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With the advent of photography in the first half of the nineteenth century, portraiture, previously reservedfor the few who could afford to commission paintings, became democratized. One of the most popular photographic categories until well into the present century was the formal studio portrait of children. Almost all proud and loving parents had such pictures made, and enough copies were ordered for distribution to a usually sizable circle of relations. This is why so many old photographs of children have been preserved.
Pictures of this type have not always been highly regarded by historians, with the exception of those taken in such famous studios as that of Joseph Albert in Munich (see No. 20) or Mora in New York City (see No. 90). Today, however, we are beginning to recognize the services rendered by the photographic profession as a whole in preserving the appearance and social attitudes of the passing day.
Without any pretensions to completeness or scholarly -evaluations, the present volume nevertheless breaks new ground in presenting 165 typical studio photographs of children. One hundred thirty-seven photographers from fifteen states of the Union and from ten foreign countries are represented. The pictures range in time from about the 1860s to the early 1920s. The popular carte-de-visite and cabinet formats are preva lent.
These photographs are naturally crammed with information about children's clothing (formal or masquerade), playthings, baby buggies and other physical paraphernalia. But they also reveal nineteenth-century conceptions of the child as either a miniature adult or an animated doll. The emphasis on the proper sexrelated poses and activities is also evident. Intentional humor crops up here and there. It is also interesting to observe the great variety of studio backdrops and decor in which the older traditions of portrait painting were faithfully maintained.
An unprejudiced eye will occasionally find that these lesser-known or anonymous photographers could achieve as much artistry as acclaimed Victorian masters such as Lewis Carroll. A list of the identifiable photographers and their cities has been provided.
It is hoped that the first brief effort this volume represents will serve as an incentive for fuller and more serious explorations of the artistic and social implications of this popular art form. Over the years, it has been the private collectors, more than the libraries and museums, who have preserved the photographic record of the past. The present book may give more people a vista of the wealth of charming and important material still available at low cost in antique shops and flea markets everywhere.
Excerpted from Children's Fashions of the Past in Photographs by Alison Mager. Copyright © 1978 Alison Mager. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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