The Carte de Visite in the 1860s and the Serial Dynamic of Photographic Likeness

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Carte de visites - the small, full length portrait photograph that swept France and England in the 1860s - have mainly been analysed as exemplars of photographic repetition, instances of the subjection of individuals to mechanical reproduction. Carte de visites did achieve recognizable individual likenesses: not through the power of their photographic accuracy but through alternative strategies of representation. Case studies of the carte de visite albums of Lady Cecelia Jocelyn and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce suggest how alternative forms of likeness were constituted on the one hand through dramatization -the introduction of a narrative rationale to the portrait which was drawn from wider visual culture – and on the other hand through repetition, the reiteration of similar images, each uniquely contextualized in a photograph album. In both case studies, it is the study of the album rather than the individual carte that allows us access to the sense of the individual being portrayed, and the essay concludes with a reflection on seriality – a relation of ‘minimal difference’ – as a mode of photographic likeness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)728-749
Number of pages22
JournalArt History
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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