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Portraiture is fundamental to the history of photography, and is one of its principle uses from its inception in the mid 19th century. Portraiture was no longer the privilege of the upper class, as photography made it accessible to the masses. Initially, long exposure times rendered it impossible to capture sitters clearly, but the technology improved with the daguerreotype and subsequent processes.
The daguerreotype produced a single image, but experiments with the wet plate collodion method yielded the ability to print multiple images quickly so families could have multiple portraits from one sitting. In a matter of only a few years, entrepreneurs such as Gaspar Felix Tournachon (Nadar) had opened commercial portrait studios both for celebrities and political figures as well as for the masses. Nadar pioneered techniques for posing sitters to achieve his own particular recognizable style. His contemporary, André Adolphe Eugène Disdéri achieved success with the development of the carte de visite, using a special camera that allowed him to make eight negatives at once.
Carte de visits were small portraits that friends exchanged and collected. Over time, the portrait was a reflecting pool for the various styles that took hold of the medium, from pictorial photography with its soft effects to street photography that captured people unaware, to the straight unflinching clarity of the 20th century.
In addition to his advancements in the commercialization of photography for portraiture, Nadar was also well known for taking the first aerial photographs in a balloon above Paris
The famous yet amateur Pre-Rafaelite photographer Julia Margaret Cameron is known for the soft, pictorial effects of her celebrity portraits taken in the 1860s and '70s. She often intentionally increased the exposure time of her photographs to create the soft-focus effect
Richard Avedon is one of the most influential portrait photographers to emerge in the 20th century. His portraits were characterized by a close focus on the face against a white background, allowing each portrait to become a psychological and emotional study of the sitter