By Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery of New South Wales
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.
Untitled (1879/1879) by Hatton & PatchingArt Gallery of New South Wales
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'.
'...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.