A selection of 19th-century Australian cartes de visite

featured in  'The photograph and Australia' exhibition

at the Art Gallery of New South Wales 21 Mar – 8 Jun 2015

What is a carte de visite?
A carte de visite is a card of about 10 x 6.5 cm with an albumen paper photograph adhered to it. As the name implies, it was derived from the calling cards used by the middle and upper classes in paying social calls. Invented and patented in 1854 by French photographer André-Adolphe-Eugène Disderi, cartes de visite were introduced to Australia in 1859 by William Blackwood. Albums arrived in 1860, aiding the collection and distribution of multiple cartes.
Cartes were usually portraits and were made by the millions worldwide. Multi-lens, or ‘multiplying’ cameras were introduced in the 1860s, which were capable of producing from 2 to 32 images in quick succession, dramatically increasing the number of cartes de visite that could be made from a single photographic plate. They were easily reproduced by making paper contact prints from the glass plates, which were then cut and pasted onto card.

The reverse side of a carte de visite often featured the stamp of the photographic studio. In this instance, the decorative brand of Sydney-based firm Hatton & Patching.

Handwritten notes were also common, here we see the elegantly scribed name of the portrait's subject, 'Rev Frank Elder'.

Nineteenth-century Facebook
 '...you have the opportunity of distributing yourself among your friends, and letting them see you in your favorite attitude, and with your favourite expression...'. The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Oct 1862, p 8. This could be an olde-worlde description of Facebook where we now distribute our image and interests to our friends on a daily basis.
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Credits: Story

Produced in conjunction with the exhibition
The Photograph and Australia

Exhibition publication

Exhibition curator: Judy Annear
Digital producer: Francesca Ford

© Art Gallery of New South Wales

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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