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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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Fabulous HTF Brunette Fashion Photo P.J.
Apr 25, 9:00 AM EDT
Fabulous HTF Brunette Fashion Photo P.J.
by Apple Tree Auction Center
Est: $0- $0
$20014 Bids
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[Daguerreotype] President Millard Fillmore & Family
May 14, 10:00 AM EDT
[Daguerreotype] President Millard Fillmore & Family
by Fleischer's Auction House
Est: $2,500- $5,000
$4505 Bids
FRANCESCO GENNARI (°1973)
Apr 25, 10:00 AM CEST
FRANCESCO GENNARI (°1973)
by Bernaerts Auctioneers
Est: €1,500- €2,000
€1,7005 Bids
Group of 50+ Tintype Photographs
Apr 27, 9:00 AM CDT
Group of 50+ Tintype Photographs
by Matthew Bullock Auctioneers
Est: $30- $300
$405 Bids
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Geronimo, Unpublished Portrait & More
May 14, 10:00 AM EDT
Geronimo, Unpublished Portrait & More
by Fleischer's Auction House
Est: $1,500- $3,000
$4504 Bids
3 Old Daguerreotypes, Old Portraits in Cases, 3 x 3 1/2 in. (7.6 x 8.9 cm.)
Apr 28, 4:00 PM CDT
3 Old Daguerreotypes, Old Portraits in Cases, 3 x 3 1/2 in. (7.6 x 8.9 cm.)
by Asselmeier May Auctions
Est: $0- $0
$304 Bids
SIXTH PLATE DAGUERREOTYPE.
Apr 27, 10:00 AM EDT
SIXTH PLATE DAGUERREOTYPE.
by Amelia Jeffers
Est: $25- $50
$404 Bids
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Signed Eng & Chang Bunker Portrait (CDV)
May 14, 10:00 AM EDT
Signed Eng & Chang Bunker Portrait (CDV)
by Fleischer's Auction House
Est: $500- $750
$2253 Bids
Kannegiesser, Daguerreotype Quarter Plate Portrait,
Apr 30, 1:00 PM BST
Kannegiesser, Daguerreotype Quarter Plate Portrait,
by Flints Auctions Ltd
Est: £80- £120
£1303 Bids
Memento Mori Antique Post Mortem Tintype Photograph
Apr 24, 12:00 PM EDT
Memento Mori Antique Post Mortem Tintype Photograph
by Hill Auction Gallery
Est: $100- $1,000
$1003 Bids
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[Custer, Little Big Horn] Eagle Elk, Oglala Sioux Warrior
May 14, 10:00 AM EDT
[Custer, Little Big Horn] Eagle Elk, Oglala Sioux Warrior
by Fleischer's Auction House
Est: $500- $750
$2003 Bids
Walker Evans. "Allie Mae Burroughs". Silver print, 1971. 20 x 16in overall.
May 05, 10:00 AM EDT
Walker Evans. "Allie Mae Burroughs". Silver print, 1971. 20 x 16in overall.
by Tremont Auctions
Est: $200- $300
$2003 Bids
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Farrier Portrait [Ambortype] [Occupational]
May 14, 10:00 AM EDT
Farrier Portrait [Ambortype] [Occupational]
by Fleischer's Auction House
Est: $0- $0
$203 Bids
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Black Western Pioneer, William A.G. Brown
May 14, 10:00 AM EDT
Black Western Pioneer, William A.G. Brown
by Fleischer's Auction House
Est: $500- $750
$1252 Bids
Antique c. 1890 Band Members w/ Instruments Silver Bromide Photograph on Card
May 06, 6:00 PM EDT
Antique c. 1890 Band Members w/ Instruments Silver Bromide Photograph on Card
by One Source Auctions
Est: $0- $0
$152 Bids
Collection of early photography, including 5
May 04, 10:00 AM EDT
Collection of early photography, including 5
by Marion Antique Auctions
Est: $200- $300
$1252 Bids
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A GROUP OF CA. 30 CARTE DE VISTE PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRISBANE PHOTOGRAPHERS, CA. 1860S AND 1870S
Apr 26, 9:00 AM AEST
A GROUP OF CA. 30 CARTE DE VISTE PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRISBANE PHOTOGRAPHERS, CA. 1860S AND 1870S
by Albion Antique Auction Centre
Est: AUD10- AUD40
AUD252 Bids
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GROUP OF CA. 15 CABINET CARD SIZE PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRISBANE PHOTOGRAPHERS, CA. 1880 - 1900
Apr 26, 9:00 AM AEST
GROUP OF CA. 15 CABINET CARD SIZE PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRISBANE PHOTOGRAPHERS, CA. 1880 - 1900
by Albion Antique Auction Centre
Est: AUD10- AUD40
AUD202 Bids
Binder of Tintype Photographs
Apr 27, 9:00 AM CDT
Binder of Tintype Photographs
by Matthew Bullock Auctioneers
Est: $30- $300
$152 Bids
Jan Saudek (Czech b. 1935), ''The Dolls'', 1975
May 01, 12:00 PM EDT
Jan Saudek (Czech b. 1935), ''The Dolls'', 1975
by South Bay Auctions Inc
Est: $400- $600
$2502 Bids
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c. 1870s Well-Dressed Black Women
May 14, 10:00 AM EDT
c. 1870s Well-Dressed Black Women
by Fleischer's Auction House
Est: $150- $300
$1252 Bids
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c. 1860 Portrait of Black Couple
May 14, 10:00 AM EDT
c. 1860 Portrait of Black Couple
by Fleischer's Auction House
Est: $500- $750
$1252 Bids
Group of Fifteen Portraits of Asian Subjects
Apr 24, 10:00 AM EDT
Group of Fifteen Portraits of Asian Subjects
by STAIR
Est: $400- $800
$4502 Bids

Sellers Who Sell Portrait Photography


Fleischer's Auction House

Fleischer's Auction House

Nosbüsch & Stucke GmbH

Nosbüsch & Stucke GmbH

Flints Auctions Ltd

Flints Auctions Ltd