Mounted in conjunction with Going Viral: Photography, Performance, and the Everyday, this exhibition tells an earlier history of vernacular photography—that of nineteenth-century portraiture. Similar to snapshots, the portrait photograph is enigmatic for its ability to be simultaneously a one-of-a-kind object (a family keepsake) and a duplicate (a repetition of conventional settings, poses, and framing devices). But before photographs were taken or snapped, they were made. Early photography was a process that involved a great deal of time, labor, and costly materials. This exhibition explores the materiality, the craft, and the event of photography in its earliest iterations.

The exhibition is divided into three thematic sections. The first, Materials, draws from the Davis Museum’s extensive collection of daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, cartes de visite, cabinet cards, and tintypes to demonstrate how the genre of portraiture shifted from preciously framed and cased photographs focused on the human bust, to more elaborate depictions of sitters among high-end furnishings and whimsical backdrops. The second section, Studios Around the Globe, examines the ethnographic function of studio photography with a display of “types” from Japan, the Philippines, Egypt, Mexico, and North America. The final section, A Visit to the Portrait Studio, combines photographs with ephemera, such as broadsides, studio imprints, and posing manuals, to elucidate the experience of having one’s portrait made in the 19th century. With generous loans from private collectors, the exhibition will recreate a daguerreian-era “operating room,” outfitted with an original backdrop, antique posing props and furniture, a camera and tripod from the studio of John Roberts in Boston, and all of the tools needed to create a daguerreotype.

In conjunction with the exhibition, and with generous support from the Bern Schwartz Family Foundation, the Davis Museum will present a day-long symposium, “Handmade Photography Today,” to explore contemporary iterations of nineteenth-century photographic processes. Please join us on March 7, 2020 to hear from the four acclaimed photographers, Myra Greene, Will Wilson, Edie Bresler, and Takashi Arai, on how they each rethink our contemporary relationship to historical imagery.

Please share your impressions with us on social media using #davismakingnottaking

Curated by Carrie Cushman, Linda Wyatt Gruber '66 Curatorial Fellow in Photography, the exhibition is supported with funds given through the generosity of Linda Wyatt Gruber (Class of 1966) and Wellesley College Friends of Art at the Davis.