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Please note: RPS House is closed for our exhibition install. We will be open again from 10am on Friday 9th August 2024.

Sojourner Truth
CREDIT: Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund, National Gallery of Art Washington DC

Leaders in their field - Sojourner Truth

Different ways of using portraits

My background is photography as a business, not exclusively as an art form. I have an interest in portraiture as it spans both applications; as an art and a business. And it was through researching the origins of the business that I came across the fascinating story of Sojourner Truth.

In my case the story started through looking at the history of photobooks and the use of physical cut and paste. Items were cut out of photographic prints and assembled into albums as early photocollage. This left me with the question of where did all these images come from, given that this was mid 19th Century?

It turns out these were known as "cartes-de-visites"; small-format, commercially produced photographs mounted onto card that became extremely popular in the mid 19th Century. They were inexpensive and readily available, which made them appropriate for cutting and pasting into these photo albums.

I found this fascinating from a number of aspects. I often use the back issues of the RPS Journal as a resource to answer questions like "how did we get here". Looking back at the 1890s as part of a project on print I found an interesting perspective. The luminaries of photography of the age, trying to establish photography as an art form were very demeaning about "trade" photography as a business. A lesson for us all here and a trap that I am sure the new look RPS Journal will not fall into.

I also came across story of Sojourner Truth, again at a visit to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. Truth was born enslaved but became a key figure in the abolitionist and women's rights movements. She sold her photographs as cartes-de-visite to raise money for her causes. She also secured the copyright to her own image, the first time this was achieved and this enabled her to control and profit from the photographs. Truly a leader in the field.

For more like this read President's News.