Amateurs, Photography, and the Mid-Victorian Imagination
Author: Grace Seiberling
Description: 1986 ISBN 0-226-74498-1. 195 pages plus 40 pages of 78 images of landscapes, buildings, still life, and a few portraits. Extensive bibliography, Well footnoted text, includes a brief Technical Appendix and a Bibliographic Appendix of 33 photographers in Britain who played important roles in the development of photography.
Grace Seiberling with Carolyn Bloore in association with the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House wrote this book from research on the nineteenth-century amateur photographer with an interest in interpreting the work of British Photographers in the 1850s.
Grace Seiberling at the time of publication was an associate professor of art history at the University of Rochester. Her interest in this subject began in 1977 while she was a Fellow at the National Humanities Institute at the University of Chicago. In the preface, she states that by the 1850s photographers were able to think about making pictures rather than merely getting some kind of image. These experimenters and early adopters of a new technology set many of the standards and helped find ways for photography to change from an amusement into as medium of commerce and communication.
Amateurs set the stage for the emergence of the professional photographer in the late 1850s and early 1860s. During the 1850s photography developed from experimentation in the technical processes of producing an image and artistic treatments of photographic subjects into processes with certainty and images laying the foundation for commercial enterprises.
The text begins with a description of the Amateurs and their role in the 1850s including the competition for recognition and the development of societies of photographic practitioners that promoted the exchange of information. The technical advances are described in significant detail and how "The artists ... are not afraid to become chemists" and "The chemist...long to be artists". She shows how the uncertainty of obtaining an image developed into standard and dependable processes.
The subject of images and the visual and literary traditions is next examined and the rise of the Professional. What was a avocation becomes an occupation with many amateurs in the mid 1850's setting up shop and taking portraits as well as other images for the primary purposes of publication and sale. Exhibitions and publications in the 1850s help gain reputation for the amateur and promotion into commercial enterprise. Between 1850 and 1860 a new group of commercial entrepreneurs emerged replacing the amateur as the leading force in photography.
The later third of the book discusses the transformation of Amateur Photography and the reassertion of "Amateur" values in the later nineteenth-century and the further emphasis on the artistic qualities of photographs rather than the commercial value.
This work should appeal to photographers, historians and sociologists.
Ted Coffey, Green Spring, WV