top of page

Bourgeoisie, Travel, and Cameras: A XIX Century Trend

Nowadays, everything can be recorded, shared and reality can be built from that.

Like any other memory, tale, anecdote, and especially history books, could be modified according to convenience or fragility; during the time of man on earth, there has existed a wide range of representations, from cave painting to wood carving techniques that have tried to freeze a feeling, situation, tale or identity in time. But in the XIX century, the subjectivity of a painted portrait or a familiar anecdote was going to transform forever, because cameras were going to be invented, and with that, a revolution of the way people quote or remember things were going to start.

Before the invention of the early version of the camera, a group of people was not poor, not at all, but at the same time, they were not wealthy as the monarchy. This group was known as the bourgeoisie raised after the Industrial Revolution, and with its conformation, another challenge came with it: The need to create traditions as a brand from the people in that economical position, and it was a dilemma. Back in the day, only the monarchy and royalty could access their immortalization through an image: A painted portrait that was the most honorable way to settle an image, a context, especially a status.

Previous to that moment of invention, there were approximations and notions that without notice, were the raw material of what later was going to become a technique. This raw material was the notions about some elements that had photosensitivity (silver salts), some portraits were made under very complicated circumstances. In the middle XVIII century, some techniques imported from China (Chinese Shadow Theatre) gained popularity and the demand for these kinds of portraits with silhouette technique (portraits “à la Silhouette”, or made from the shadow) was very high among the bourgeoisie.

JOHANN KASPAR LAVATER. Silhouette Machine, c. 1780. Engraving from Essays on Physiognomy. Gemsheim Collection, Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin

In the beginning, photography was only in the hands of the artists, it was a mechanical device that could be used for experimentation, later on, the bourgeoise started to use photography as a part of their way to invent traditions as a way to solidify their status. Being a new social class that aspired to royalty titles but also needed to distinguish among the non-rich. After some improvements, daguerreotypes were used to portrait trades, there are many images with one or more people who were in the same activity, firemen, shoemakers, and all the existent at the end of the XIX century.

Jabez Hogg Making a Portrait in Richard Beard's Studio, 1843. Source:

Later on, photography also became about wedd