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Studio Portraits

Studio Portrait Slideshow
Studio Portrait SlideshowClick on image for full slideshow

Beginning the 1840s, photographers sought to make the connection between portrait photography and the larger scale, and more costly tradition of portrait painting. Samuel L. Carleton of Portland often used the devices of portraiture in his daguerreotypes. On May 7, 1850, he announced in the Portland Advertiser that he had "engaged an artist of acknowledged merit to design furniture, etc., etc. so as to give his pictures all the richness and romance of the Italian school." The Portland Transcript reported on November 13, 1852, that Carleton had added a new feature to his portraits, saying that "a fine effect is produced by the introduction of drapery, tastefully colored."

Six examples of Samuel Carleton’s artistic daguerreotype portraits are found in the Vickery-Shettleworth Collection. Three images exhibit their sitters in settings enhanced by drapes and tassels. In the other three images, the subject is seated in an elaborately carved Gothic Revival chair.

Photographers in smaller communities sometimes relied on painted backgrounds in place of the more expensive drapes and furniture. In an ambrotype by George W. Campbell of South Berwick, a young woman was photographed against a freely painted backdrop resembling the decorative wall paintings of the period. Similarly, a fireman from Skowhegan and John Chase of Unity are seated in front of folk art backdrops painted in maritime themes.