studio portraits.

Activity 11

Compare Images 25 and 26, which are portraits of Edward, Prince of Wales and his fianc
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Activity 10

Scrutinize the arrangement of the sitters in the family group in Image 24. In such groupings it's important to consider the overall effect, the position and pose of each individual, the direction of heads and eyes and to note who is touching whom.

Figure 24

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4.4 Groups

If we agree that the posing of individuals carried messages for the viewer it makes sense that the posing of family groups can similarly be made to convey suggestions about the family and its character.


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4.3 Characterisation and sexual stereotyping

The choice of pose was also intended to echo the limited positive characterization of the expression. Distinctions were inevitably drawn between poses regarded as suitable for males and those considered appropriate for females. Men were allowed greater variety of poses than women.

The pose of a lady should not have that boldness of action which you would give a man, but be modest and retiring, the arms describing g
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Activity 8

Look closely at Image 17, a photograph of two young clerics. Then answer the two questions below.

Figure 17
Image 17 Photographer/Painter: Hills & Saunders, Oxford. Subject: Two churchmen, identities unknown, c.1900.
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