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A Victorian Portrait: Victorian Life and Values As Seen Through the Work of Studio Photographers [Hardcover]

Asa Briggs , Archie Miles


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 220 pages
  • Publisher: Harpercollins; First Edition edition (Nov 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060162015
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060162016
  • Product Dimensions: 30.2 x 23.9 x 2.8 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 346,593 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon.com: 3.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
3.0 out of 5 stars Good idea, high-quality narrative, but the photos are not well served 16 Mar 2014
By Michael K. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Prof. Briggs is a well-regarded specialist in 19th century history (who later became a life peer and Chancellor of the Open University) with a number of books to his credit. Mills is a professional photographer with a special interest in the history of his craft. The former's narrative contribution to this oversized volume is quite good. The latter's production of images (mostly from his own collection), . . . not so much.

Photography was invented right at the beginning of Victoria's reign and was almost immediately immensely popular as a record of people and their lives. That meant, for a generation, expensive studio equipment and time-consuming sittings. By the time of the Old Queen's death in 1901, the simple Kodak handheld camera could be purchased and used casually by any workingman. A painted portrait puts truth at the mercy of the artist; one can't be sure that what one sees was what was really there. A photograph, carefully studied, conveys volumes of information, both factual and psychological. (One of my favorites in this volume is of Catherine Booth, one of the founders of the Salvation Army, studying at the parlor table with her five daughters -- one of whom is staring back over her shoulder, silently challenging the photographer.)

The arrangement is topical rather than purely chronological, with chapters on material progress, work and leisure, love, religion, the self-help movement, and imperialism, as well as photography used for purposes of social propaganda. The text is superficial but informative and provides context, and the captions are often lengthy. The photos themselves, however, have not really been done justice. Many are sepia in tone, which does nothing to enhance the already mediocre resolution, and many also are reproduced at too small a scale. Since the whole point of the book is the photos, I wish it had been printed in crisp black-and-white on glossy paper.
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