You are here


Last Updated: 3-Mar-2015

This research guide serves as a brief and introductory bibliography on photography.

Subject Librarians

Senior Librarian, Art & Architecture Library
(650) 725-1038, (650) 561-2392


Pop Advertising, San Francisco (1939). ©John Gutmann

The literature on photography is vast and varied and the holdings of the Art & Architecture Library are extensive. Many titles, especially those written before the advent of the "new art history" in the 1970s and 80s, focus on chronological progressions, stylistic imperatives, a hierarchy of works, and the biographies of acknowledged masters. More recent studies are based in theories of perception, memory, and the creation of meaning. For additional guidance in researching photographic topics, see the "Further Research" section, and visit the Art & Architecture Library for consultation with a Librarian.

Pop Advertising, San Francisco (1939). © John Gutmann (1905-1998)

Introductory texts

4th ed. New York : Abbeville Press Publishers, 2007.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » TR15 .R67 2007 F
Rosenblum's history is an impressive chronological amalgamation of names, dates, and images--a 600 plus page text, with timeline, glossary, bibliography, and a detailed 29 page index. Despite its title this is still a western/European-centric history, focusing primarily on photography as an artistic medium. Although not strong on critical or theoretical analysis, due to the sheer volume of information conveyed this title will continue to serve as one of the standard introductory texts on photography. For a combination chronological/topical examination of photography by women (e.g., "At the beginning, 1839-90," "Not just for fun: Women become professionals, 1880-1915," "Portraiture, 1890, 1915," etc.) see Rosenblum's A History of Women Photographers.
2nd ed., rev. and enl. Kansas City, Mo. : Hallmark Cards, in association with H.N. Abrams, 1999.
Green Library » Bender Room » TR23 .H35 1999 F
Davis's text is an extremely well-written, deeply researched, extensively foot-noted chronological survey of American photography from about 1885 to the end of the 20th century. He includes the iconic as well as not so well known photographs and photographers. Davis's work is thoughtful, his language not laden with theoretical jargon, yet he touches on the theoretical discourse and explains divergent critical positions. He is a noted curator and writes with a sense of lineage, traditions and influences. The work includes a detailed index, general bibliographies for each chapter, and an individual bibliography for all photographers featured. See also his The Origins of American Photography, 1839-1885: From Daguerreotype to Dry-Plate.
4th ed. London ; New York : Routledge, 2009.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » TR145 .P48 2009
Unlike more traditional histories of the medium, many of which assume a biographical and/or chronological imperative, Wells and her five contributors offer perspectives that fully engages the theoretical discussions of photographic seeing, the creation of photographic meaning, and the ubiquity of photographic images throughout society. Designed to serve as a textbook for contemporary students, the book is presented in seven sections, each of which is broken down by topics and subtopics. For example, Chapter 2, "Surveyors and surveyed: photography out and about," by Derrick Price, includes five topics, one of which is "Documentary: new cultures, new spaces," which includes four subtopics, including "Documentary and photojournalism in the global age." Chapter seven, "Photography in the age of electronic imaging," by Martin Lister, discusses digital technologies, techno-progressivism, media archaeology, virtual imagery, etc. A glossary, bibliography, and index complete this title, which has appeared in four editions since it was first published in 1996.
3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ : Prentice Hall, c2011.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » TR15 .M273 2011 F
Although Marien's text proceeds chronologically there is less a sense of historical or stylistic inevitability than an argument that the ongoing and ubiquitous presence of photographs in society has had profound implications for how we have perceived and used images since photography's early years. Marien continually loops her discussion of photography as a medium of artistic expression through her analysis of photography's widespread and varied uses throughout society, thus blending formal, cultural, and theoretical investigations. For example, her timeline pairs two columns, "Culture and Politics," with "Photography and Imaging." Also with glossary, bibliography, and index.
Kansas City, Mo. : Hall Family Foundation in association with the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art ; New Haven : Distributed by Yale University Press., [2007].
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Reference » TR23 .D385 2007 F
Published to coincide with the exhibition "Developing Greatness: The Origins of American Photography, 1839-1885" at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and based on the Hallmark Photographic Collection, Davis's text moves beyond both exhibition and collection catalog and serves as a detailed survey of nineteenth-century American photography. When used in conjunction with his An American Century of Photography: From Dry-Plate to Digital, the two texts provide the most complete two volume history of American photography available. While The Origins of American Photography does focus extensively on the daguerreotype, there is good coverage of the development of paper photography, and Davis does engage in questions such as the spread of the photographic image in 19th century popular culture. Another excellent nineteenth-century survey, but from the perspective of multiple authors, is Photography in Nineteenth-Century America, edited by Martha Sandweiss, with essays by Sandweiss, Davis, and other noted authors, including Peter Bacon Hales and Alan Trachtenberg.
Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1997.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » TR15 .C566 1997
The Photograph is less an attempt to weave together a history of photographic images, per se, than it is an effort to outline a broad array of critical issues that photographic images and their uses raise. It should not be approached as a "history." But in its analysis of how, for example, "Documentary Photography" is fraught with the play of the literal and the objective against the contingency of cultural readings, it does serve well as a critical introduction. Table of contents include: How Do We Read a Photograph? Photography and the Nineteenth Century; Landscape in Photography; The City in Photography; The Body in Photography; Documentary Photography; etc.

Focused studies

London : André Deutsch, 2007.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » TR510 .R63 2007 F
This recent, extensively illustrated, chronological history of color photography is useful for its scope of coverage. Starting with a section on hand-coloring in the 19th century, "What came before," the text concludes with a chapter on "Digital Directions." Jack Coote's The Illustrated History of Colour Photography also serves as a good, technical treatment. Neither is especially detailed in terms of critical or theoretical issues surrounding color photography. John Szarkowski's essay in William Eggleston's Guide is essential reading for the student interested in the critical establishment's reluctant acceptance of color work.
Cambridge, Mass. : The MIT Press, 1997.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » TR15 .B37 1997
Batchen's choice of title neatly sums up his argument that photography did not burst upon the early 19th century, but that the desire for something that became known as photography moved "from an occasional, isolated, individual fantasy to a demonstrably widespread social imperative." His mode of inquiry is strongly influenced by Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, with the first chapter serving nicely as a primer on formalist (Clement Greenberg, John Szarkowski, et al.) vs. postmodern (John Tagg, Allan Sekula, et al.) modes of analysis. Read with Peter Galassi's Before Photography: Painting and the Invention of Photography, an art historical text which sites photography's origins within the Western pictorial tradition, and consult a good, standard 19th century photo history for reference, such as Helmut Gernsheim's The Origins of Photography.
1st pbk. ed. Boston : Little, Brown, c2001.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » TR659.8 .W474 2001
As the product of Colin Westerbeck, noted photographic curator, and Joel Meyerowitz, who, although best known for his luminous color landscapes, began his photographer's career on the street, Bystander is by turns a biographically-based history and a reminiscence. Westerbeck's text centers on major figures such as Atget, Cartier-Bresson, Lartigue, Evans, Frank, Klein, Winogrand, et al. An edited conversation between Westerbeck and Meyerowitz, "Still going," blends Meyerowitz's recounting of the 60s and 70s with both authors' shared commentary on street photography as a practice. An afterword, "The sidewalk never ends," provides an update to the 1994 edition. For a more theoretical read from a literary perspective that critiques notions of street and documentary photography, see Clive Scott's Street Photography: From Atget to Cartier-Bresson.
Since John Szarkowski's 1974 Museum of Modern Art exhibition and catalog, New Japanese Photography, this topic has received considerable critical attention, especially recently with increased interest in Japanese photobooks. Tucker's expansive exhibition catalog is, however, one of the first comprehensive treatments of Japanese photography to appear in English. This title contains seven essays which cover the arrival of photography in Japan (1848) through the late 20th century. With a brief timeline outlining major periods of Japanese history, a map, extensive artists profiles, an annotated and illustrated listing of major Japanese photography magazines, and bibliography, this work provides an excellent introduction. Try SearchWorks to find more titles on Japanese photography.
Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. : Morgan & Morgan, c1979.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » TR330 .C68
Still a primary source for its joining of considerable technical data on early photographic processes with the cultural history of photography, Crawford's book is an essential read for anyone interested in how photographs are made or who is beginning to work with non-silver processes. A bibliography provides additional readings. The practitioner should also consult Bea Nettles' Breaking the Rules: A Photo Media Cookbook, John Barnier's Coming Into Focus: A Step-By-Step Guide to Aternative Photographic Printing Processes, and Christopher James's The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes.
1st ed. Minneapolis, Minn. : Walker Art Center ; New York : available through D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, c2003.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » TR645 .M542 W354 2003
Fogle's excellent catalog, which accompanied an exhibition of the same name, delivers critical essays written especially for the exhibition, as well as historical texts from the era (Dan Graham, Vito Acconci, John Baldessari, Barbara Kruger, etc.), with twenty-five writings in all. Fogle's "Last Picture Show" and Stefan Gronert's "Alternative Pictures: Conceptual Art and the Artistic Emancipation of Photography in Europe" effectively demarcate the issues under investigation: the questionable status of the object, the photograph as document, claims of the original, etc., or, as Louise Lawler's photograph asks, "Why Pictures Now" (1981). Extensively illustrated. Matthew Witkovsky's Art Institute of Chicago exhibition and catalog, Light Years: Conceptual Art and the Photograph, 1964-1977, provides a more recent analysis of the period. For additional analysis and multiple examples of photography and land art, see the Miwon Kwon and Philip Kaiser's Ends of the Earth: Art of the Land to 1974, from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

Source texts

From the 19th-century photographers (Niepce, Daguerre) to 20th-century theorists (Barthes, Damisch, and Berger), Trachtenberg provides 31 texts, each with a brief introduction.

New Haven, Conn. : Leete's Island Books, 1980.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » TR15 .C54
From the 19th-century photographers (Niepce, Daguerre) to 20th-century theorists (Barthes, Damisch, and Berger), Trachtenberg provides 31 texts, each with a brief introduction.
Manchester : Cornerhouse Publications, 1994.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » TR139 .D52 1994
First published in 1979, these 22 interviews date from 1974-77. Noted photographers, historians, educators of great importance are given voice, including Paul Strand, Man Ray, Herbert Bayer, Henry Holmes Smith, Helmut Gernsheim, W. Eugene Smith, Minor White, Beaumont Newhall, et al. Each interview is in depth and the collection is indexed.
London : Arts Council of Great Britain, 1978.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » TR73 .G47
This important selection of translated essays brings several significant 1920s and 30s texts to English readers. Included are Werner Graff's forward to Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (1929), Albert Renger-Patzsch's "Photography and art" (1929), Franz Roh's introduction to Foto-Auge, and others. A closing section contains five short essays on German photography of the 20s and 30s written in 1977-78. Indexed.
Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall [1966]
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » TR185 .L9
With 39 texts by 23 photographers, this 1966 publication by Nathan Lyons was one of the first to anthologize photography's practitioners, and helped to historicize a medium which in the 1960s was still not necessarily valued in the U.S. Besides texts by Berenice Abbott, Wynn Bullock, Harry Callahan, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Robert Demachy, László Moholy-Nagy, Arthur Siegel, Edward Weston, et al., Lyons included a "Biographical notes and selected bibliographies" section to provide additional access to historical and critical texts.
Rochester, N.Y. : Light Impressions, c1979.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » TR147 .D83 1979
While the fascination with photography books seems a relatively current rage, it should be noted that photographers themselves have long appreciated the unique media qualities of the photobook. Dugan interviewed fifteen important photobook makers who contributed significantly to the development of the photobook as we know it today, including Nathan Lyons, Larry Clark, Duane Michaels, Bea Nettles, Keith Smith, Eikoh Hosoe, Emmet Gowin, and Syl Labrot. For more on photobooks, see Gerry Badger and Martin Parr's two volume survey, The Photobook: A History.
New York : Simon and Schuster, c1981.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » TR185 .P49
With 76 texts (1830 to 1978) by photographers, critics, historians, Goldberg's book is one of the more complete anthologies available. With texts by Lady Eastlake, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Lewis Carroll, William Henry Jackson, Roy Stryker, Weegee, Harold Rosenberg, Alan Sekula, Alan Trachtenberg, Susan Sontag, et al. Indexed.
New York : Metropolitan Museum of Art : Aperture, c1989.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » TR185 .P5 1989
London : Routledge, 2003.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » TR185 .P46 2003
Wells delivers forty-two texts, many from more contemporary sources than the other anthologies listed in this section, and which thus partake of the new art history from postmodernism on. While classic texts by Barthes, Benjamin, Weston are included, most are by more current writers from the 1980s and 90s, including Marjorie Perloff, W.J.T. Mitchell, Abigail Solomon-Godeau, John Tagg, John Berger, Victor Burgin, bell hooks, etc. Presented in nine, topically grouped sections (e.g., "Codes and rhetoric," Photo-digital," "The photographic gaze," etc.), Wells introduces each section with a brief introductory essay, complete with additional bibliography. Indexed.

Primary sources

Palais du Louvre et des Tuileries: Motifs de Décoration Intérieure et Extérieure.
Eduard Baldus.
Paris: Ve A. Morel & Cie, 1875.
3 v.
N2030 .B25 1875 Art Locked Stacks

This rare copy of the Edouard Baldus (1813-89) publication on the architectural ornamentation of the Louvre and Tuileries, published serially from 1869 to 1875, is complete in three volumes: v. 1. Décorations Intérieures; v. 2. Décorations Extérieures; and v. 3. Décorations Intérieures et Extérieures. Baldus spent much of his career photographing for the French interior ministry documenting architectural monuments in Paris and elsewhere in the 1850s and '60s. The publication took on added importance in 1871 when, while it was still in progress, the Tuileries and parts of the Louvre were destroyed by the Communards. The set is also significant since it was employed for decades afterward as a pattern book of architectural good taste by designers and architects, thus taking on a greater importance for its influence on French architecture and design

Urformen der Kunst
Karl Blossfeldt
2nd Auflage.
Berlin: E. Wasmuth, 1929.
NK1560 .B48 1929 Art Locked Stacks

Karl Blossfeldt, a self-taught photographer and professor of art in Berlin, felt that the forms of the natural world, specifically those of plants, revealed an inherent order that should also be seen in the best of art. In his search for the perfect forms of nature Blossfeldt photographed plants for 33 years. His photographic work was first published as Urformen der Kunst in 1928 in both book and portfolio format with 120 photogravure prints. The work proved so popular it was reissued with the gravure plates in 1929 in Berlin, London, and New York, and later in a popular edition (Volksausgabe) of 96 lesser quality plates in 1935, 1936, 1941, 1948, and 1953. A second volume, Wundergarten der Natur (Berlin: Verlag für Kunstwissenschaft, 1932), with an additional 120 plates, was published in the same format (NK1560 .B54 Art Locked Stacks). Blossfeldt's sharply focused close-ups of plants strongly influenced the international development of the New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) in photography. [Art copy lacks original dust wrapper.]

Camera Work.
New York: Alfred Stieglitz, 1903-1917.
13 v. ill., plates, mounted photos. (part col.) facsim. 30 cm.
Library has: no. 9-10, 1905; no. 18, Apr. 1907; no. 19, July 1907; no. 23, July 1908; no. 30, April 1910; no.37,Jan 1912; Aug. 1912; no. 40, 1912; special issue, 1913.

In 1903 Alfred Stieglitz published the inaugural issue of Camera Work, the journal that served through 1917 as the organ of the Photo-Secession, the progressive photography group Stieglitz formed in 1902. Within its covers appeared writings and photographic illustrations by the leading critics and photographers of the era: Edward Steichen, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Gertrude Stein, Sadakichi Hartmann, Max Weber, Charles Caffin, and many others, including Stieglitz himself. Additionally, it was in the pages of Camera Work that Americans were first shown the work of Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso, and Brancusi.

American Photographs.
Walker Evans
New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1938.
E169 .E85 Art, Art Locked Stacks

In 1938 Walker Evans was the subject of the first solo Museum of Modern Art exhibition devoted to an American photographer. To accompany the exhibition the Museum published American Photographs, with eighty-seven photographs in two sections and an essay by Lincoln Kirstein, who also helped select and sequence the photographs. A brilliant examination of American life and visual culture and a model for all photobooks that followed, American Photographs immediately established Evans as a major American artist. It continues to strongly influence contemporary photographic practice.

The Americans: Photographs.
Robert Frank.
New York: Grove Press, 1959.
E169.1 .B763 Art Locked Stacks Small-Restricted.

The 1959 American edition of the earlier French edition of Les Americains (Paris: Robert Delpire, 1958; E169.1 .B763 Art Locked Stacks Restricted) sold few copies in its day but became one of the most, if not the most, influential photobooks ever published. Throughout 1955 and 1956 Frank traversed America, photographing the highway and those along it, the archetypal, the common, and the mundane. His portrait of America and his photographic style is intuitive, moody, gritty and unflattering. For an extensive analysis of The Americans see the major exhibition catalog Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 2009; E169 .Z8 G694 2009 F (506 p. version); E169 .Z8 G694 2009B F (375 p. version) Art). [Art copy lacks dust jacket shown above.]

Otoko to Onna = Man and Woman.
Eikō Hosoe.
Tokyo: Kamera Ato Sha, Showa 36, 1961.
TR675 .H68 1961 Art Locked Stacks

Eikō Hosoe has been in the forefront of developments in Japanese photography and photobook design since the 1950s. His first major publication, Otoko to Onna, presented what became a career-defining mode of artistic collaboration with other significant figures in the Japanese arts, combined with an insistent melding of Japanese and Western aesthetic concerns. The featured male figure in this work is the founder of the Butoh dance movement, the dancer Tatsumi Hijikata, who was later featured prominently in another of Hosoe's masterworks, Kamaitachi (GV1780 .H53 H6 1969 Art Locked Stacks Restricted). The rich, grainy black & white gravure printing of Otoko to Onna became a hallmark of Hosoe's photobooks. This initial effort with Hijikata led to Hosoe's extensive collaboration with Yukio Mishima and two opulent photobooks, Killed by Roses (TR654 .H67 1963 Art Locked Stacks) and Ordeal by Roses Reedited (TR654 .H77 1971 Art Locked Stacks Restricted), both of which are considered major icons of the Japanese photobook tradition.

Photography, 1839-1937.
New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1937.
TR6 .N55 1937 Art, Art Locked Stacks

Photography, a short critical history.
New York: Museum of modern art, 1938.
TR6 .N55 1938 Art, Art Locked Stacks, Green

The History of Photography From 1839 to the Present Day.
New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1949.
TR15 .N47 Art, Art Locked Stacks, Green.

With a major exhibition in 1937 the Museum of Modern Art marked the near centennial of photography's (presumed) invention, the 1839 announcement by Jacques-Louis Mandé Daguerre of his Daguerreotype process. The exhibition was curated by Beaumont Newhall and the catalog, Photography, 1839-1937 (1937) served as a template for five later editions that appeared over a fifty-six year span (1938, 1949, 1964, 1982, 1993). A mixture of technological determinism and aesthetic imperative, Newhall's history cast photographic practice as an ever evolving entity that progressed towards higher forms, e.g., the American Western explorers (Timothy O'Sullivan, William Henry Jackson) anticipating the Modern masters (Ansel Adams, Edward Weston). No other American texts have so strongly shaped the notion of a canon of correct photographic practice or photographic masterworks. For a further discussion of Newhall's and other histories, see: Nickel, Douglas. "History of photography: the state of research," Art Bulletin, v. 83, no.3 (Sept. 2001), pp. 548-558.

Foto-Auge ... Oeil et photo ... Photo-eye.
Franz Roh and Jan Tschichold.
Stuttgart: Akademischer Verlag; Dr. F. Wedekind, 1929.
TR653 .R64 1929 F Art Locked Stacks

Two books were published to accompany the Deutscher Werkbund's 1929 "Film und Foto" exhibition in Stuttgart -- Foto-Auge, edited by Franz Roh and Jan Tschichold, and Es kommt der neue Fotograf!, edited by Werner Gräff (TR653 .G7 1929 Art Locked Stacks). With its cover of El Lissitzky's now famous "Self Portrait" of the artist as a hand in service to the eye celebrating the monocular medium (photography), Foto-Auge served both as an catalog of the work exhibited as well as a visual polemic detailing Laszlo Moholy-Nagy's New Vision. Featuring work from the world's leading modernist photographers, as well as anonymous news and bureau photos, Roh's and Tschichold's editing and sequencing energetically riff on the Bauhausian notion of enlightened objectivity.


Victor Burgin.
New York : Lapp Princess Press, c1977.
1 v. : chiefly ill. ; 16 cm.
N7433.35 .U6 L37 1977 ARTLCKS

Victor Burgin's Family is one of eleven volumes published in a series in the late 1970s by Amy Baker's Lapp Princess Press. Baker began the series with the aim of providing a conceptual space for artists to explore the possibilities and restraints of the book form. Meant to be affordable, portable, and easily reproducible, Baker set the dimensions of each work at six inches square and selected papers and inks that were widely available to printers.

Burgin's response to his commission was to embrace the sequentiality that a bound book demands, presenting a textual narrative, a series of images, and a progression of upper- and lowercase letters. The thick paper pages, bound with a plastic spiral, mimic the design and simplicity of children's alphabet books. Yet, as in many of his other works, Burgin appropriates this simplicity in order to draw attention to the complex, unwritten cultural messages that photographs and other cultural objects can bear. As he textually describes the submission of family structure to the dictates of capitalism, he also employs ordinary, black-and-white photos in order to illustrate his point, the neutral-seeming images "absorbing" meanings in their juxtaposition with his text. And hidden in the letters, photos, and caption words on the right side of each page are the elements of three overarching concepts: F-a-m-i-l-y (spelled by the letters at the top corners), F-a-t-h-e-r (spelled by the first letters of the objects in the photos), and M-o-t-h-e-r (spelled by the first letters of the words beneath the photos). These three roles are always highly dependent upon, and influenced by, the socio-economic forces that surround them. 

Further reading on Lapp Princess Press:
Korner, A. "Interview: Amy Baker, Editor of Lapp Princess Press Ltd., Talks to Athony Korner." Drawing 1, no. 1 (May-June, 1979): 8-10.

© 1977 Victor Burgin. Used with permission.

[view in expanded book viewer]

The old farm.

pictured by Rudolf Eickemeyer, Jr.
New York : R.H. Russell, 1901
[64] p. : ill. ; 37 cm
TR739.5 .E53 1901 F ARTLCKM

By 1901, the year in which Rudolph Eickemeyer, Jr.’s The Old Farm was published, American industry had modernized enough to make a purely agrarian society seem quaint. For Eickemeyer the quaint and simple were a draw, as was the ability of the modern medium of photography to convey notions of the pastoral, especially when practiced in a pictorial mode. For this volume, he selected images of farm life that represented “the smaller, more intimately personal sort on which our forefathers learned their first lesson of hardship and endurance.” Interspersed with these quiet, picturesque photographs are quotations from famous poems (by Wordsworth, Tennyson, Emerson, and others) which emphasize the images’ mood.

The Old Farm was meant to appeal to a popular audience interested in traditional subjects, and the book’s format of pleasant, graphically framed images and inserted text was reminiscent of the Kodak family photo albums that were becoming increasingly popular at the time. Indeed, Eickemeyer was interested in producing images that had mass-market appeal, a commercial stance that was at odds with the interests of many of his contemporaries. On a practical level, the photos’ half-tone printing assured that many copies could be printed quite easily. A printing process developed during the 1880s and 90s, half-tone printing involves the rephotographing of an image through a screen, which separates the image visually into discrete, easily printable dots. It is used in newspaper printing even today.

Further reading on nostalgia and popular American photography:
Davis, Keith F. An American Century of Photography : From Dry-Plate to Digital : The Hallmark Photographic Collection. Kansas City, Mo.: Hallmark Cards, in association with H.N. Abrams, 1999.
Siegel, Elizabeth. Galleries of Friendship and Fame : A History of Nineteenth-Century American Photograph Albums. New Haven Conn.: Yale University Press, 2010.

[view in expanded book viewer]

Autograph etchings by American artists.

under the supervision of John W. Ehninger. Illustrated by selections from American poets.
New York : W.A. Townsend & Company, 1859.
10 p., [12] leaves, [12] leaves of plates : ill. (mounted phot.). ; 35 cm.
NE2003 .E45 1859 ARTLCKM

With the publication of this album of albumen prints in 1859, John W. Ehninger introduced the photographic technique of cliché-verre, which he had learned from its practitioners while studying in Paris, to the United States. Cliché-verre (“glass negative”) is a process of transferring a drawing from a glass plate to photo-sensitized paper using projected light. It is, in a sense, a form of etching that does not require the use of a metal plate for intaglio printing. Rather, the artist draws into an opaque medium directly onto the glass plate, sometimes with varnishes added to allow for tonal variations. The resulting photographic print, created without a camera, has the linear, etched looked of a traditional, ink-based print.

Ehninger’s choice of this technique for Autograph Etchings was partly for practical reasons: he wished to produce multiple copies of the album’s drawings using a method that was simpler and more efficient than etching or engraving. Perhaps more importantly, he was interested in selecting a printing method that did not involve the intermediation of an engraver (what Ehninger called "the inevitable distortions which accompany the best efforts of the engraver"); instead, the artist’s hand was directly reflected in the print. To create the book, Ehninger asked twelve American artists to illustrate twelve American poems (Ehninger himself provided one of the illustrations). The result is an album of images and text with themes ranging from “Autumn” to “Noon” to “Childhood.” While the cliché-verre technique had a French flavor, the album itself was resolutely American, the selected poems celebrating the American landscape and its agricultural and cultural traditions. The illustrations were contributed by well known American artists such as Asher B. Durand and Eastman Johnson, as well as by younger artists at the beginning of their careers.

Further reading on Ehninger and cliché-verre:
Glassman, Elizabeth, and Marilyn F. Symmes. Cliché-Verre, Hand-Drawn, Light-Printed : A Survey of the Medium from 1839 to the Present. Detroit: Detroit Institute of Arts, 1980.

[view in expanded book viewer]