There is so much to admire about this beautiful ambrotype recently acquired for Te Papa’s photography collection – look at the couple’s cheeks touched up by hand in pink, their jewellery and clothing. I also like that the couple are posed in front of the photographer’s studio interior wall fitted with a dado rail (centre behind the couple’s chests) and panel (below). While the plain area above the rail is possibly painted to look like a cloudy sky. The wall gives the portrait an unusual three dimensional aspect missing from most early photographic portraits which tend to be made with plain backgrounds. Its easy to see how this kind of photographic portrait was a cheaper and more portable rival to the painted fine art portrait.
The portrait in its case:
Thanks to Peter Ireland for information about the dado rail and wall.
Lissa Mitchell – Curator Historical Documentary Photography