Thursday, 30 August 2007

Cabinet Cards - superior portraits from "High Art" photographers

The next style of photograph to be introduced for popular consumption after the carte de visite was the cabinet card. They were substantially larger than the cdv, and were clearly aimed at the upper end of the market. Although the format - a 4"x5½" photographic albumen print mounted on 4¼"x6½" card stock - was originally introduced in 1863, it was not until the mid-1870s that it became popular; this trend reached its peak between the early 1880s and the late-1890s.

One advantage of the larger format was that it enabled more detailed portraits to be produced, such as this fine vignetted head-and shoulders presentation of a young man. It was taken at the studio of W.M. Phillips in the port town of Southampton (60 Oxford Street), probably in the late 1880s, and I presume that the subject is wearing the uniform and cap of the merchant navy.

The larger area also made the task of producing less cluttered, more relaxed group portraits a great deal easier. This nicely arranged family group, probably consisting of a father with his three sons, was taken at the studio of the Burton Brothers of Dunedin, on the South Island of New Zealand.

Alfred and Walter Burton were sons of John Burton, who had started a photographic studio in the town of Leicester (England) in the late 1850s. After working with their father in England, and helping to open and run several branch studios in Birmingham, Nottingham and Derby in the early 1860s, they emigrated to New Zealand in the late 1860s. Here they developed a renowned partnership which lasted for a decade, before they split due to personal differences and went their separate ways. Alfred Burton travelled over much of New Zealand, taking magnificent landscape photographs (see below), while Walter Burton concentrated on portrait photography in Dunedin.

Courtesy of David Simkin
The Sutherland Falls Expedition. A survey party and two photographic teams at Milford Sound, New Zealand. October 1888. Taken by Burton Bros. of Dunedin. Courtesy of David Simkin.

The following advert by John Burton & Sons appeared in the Derby Mercury newspaper dated 15 May 1867 (kindly sent to me by Clyde Dissington, courtesy of The Magic Attic).

It draws attention to the cabinet portrait as "the New and Favouritre style" and as
"... the most pleasing style that has been introduced in Photography for some years. The increased size of this Portrait over the Carte de Visite offers facilities for rendering more fully the characteristics of the sitter; and it is well suited for framing, while it is equally adapted for an album."

References/Further Reading
Cabinet Card at Wikipedia
The Burton Brothers, by Tai Awatea/Knowledge Net from Te Papa Online
Burton Bros. A Portfolio of 11 South Island, New Zealand Views from the 1870s and 1880s, from PhotoForum

1 comment:

  1. Hi Brett I am glad you have put the record straight about cabinet photos. Many histories of photography talk about them taking off in 1860s with a number of authors citing 1867 as the year they were "invented". While the style was proposed and practiced in the 1860s it was by no means common then and it really didn't take off until the mid to late 1870s. Cheers! Marcel


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