AUBURN –The first museum exhibition to highlight Victorian-era American and European photographs from the collection of Auburn University alumnus William Wiese is on view now through April 4 at The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University. “Uniform Proof: 19th Century Photography in the Collection of William Wiese” features photographic images of women and children dressed in military regalia. The exhibition provides insight not only into 19th century European culture with its passion for investigation, collection, categorization and aestheticism but also into the art of early photography.
The children, shown dressed in the uniform of countries in the former British Empire, are dressed as military leaders of the era. The women subjects were primarily actresses dressed as soldiers and pirates with elaborate costumes and props. The portraits are 19th and 20th century originals and include royal figures such as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
The images in the exhibition, including 127 photographs and six daguerreotypes, show examples of a variety of photographic processes. The daguerreotype dates back to 1839 and was the first commercially viable photographic process with an exposure time compatible with portrait photography.
Prior to photography, portraits were luxury commodities conveying, among other meanings, the wealth of the sitter. Although the first photographic portraits were expensive, they were far more affordable than paintings, and as markers of the economic success of the new and emerging middle class, photographs afforded the added prestige of being technologically advanced. A portrait photograph identified the subject as a person of means and the sitter’s costume and demeanor were integral to the message of the image.
(Contributed by Colleen Bourdeau.)