Monday, 13 February 2017

71 : Photographers To The Queen

In order to understand the history of British studio photography in the latter half of the nineteenth century you need to understand the pace of technological, social and economic change that worked its way through the country during the long reign of Queen Victoria. During her years on the throne, photography changed from being an expensive scientific experiment and plaything of the rich to a mass market business available to all. 

But photography remained the province of the commercial studio specialist - cheap cameras available to ordinary citizens were a thing of the twentieth century. These then were the decades when the studios were the means by which, first the middle classes and later the working classes, could have their images fixed for posterity - a luxury that had previously only been available to the rich who could afford access to a portrait painter. The studio industry went through an intense period of growth, with studio springing up in every city and town - and later on, in every village - in the country. 

It was an industry ideally suited to the enterprising young, who would often move around the country establishing studios in town after town. And by the last couple of decades of the century a number of super studio chains were being put together; often characterised by clever marketing on the reverse of their Cabinet Cards and Carte de Visites. The firm founded by Andrew and George Taylor in London in the 1860s was but one of the several who claimed to be the "largest in the world" and "photographers to the queen"

There was obviously a pride to be obtained by having your portrait taken by the people who photographed Queen Victoria - not to mention the Prince and Princess of Wales. The fact that the picture was being taken in industrial Sheffield by an employee who had probably never met Andrew and George Taylor, never mind Her Imperial Majesty, was not important. It was a portrait you could proudly display on your parlour sideboard.

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