Studios around the globe
Photography studios sprung up around the globe throughout the 19th century, particularly in the wake of widespread European and American colonialism and imperialism. Making, Not Taking: Portrait Photography in the 19th Century, an exhibition on view at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College from February 7 until December 13, 2020, explored the materiality, the craft, and the event of photography in its earliest iterations. Part 3 of 3, this virtual version of the exhibition focuses on case studies from Japan, Mexico, Egypt, and the United States to explore how the theatrical elements of the early portrait studio (with its props, backdrops, and costumes) were used to created generalized image “types” of people from around the world.
Photography aided early anthropologists and social scientists who sought to comprehend their expanding worlds through measurement, classification, and categorization. Across the globe, they used photography to organize people according to false notions of race and class. These photographs are not portraits; rather, they look past individual identity to focus on the unique dress, exotic wares, or foreign surroundings of those represented. From anthropometric studies to souvenirs for a growing tourist industry, photographic “types” served a variety of purposes and often circulated in ways unforeseen by their original producers.
"Native types" from Japan
The first camera entered Japan in 1848 on the cusp of unprecedented change for the country. In 1853, the United States forced Japan into an unequal treaty that ended a nearly 250-year policy of national seclusion. After the establishment of diplomatic relations with foreign powers, photography spread as a commercial enterprise in the prospering port cities of Nagasaki, Kobe, and Yokohama.
Amida Buddha at the Kōtoku-in Temple, Kamakura (1865/1875) by UnknownThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College
Westerners and Japanese alike opened studios in port cities, where they hawked images of famous landmarks…
Women in Outdoor Costumes (1865/1875) by UnknownThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College
…as well as “native types” to tourists and a growing foreign population.
Samurai (1865/1875) by UnknownThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College
The “types” accorded with western expectations of “authentic” Japanese clothing and customs that were often at odds with the contemporary government’s policy of rapid and wholesale modernization.
By the time this photograph of a samurai was staged, it would have been illegal to don a topknot or the warrior’s double swords, which were considered stigmas of the country’s feudal past.
Women Eating (1865/1875) by UnknownThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College
The Meiji-era photographs in the Davis Museum collection were purchased by Mary Alice Knox, a professor of history at Wellesley College, during her travels to India, China, and Japan in the 1880s.
In this way, photographs that were produced expressly to appeal to the tastes of foreign tourists were seen as reliable documents to be used as educational materials in the first course on the history of Asian civilizations offered at Wellesley College.
"Occupational types" from Mexico
Antíoco Cruces and Luis Campa ran a prominent photography studio in Mexico City from 1862 to 1877. Along with commissioned portraits, they were well known for their “occupational types”—images of street vendors and other workers printed in the collectible carte de visite format. First created for the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876, the elaborately painted trompe l’oeil backdrops, distinctive outfits, and detailed displays won the studio of Cruces and Campa international acclaim.
Cedaceros (two young men selling molds) (1870/1875) by Luis Campa and Antíoco CrucesThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College
Though created with real working people who modeled their goods or trade for the camera, these photographs stage theatrical mises-en-scène that look past the individual identity of the sitters.
Judero (seller of Judas effigies) (1870/1875) by Luis Campa and Antíoco CrucesThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College
Here, a judero stands in front of a painted backdrop depicting the cathedral in Mexico City—a fitting setting, for he is purveyor of Judas effigies.
The representations of Judas, made with hay and rag, were traditionally purchased and burned by church-goers on the eve of Easter Sunday to exorcise evil from the community.
The tradition originated in Orthodox and Catholic communities across Europe and was introduced to Spanish and Portuguese colonies in the early nineteenth century, making it a familiar, if dwindling, sight for owners of this carte de visite in Europe.
Vendedora de Flores [Young woman carrying child on back selling flowers in a basket] (ca. 1870-75) by Antíoco Cruces and Luis CampaThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College
Here, a fabricated rural setting frames a young flower vendor. The woman stands in profile to reveal a child who hangs from her shoulders while she works.
The specificity of the pose and setting are typical of the depiction of street vendors—appearing archaic yet essential to sustaining the lifestyle of the newly urbanized Mexican bourgeoisie.
Vendedor de Petates (Mat Seller) (1870/1875) by Antíoco Cruces and Luis CampaThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College
The “occupational types” thus reified social hierarchies for elite viewers in Mexico, while fostering nostalgia for a premodern way of life among Europeans and Americans who considered themselves more technologically and culturally “advanced.”
Souvenir "types" from Egypt
In the second half of the nineteenth century, “Orientalist fever” drove a large number of European photographers to establish permanent studios throughout the Ottomon Empire. Primarily British and French scholars established the superficial discipline of Orientalism in the context of imperial projects that sought economic dominance over Asian and Middle Eastern countries. To that end, Orientalist rhetoric and imagery subordinated “the Orient” through representations that restricted countries such as Egypt to a traditional, premodern, and often primitivized past. Photography studios in Alexandria and Cairo that catered to European tourists perpetuated these stereotypes for a popular market.
Bedouin sur le chameau, from the series "Souvenir from Egypt: 25 Remarkable Types" (1860/1890) by Otto SchoefftThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College
Otto Schoefft operated one of the most prominent portrait studios in Cairo in the second half of the nineteenth century. One popular travel handbook recommends as a souvenir Schoefft’s “fine collection of groups of natives,” also known as the 25 Remarkable Types.
While many of his souvenir photographs appear to have been made outdoors, in reality, Schoefft manufactured elaborate, picturesque settings inside his studio to create images that catered to his clientele’s desire for “authentic” (i.e. exotic) scenes from Egyptian life.
Anier, from the series "Souvenir from Egypt: 25 Remarkable Types" (1870/1875) by Otto SchoefftThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College
Many views are staged in front of mashrabiyah screens, considered a characteristic marker of Arabian architecture.
Musiciens de rue, from the series "Souvenir from Egypt: 25 Remarkable Types" (1870/1875) by Otto SchoefftThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College
However, these screens would have never appeared at ground level as they do in the photographs.
A means for Egyptian women to observe urban life without being seen, mashrabiyah were always located at least ten feet above the street level.
Middle Egypt (1870/1876) by Carl W. DammannOriginal Source: Tozzer Library, Harvard University
Despite these cultural discrepancies, Schoefft’s souvenir photographs were reproduced as “documents” in a wide variety of contexts, from illustrations in popular guidebooks, to anthropological and ethnographic studies.
Studies such as this portfolio on world ethnography take the pictorial information in Schoefft’s photographs at face value, decontextualizing the manufactured origins of imagery that was created for tourists, and perpetuating Orientalist stereotypes within so-called scientific studies.
American Indian "types" in picture postcards
Picture postcards became a part of the U.S. postal system in the 1870s and were one of the most common formats for making images of reservation-era Native Americans. These images vary widely in content and function, ranging from ethnographic material that accords with the “type” genre, to portraits commissioned for private use. Because of their vernacular origins, it can be difficult to locate where a picture postcard falls on the spectrum of exoticization versus self-representation. However, unlike other “types” photography, postcards were an explicit means of communication with broad circulation, and their inscriptions can provide important context regarding their original production, use, and recirculation.
Portrait of Three Native American Men (early 20th century) by Walter S. BowmanThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College
Photographers who descended from settler-colonial families, such as Walter S. Bowman, created picture postcards of Native Americans that were mass-produced as souvenirs for visitors to reservations or traveling Wild West shows.
The carefully arranged outfits and the straightforward pose of these three men indicates that this postcard was made as a collector’s item for travelers to Oregon.
"Lone Indian" (Copyright 1901) by Edward CurtisThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College
A purely commercial enterprise, these types of postcards repeat the tropes of early frontier photography, such as that of Edward Curtis, that capitalized on stereotypes of the “Lone Warrior” or the “Vanishing Race.”
Thundercloud (early 20th century) by UnknownThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College
Photographers working for Wild West shows dressed sitters such as Thundercloud in headdresses, feathers, and breach cloth—generalized markers of “Indian-ness”—even if the dress and accessories were not indigenous to his particular tribe, the Blackfeet.
Portrait of a Native American Woman (early 20th century) by UnknownThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College
All photographs of individuals in indigenous dress were not necessarily created to perpetuate exoiticist ideas of a singular Native American identity.
The fact that this woman appears in a portrait studio with a simple painted backdrop and contemporary rug, as opposed to a more contrived, theatrical setting, suggests that she was responsible for commissioning and constructing this portrait of herself.
Portrait of Two Native American Men (early 20th century) by UnknownThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College
Indeed, in the early 1900s it became common to have one’s portrait printed as a postcard for personal use.
A message written in Ho-Chunk on the back of this postcard demonstrates that these two men visited the portrait studio of their choice to create a record of their lives.
Portrait of a Man (Early 20th century) by UnknownThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College
Local photography studios, drugstores, and stationers created images of Native Americans in both Euro-American and indigenous dress among diverse settings that attest to a variety of lived experiences and histories.
Still, a general lack of context and the buildup of stock images often led to mislabeled reprints that risked becoming propaganda for reservation policies or missionary activities.
Portrait of a Woman and Child (Early 20th century) by O. DrumThe Davis Museum at Wellesley College
An individual’s portrait could be relabeled with derogatory language and sold to white postcard collectors, perpetuating practices of occupation and domination.
Just as portraiture was used by everyday individuals to construct their own identities for public and private consumption, the portrait studio became the preferred space to stage and animate human “types.” Unlike the portraiture explored in Parts 1 and 2 of this series, these images linked physical features with cultural characteristics, looking past the individual identity of the models. In photographic “types,” bodies blur with clothing, wares, occupations, and trades. The purported truth value of the medium found equal purchase in scientific, pedagogical, and commercial contexts. Revisiting these images demonstrates the fundamental role of photography in early constructions of race. Though created in the nineteenth century, many of the stereotypes presented in this tour are still with us today. From textbooks to news media, we would do well to contest the colonial legacies that continue to generate racialized and exoticized images.
Curated by Carrie Cushman, Linda Wyatt Gruber '66 Curatorial Fellow in Photography, this exhibition was made possible through the support of the Surf Point Foundation and with generous loans from Barbara and Peter Schultz. 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.
To learn more about the history and circulation of the “types” photographs included in Making, Not Taking, download the Davis app and explore the tour, “Collecting Types.”