Great books on 19th + early 20th century photography?
November 23, 2016 6:40 AM   Subscribe

I'm currently engaged in a project that will involve the use of many early photographs. Some of this material is online, but much of it is not. I'm looking to gain a better sense of early photography as a whole so that I know what to dig for—with a definite preference for detailed books over coffee table books. Thank you!
posted by Dr and Mrs Eaves to Media & Arts (3 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Open Library (who I used to work for) has a lot of scanned books online and browsable that can give you an idea of the photography environment. It's date sortable but here's a list of books that are browsable (i.e. have an online version) that are loosely about photography. Limit it to the 19th century and you get these. My trick is often to look at lists that some of those books are on (if you find any) and then you can find other sets. I suggest starting with the British Journal of photography maybe?
posted by jessamyn at 6:55 AM on November 23, 2016

The History of Photography: From 1839 to the Present will give you a solid foundation.

Ansel Adams wrote a book on how he created some of his most famous photographs. It touches on photographic tools of the different times, his technique, some photographic history, and some interesting stories.
posted by gregr at 8:09 AM on November 23, 2016

There are lots of general histories out there - most concentrate on the photographer as artist and kind of give a lopsided view of the way the medium was used in the wider world -

Henisch's The Photographic Experience is a really good text on how photography was used/received in the 19th century. It does not follow the typical 'Art History' pattern of focusing on a few photographers as artists and ignoring the wider cultural use of photographic processes. It talks about photography's uses in everyday culture and society's reactions to the new (at that time) medium. I find it particularly valuable as one of the few texts that treats photography as a continuation of an ongoing, evolving visual culture. Libraries will have this book, or you can get it used for cheap(er).

A good technological history of early photography (starting with investigations into light-sensitive chemistry in the 1700s) is Josef Eder's History Of Photography which Dover reprinted for cheap.

William Crawford's Keepers of Light is a good concise history and guide/cookbook to early photo processes - good not only for identification but for recognizing the labor that went into early photographic printing.

Also consider wider studies of 19th century visual culture like Jussim's Visual Communications and the Graphic Arts which illustrate the context in which photography played a role.

Nice to wear my reference librarian and photo historian hats for a bit.
posted by gyusan at 11:17 AM on November 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

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