From Public to Private: The Evolution of Portrait Photography in Everyday American Life (1850-1900)
Unknown photographer. Untitled portrait (portrait of family with dog).
The announcement of photography, in 1839, made portraiture accessible to more people than ever before, and by the 1850s, it had become the focus of a new, flourishing industry. As everyday Americans clamored for professionally produced portrait photographs, a thriving and fiercely competitive marketplace evolved. Photographic portraits moved into the domestic sphere and became “household treasures” that families affectionately preserved in cases and albums—heirlooms that marked a new kind of family documentation.
This exhibition tells the story of two uniquely American aspects of early portrait photography: the emergence of the studio system and its unique marketing strategies; and the function of portraiture as precious keepsakes in everyday households. The exhibition draws works from the Henry’s Monsen photography collection and the University of Washington’s Special Collections.