I have two photographs today which mark a momentous moment in the history of photography; when it stepped out of the confines of the studio and into the world. Although most of the very earliest permanent photographs were taken out of doors, the new art-science of photography quickly moved into the studio with likenesses of Victorian citizens frozen rigid by the needs of slow shutters and unresponsive film and plates. If you leaf through a pile of Carte de visites, you are struck by the way the individuality of the recorded faces seem to have been leached out of the image until you are left with little else than matronly woman or bearded man. It is almost as if the context of the photograph has been faded in the same way that the background merges into white space.
The CdV of an unknown woman is by the studio of F Bentley of Halifax. I can't seem to find a listing for the studio or when it was active, but at a guess the photograph will have been taken in the last couple of decades of the nineteenth century. I am not sure what can be said about the woman, other than the fact that it almost looks as though her face has been stuck on top of a different pair of shoulders. Was she happy or sad, rich or poor, moody or flighty - who knows.
My second photograph must have been taken at about the same time. Although there is a slight resemblance to the woman in the first photograph, the only relationship I know of was that their CdV photographs were in the same 50p bargain tray in an antique centre 120 years after they were taken. But we have left the studio behind and entered the real world and we are now bombarded by context and peripheral information. The row of houses with their high stone chimneys suggest that the photograph was taken in West Yorkshire and tell us something about the life of the woman and child.
Even the odd little detail is fascinating. Look carefully and you can see a couple of sheets of corrugated galvanised iron on what seems like a lean-to shed. Intrigued I checked out when corrugated galvanised iron was first introduced and I discovered that it was invented by Henry Palmer, architect and engineer to the London Dock Company, in the 1820s. Which was almost exactly the same moment in history that Nicéphore Niépce was taking that first photograph.
Now there's synchronicity for you.