'Children of the Past in Photographic Portraits', an album of 165 prints edited by Alison Mager, Dover Publications 1978.
For much of the 19th and early 20th Centuries, the standard portrait of a child, taken in a photographic studio, might easily have been a painting - pose, dress, lighting, background, a stiff formality masking restlessness. The difference, of course, lay in economics - almost all families could afford a photo of the children with prints for the relatives. Styles in dress and photography have since changed - but there remains a photographic record of children as they were - or perhaps as parents and photographers imagined them.
In this collection, 165 characteristic studio photographs portray American and European children from the 1860s to the 1920s. It is interesting to see if you can guess which country they are from by the styles - there are no captions, but there is a list of photographers and where they were, at the beginning, so that would make an interesting game; also no dates - so see how good your knowledge of costume is and date them! It is a fantastic record of late Victorian and Edwardian fashion details. A few of the shots come from famous studios (Joseph Albert in Munich; Mora in New York City), but most are the work of anonymous or little-known photographers from all parts of America, England, Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, France, even Argentina - 137 in total.. Most are of course of upper-or middle-class children, but a few are of poorer ones: two stand out for me - one of a brother and sister with their dog in a toy wagon in farmyard which must be America, and a pair of handsome little black brothers with such lively, mischievous faces and looking as modern as they could except for their clothes. Few are the stiff, almost deathly poses we have come to expect of Victorian portraits - most show their sitter's little characters if you look, in their pose, their clothes, their faces, their hands, and personalities shine through; affection between siblings is mostly evident (and so is dislike, in some cases, also of having their picture taken!); some are clearly little monsters and one can only imagine what they put the poor photographer through; in most though, you really can see their innocence and goodness - and intelligence.
Many of these shots reflect centuries-old concepts of the child as miniature adult: various young gentlemen appear in their best sailor suit; one poses with pince-nez, pipe and newspaper; another with bowler hat and watch chain; tiny girls in ruffles and bonnets decorously hold their brothers' hands. The entire range of youthful fashion is displayed and preserved in front of mock beach scenes, woodlands, boats, rocks and pastoral views.
Alongside their interest as historical documents, these pictures often become minor works of art. This album recalls a time when the idea of childhood was in its infancy and when studio photographers were the portrait artists of the People.
Being a Dover book, this 90 page 8½" x 9¼" paperback book is stitched and strongly made, so that even though it has clearly had use and the cover and spine shows shelf-wear, it remains in good condition and is still strong and sturdy.
Inside very clean.
N.B. I was unable to remove the dot-screening from all the pictures - they do not appear dotted/chequered/patterned in the actual book.
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