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Portrait Photography

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.


Quick Facts

  • 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

Recommended Items at Auction

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Rare Abraham Lincoln Gem Tintype Photo
Dec 03, 10:00 AM EST
Rare Abraham Lincoln Gem Tintype Photo
by Mebane Antique Auction
Est: $100- $10,000
$1307 Bids
Lot of approximately 37 daguerreotype photographs. Mid 19th century. Including a musician with
Dec 04, 10:00 AM EST
Lot of approximately 37 daguerreotype photographs. Mid 19th century. Including a musician with
by Tremont Auctions
Est: $700- $1,000
$7506 Bids
Alfred E Newman, Bob’s Big Boy, Vtg Photos
Dec 03, 10:00 AM MST
Alfred E Newman, Bob’s Big Boy, Vtg Photos
by EJ'S Auction & Appraisal
Est: $0- $0
$254 Bids
Antique Gem Daguerreotype Double Portrait Gold Filled Locket Oval Dag in Velvet Case & One Other
Dec 03, 10:00 AM MST
Antique Gem Daguerreotype Double Portrait Gold Filled Locket Oval Dag in Velvet Case & One Other
by Regency Antique Books
Est: $150- $200
$1503 Bids
John Dugdale (American, b. 1960), "Spectacle"
Dec 03, 11:00 AM EST
John Dugdale (American, b. 1960), "Spectacle"
by Fontaine's Auction Gallery
Est: $600- $800
$8503 Bids
McBride, Will: Reinhard M., Casoli
Dec 07, 3:00 PM CET
McBride, Will: Reinhard M., Casoli
by Galerie Bassenge
Est: €2,000- €2,200
€2,2003 Bids
Lot of Tin Type and CDV Photo’s
Dec 10, 9:30 AM EST
Lot of Tin Type and CDV Photo’s
by Old Barn Auction
Est: $40- $1,000
$202 Bids
BERT STERN "MARILYN MONROE THE LAST SITTING - 1962"
Dec 04, 12:00 PM EST
BERT STERN "MARILYN MONROE THE LAST SITTING - 1962"
by White Knight Auctions
Est: $200- $400
$1002 Bids
CARRIE MAE WEEMS VIOLET COLORED GIRL
Dec 13, 9:00 AM CST
CARRIE MAE WEEMS VIOLET COLORED GIRL
by Jackson's International
Est: $7,000- $10,000
$6,0002 Bids
Ottoman Empire: Portraits of people of the Ottoman Empire
Dec 07, 3:00 PM CET
Ottoman Empire: Portraits of people of the Ottoman Empire
by Galerie Bassenge
Est: €1,200- €1,500
€1,2002 Bids
Grouping Of Thirty Four Carte De Visite Photographs, 19th C., H 4'' W 2.5''
Dec 14, 11:00 AM EST
Grouping Of Thirty Four Carte De Visite Photographs, 19th C., H 4'' W 2.5''
by DuMouchelles
Est: $300- $600
$2752 Bids
RICHARD AVEDON - LAUREN HUTTON, BAHAMAS, 1968
Dec 04, 12:00 PM EST
RICHARD AVEDON - LAUREN HUTTON, BAHAMAS, 1968
by White Knight Auctions
Est: $200- $400
$1702 Bids
Assorted Vintage Black & White Photographs
Dec 03, 10:00 AM MST
Assorted Vintage Black & White Photographs
by EJ'S Auction & Appraisal
Est: $0- $0
$152 Bids
ANTIQUE TIN TYPE PHOTO LOT
Dec 15, 11:00 AM EST
ANTIQUE TIN TYPE PHOTO LOT
by Vintage Auctions Online
Est: $50- $100
$101 Bid
Large Victorian Colored Tintype Of Young Couple
Dec 17, 7:00 PM EST
Large Victorian Colored Tintype Of Young Couple
by Tunicks Auction Gallery
Est: $10- $300
$101 Bid
285 Fotos und Ansichtskarten 1925-1988 - 285 photos and postcards actors and actresses
Dec 03, 9:30 AM CET
285 Fotos und Ansichtskarten 1925-1988 - 285 photos and postcards actors and actresses
by Berliner Auktionshaus GmbH & Co. KG
Est: €0- €0
€501 Bid
Ruth Orkin  (1921-1985) American Girl in Florence, Italy 1951
Dec 06, 1:00 PM CST
Ruth Orkin  (1921-1985) American Girl in Florence, Italy 1951
by Hindman
Est: $1,200- $1,800
$6001 Bid
MARIO TESTINO, KATE MOSS, LONDON, 2006
Dec 04, 12:00 PM EST
MARIO TESTINO, KATE MOSS, LONDON, 2006
by White Knight Auctions
Est: $200- $400
$1001 Bid
TARA McPHERSON 'Crystal Waterfall' Skateboard Deck
Dec 02, 12:00 PM PST
TARA McPHERSON 'Crystal Waterfall' Skateboard Deck
by Signari Gallery, LLC
Est: $350- $400
$801 Bid
August Sander – Drei Jungbauern mit Fahrrädern (Three young farmers with bicycles)
Dec 07, 2:30 PM CET
August Sander – Drei Jungbauern mit Fahrrädern (Three young farmers with bicycles)
by Karl & Faber
Est: €250- €350
€2001 Bid
FRAMED CONVEX BUBBLE GLASS WEDDING PHOTO
Dec 04, 1:00 PM EST
FRAMED CONVEX BUBBLE GLASS WEDDING PHOTO
by Charleston Estate Auctions
Est: $150- $250
$51 Bid
2 Half plate daguerreotype family portraits. 1) Husband and wife with 4 children. Girls wearing
Dec 04, 10:00 AM EST
2 Half plate daguerreotype family portraits. 1) Husband and wife with 4 children. Girls wearing
by Tremont Auctions
Est: $700- $1,000
$3501 Bid
Tolstoy, Leo: Leo Tolstoy
Dec 07, 3:00 PM CET
Tolstoy, Leo: Leo Tolstoy
by Galerie Bassenge
Est: €200- €300
€2001 Bid

Sellers Who Sell Portrait Photography


Galerie Bassenge

Galerie Bassenge

White Knight Auctions

White Knight Auctions

Connoisseur Online

Connoisseur Online

Kerry Taylor Auctions

Kerry Taylor Auctions