Acting Out: Cabinet Cards and the Making of Modern Photography

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Univ of California Press, 2020 - Cabinet photographs - 232 pages
"Cabinet cards were America's main format for photographic portraiture through last three decades of the nineteenth century. Standardized at 6 1/2-by-4 1/4-inches, they were just large enough to reveal extensive detail, leading to the incorporation of elaborate poses, backdrops, and props. Inexpensive and sold by the dozen, they transformed getting one's portrait made from a formal event taken up once or twice in a lifetime into a commonplace practice shared with friends. The cards reinforced middle class Americans' sense of family. They allowed people to show off their material achievements and comforts, and the best cards projected an informal immediacy that encouraged viewers feel emotionally connected with those portrayed. The phenomenon even led sitters to act out before the camera. By making photographs an easygoing fact of life, the cards set the root for the snapshot and even today's photo sharing. This first-ever in-depth examination of the cabinet card phenomena, assembled by Dr. John Rohrbach, senior curator of photographs at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, takes the form of a major travelling exhibition and book. The project finds its roots in the work of New York City photography Napoleon Sarony who, starting in the 1860s, made cabinet cards his central tool for marketing the stars of the day. The project reveals how in reaction to the cards' ubiquity, photographers across the United States worked assiduously to set their businesses apart through use of elaborate, often incongruous, backdrops, overlays, and promotional advertising printed on both sides of the cards. It highlights how the cards transformed photography from a formal event into an avenue for personal expression where sitters took full advantage of photography's realism while openly playing with the medium's believability. In short, cabinet cards made photography modern. Essays by Rohrbach, Salvesen, and Pauwels address how cabinet cards reflected and encouraged the wide embrace of photography (Rohrbach), an in-depth essay on California photographer R. J. Arnold, who built a successful small-town business on the cabinet card (Salvesen), and an essay on New York City photographer Napoleon Sarony's innovative efforts using his patented Posing Apparatus"--

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Making Photography Modern JOHN ROHRBACH
Photography BRITT SALVESEN 52
Acting Out JOHN ROHRBACH 132

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About the author (2020)

John Rohrbach is Senior Curator of Photographs at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art.

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