I’m conducting an informal study of the different types of backgrounds in photos—it’s a vastly understudied area of photo history. Here’s an overview:
In the 1840s and 1850s daguerreotypists really didn’t use backgrounds. Their focus was capturing a likeness of a person, not making the pictures look like they were taken outdoors.
In the 1860s, suddenly you start seeing the wall behind the sitter. You can see the blank wall and the moulding at the base. At some point in the late 1850s photographers began offering handpainted copies of images with gorgeous backgrounds painted in. Many of you probably have these and wonder if they’re photographs or paintings. They’re actually both.
In the late 19th century, photographers began paying artists to create backdrops. You’ve seen some of them in past columns. The backdrop and the architectural elements create a stage setting for the portrait. In photos taken at tourist resorts, you’re likely to see seaside scenes. In next few weeks I’ll share some interesting backgrounds I’ve purchased as examples.
One of the photographs I received was from Alissa Booth. These three boys were born in the period from 1911 to 1915. Notice the delicately painted backdrop. It’s professionally done and creates a nature scene so the boys look like they posed outdoors.