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Summary: Portrait Path

The chapter, “Portrait Path” in Risto Sarvas and David M. Frohlich’s From Snapshots to Social Media – The Changing Picture of Domestic Photography traces the history of early photography from the 1803s to the 1890s. Over this period, photo technology evolved to suit consumer demands and allow for new affordances, but also reflects current trends in social media.

Previous to photography, having a person’s likeness was limited to the rich and famous. Furthermore, using previous technologies such as the camera obscura and silver salts with the assistance of portrait artists were expensive and time consuming. The invention of the daguerreotype and calotype popularized photography and made the technology more accessible to the middle class. Tradespeople who worked with similar technologies to the camera such as painters and engravers began taking up portrait photography. Demand for portraits rose and soon, the public was demanding photos of exotic locations and celebrities. However, these technologies were still limited in portability and affordability thus leading to the development of stereocards and cartes-au-visites.

The standard, dominant format and the accessibility of portrait photography spawned a type of ‘cartomania.’ Now, anyone could have their photo taken and be immortalized on paper. Cartes technology allowed for new affordances in photo taking and sharing, most notable example being the photo album. Photos went from being a one of a kind item to mass produced objects sold for low prices. Not only were cartes important for preserving family memories, but also for telling stories, gifting and asserting or performing social status. Sarvas and Frolich link the affordances of cartes to social media profile pictures which often assert positions within sub-cultures. Celebrities such as Kim Kardashian who are “famous for being famous” are popular on social media because they use the selfie (which is another type of modern cartes) to consistently connect their fans to their image.

Sarvas and Frohlich conclude that mass production of portrait photography ultimately led to the development of new business models in the industry and modern cameras; it is a technology that needs to be shared by all members of society to find new affordances.

Works Cited:

Sarvas, Risto, and David M. Frohlich. “Portrait Path.” From Snapshots to Social Media – the Changing Picture of Domestic Photography. London: Springer-Verlag, 2011.

About Alexandra Orlando

A game critic, freelance writer and Twitch streamer. My writing mainly focuses on e-sports, streaming, game narrative and performance in gaming spaces


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