There are many obvious differences between digital photography and traditional photography. One that probably doesn’t spring to mind is a photograph’s reverse side, which is non-existent in digital. Lissa Mitchell, Curator Historical Photography, looks at the ‘other side’ of photography.
How often do you think of a photograph as a physical object these days? When we look at photographs all our attention is usually on the image and what it shows. Yet in the 19th century it was common practise for photographs such as CDVs (‘carte-de-visites’) to have information written on the back about the photographers’ credentials and where their studios were located.
A more cash strapped photographer – such as John Low (image above), or one whose circumstances had recently changed, just wrote their details on the back by hand.
Printed cards for mounting photographs on had to be ordered from Europe and the firm of Marion Imp. in Paris were a popular choice of printers for photographers working in all parts of the British Empire (see image above and note printers mark on the bottom edge).
Much of the detail photographers had printed on the cards stresses their connections to royalty, colonial governors, and other people of high social rank along with stating what awards they had received at exhibitions.
Many photographers identify themselves as artists as well as photographers, which was often a way of attempting to distinguish themselves from others as a higher quality photographer.
Some photographers such as Charles Monkton went to the trouble of having mounts printed that featured New Zealand specific illustrations (see below).
But many photographs also remained blank for whatever reason, which now makes it hard to relate them to any person or place.
The backs of photographs tell complex stories of the international movement of photographers and photographs – chasing fame and fortune by migrating throughout the British empire via the locations of gold rushes and exhibitions. Photographer Herbert Vorley was based on the West Coast of the South Island during the early 1870s (above), his card incorporates an Australian coat arms – a reference to Vorley’s time spent in Australia prior to coming to New Zealand.
If you click on the images you will go through to Te Papa’s Collections Online website where you will see most of the photographs on the fronts of these cards.
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