Historical portrait photography – sources

Here I examine some sources of information for historical portrait photography. OCA I&P material quotes, Keith Jenkins, ‘We should distinguish between the two by calling ‘the past’ everything that has happened before and calling ‘historiography’ everything that has been written about the past.’ (Jenkins, 1991, p.7). This is a statement of the obvious, but I see it as important in the context of the human predisposition to generalise and summarise in order to make sense of the world – in this process, basic truths such as Jenkins’s can be overlooked. So the sources of information I mention below are a reflection of the frames of the past that were captured and preserved and not a representative picture of the past itself.

  • Source: Rijksmuseum,
    Source: Rijksmuseum

    The Khan Academy features a brief introduction to early photography, including portrait photographers, Clementina Hawarden (1822 – 1865) and Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–1879).

  • The Met Museum houses a large collection of photographs, including many digitised for online viewing. A current exhibition, Framing a Century, includes a number of historical portrait photographs. It is also a good source for Julia Margaret Cameron images.
  • The National Portrait Gallery has a collection of over 250,000 photographs and an excellent web portal to its collection, which features many digitised photos for online viewings.
  • Oxford Art Online (subscription through OCA), includes examples of early portrait photography and biographies of photographers.
  • The V&A has recently revamped its photography website – it is not as well structured as the NPG website, but does include a number of digitised historical portraits.
  • The Rijksmuseum houses a large collection of portraits, including photographs. What’s more it has decided to allow free download and use of its digitised images for personal use. One can even create a personal online library after signing up!
  • Naomi Rosenblum dedicates a chapter of her book to portraiture between 1839 and 1890, A plentitude of portraits (Rosenblum, p38). This chapter is an excellent resource for early portraiture. It deals with the technical constraints of early photography and the practical implications for portraiture; the development of the portrait as personal expression; and profiles of Julia Margaret Cameron, David Ocatvius Hill and Robert Adamson, and Nadar.


Khan Academy [online]. Early Photography. Available from: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/becoming-modern/early-photography/a/lady-clementina-hawarden-clementina-and-florence-elizabeth-maude [accessed 2.7.15]

Metropolitan Museum [online]. Framing a Century. Available from: http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/objects?exhibitionId=%7b3a84cf0d-b7dd-4d6d-89cd-85b53c857849%7d&pg=1&rpp=10 [accessed 2.7.15]

National Portrait Gallery [online]. Photographs collection. Available from: http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/about/photographs-collection.php [accessed 2.7.15]

Oxford Art Online [website]. Available from: http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/ [accessed 2.7.15]

Rosenblum N (1989). A World History of Photography. Rev Edition. Abbeville Pr.

Rijksmuseum [online]. Photographs. Available from: https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/rijksstudio/works-of-art/photographs [accessed 2.7.15]

V&A Museum [online]. Photography. Available from: http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/photography#articles [accessed 2.7.15]


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