Victorian Photo-Collages: Off With Their Heads!

In 1839, the daguerreotype was introduced to the world. By exposing a polished silver plate to chemicals, the surface could become sensitive to light, allowing for the capturing of images. Portraits had always been popular among Europeans, so the development of an even more precise process became wildly popular. It resulted in a rather widespread and creepy practice of post-mortem photography. We won’t focus on that trend here.

One of the big limitations of early photography was the need for strong sunlight for the image to be captured. To solve this problem, Victorian women used their creative and artistic talents to tweak existing photographs to fit into situations they found more enjoyable. The result? Victorian photo-collages. Basically, people liked to put faces on stuff, and it usually resulted in something between funny and odd.

The following images were published in the New York Times in 2010 to promote an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum, which I had the privilege of visiting. Here are a few of my favorites from the Times‘ article.

Madame B album (1870s), by Marie-Blanche-Hennelle Fournier.

Madame B album (1870s)
by Marie-Blanche-Hennelle Fournier

Detail from Mixed Pickles, from the Westmorland Album (1864 70)

Detail from Mixed Pickles, from the Westmorland Album (1864/70)
by Victoria Alexandrina Anderson-Pelham, Countess of Yarborough and Eva Macdonald

Untitled page from the Sackville-West Album (1867 73)
by Constance Sackville-West or Amy Augusta Frederica Annabella Cochrane Baillie

PlayingWithPictures_Gough ducks_534

Untitled page from the “Gough Album” (late 1870s)
by Kate Edith Gough

Maria Harriet Elizabeth Cator Untitled page from the Cator Album (late 1860s 70s)

Untitled page from the Cator Album (late 1860s/70s)
by Maria Harriet Elizabeth Cator