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The Commodification of the Celebrity Portrait: An Analysis of Photographic Business Practice in Relation to Image Mass Production in London c.1857-1880

Lamb, Jane (2019). The Commodification of the Celebrity Portrait: An Analysis of Photographic Business Practice in Relation to Image Mass Production in London c.1857-1880. PhD thesis. The Open University.

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The mass-produced carte de visite was a new kind of celebrity portrait. It was affordable and available to a wide middle-class market, and it was hugely popular in the 1860s and 1870s. The cartes are extant in large numbers today and offer a valuable Victorian archive ripe for investigation, yet they have, so far, been deemed of little historical value, and consequently have been under-researched in the history of photography. This thesis is centred around a large collection of over one thousand celebrity cartes de visite in the author’s possession. Patterns running through the archive have been identified, and show that a great deal can be learnt about photographers’ business strategies and middle-class society from the images. The first half of the thesis explores the structure of the new carte de visite business in two chapters: in its commercial organisation and in the construction and presentation of the product to a target middle-class market. The establishment of a new profession is highlighted in which commercial activity was displayed more openly on the product as the century progressed, and in which widened middle-class interests were presented in content. Three following case studies provide a deeper investigation in relation to particular subject areas, those of monarchy, government and Church, chosen especially as they were traditional portrait areas used to define the British constitution. These case studies show that studios adapted their output to meet collectors’ changing views on the role of celebrity whilst retaining an underlying representation of the ‘character’ of a new enlightened society. The thesis spotlights a new archive through which a clearer understanding of mid-Victorian business and society can be gained: the research therefore not only fills a gap in photographic history, but adds to knowledge on mid-Victorian middle-class culture.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Copyright Holders: 2018 The Author
Keywords: portrait photography; celebrity portraits; commercial photography; photographic business methods
Academic Unit/School: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS)
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) > Arts and Humanities > Art History
Item ID: 62278
Depositing User: Jane Lamb
Date Deposited: 16 Aug 2019 09:42
Last Modified: 07 Apr 2020 11:40
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