Photography and the Book in the Nineteenth Century
Special Collections staff
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The introduction of photography to book illustration forever changed the experience of the book. Photographic imagery revealed the famous people of the day as they really looked, accurately recorded the latest scientific discoveries in incredible detail, and offered alluring views of the world near and far. In viewing the photographic record left behind in these books, however, it becomes apparent that the camera was not always an objective recorder of reality. Early photographic technologies could be very difficult to use, so that each picture had to be carefully staged, edited, and often touched-up by artists to correct for problems caused by long exposures and imbalanced sensitivity across the spectrum of visible light. In addition, the selection of an image for a book could be influenced by previously established graphic traditions, and some authors consciously attempted to make photographs look like engravings, lithographs, or aquatints. The books that survive with original photographs and early photomechanical processes are not simply records of the past, but fascinating glimpses into the minds of nineteenth-century authors, publishers, and audiences coming to terms with a new visual tool.