Photographically Illustrated Books: A New Overview

The following is a guest post by Adam Silvia, Associate Curator of Photography.

A new collection overview provides an entrée into the development of photographically illustrated books, which are well represented in the Library of Congress collections.

What are photographically illustrated books? They are books that feature actual photographic prints to make a textual narrative more vivid or to tell an entire story. In the nineteenth century, before photomechanical processes were invented, individually inserting photographs into a book or  developing photographs directly on the pages were initially the only ways to bring qualities of a photo to the illustrations.

The presence of photographs was highlighted on title pages of such publications as this Congressional year book in 1859: McClees's Gallery of Photographic Portraits of the Senators, Representatives & Delegates //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.26534

The presence of photographs was highlighted on title pages of such publications as this Congressional year book in 1859: McClees’s Gallery of Photographic Portraits of the Senators, Representatives & Delegates (Washington, D.C.: McClees & Beck, 1859)
//hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.26534

Sam Houston, Senator from Texas. Photo by Julian Vannerson, 1859. In McClees' Gallery of Photographic Portraits of the Senators, Representatives & Delegates //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.26824

Sam Houston, Texas. Photo by Julian Vannerson, 1859. In McClees’ Gallery of Photographic Portraits of the Senators, Representatives & Delegates, p. 285. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.26824

Not only was it labor-intensive to produce and bind multiple copies of the text and illustrations, but the photographs themselves were often very challenging to make, as the English photographer Francis Frith explained in his book, Egypt, Sinai, and Palestine (ca. 1862). “My readers are, perhaps, not aware that the original pictures,” such as that showing tombs in Egypt, “were taken on glass,” said Frith. “[Developed] in a smothering little tent” and “pushing my way backwards, upon my hands and knees, into a damp, slimy rock-tomb… it is truly marvelous that the [photographs] should be presentable at all.”

 
Francis Frith in Turkish summer costume. Illustration in: Egypt, Sinai, and Palestine, Supplementary volume. London : William MacKenzie, Paternoster Row, [1862?], illustrated title page. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.53839

Francis Frith in Turkish summer costume. Photo illustration in: Egypt, Sinai, and Palestine. London : William MacKenzie, Paternoster Row, [1862?], Supplementary volume, title page. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.53839

Tombs in the southern cemetery, Cairo. Photo by Francis Frith, Illustration in Egypt, Sinai, and Palestine, supplementary volume, 1857. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b32290

Tombs in the southern cemetery, Cairo. Photo by Francis Frith. Photo illustration in Egypt, Sinai, and Palestine, 1857, Supplementary volume. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b32290

Given such obstacles, photographically illustrated books were highly priced, and some are now exceedingly rare. Photographically illustrated books explore a wide variety of topics, picturing everything from ancient ruins to expositions, landscapes, the United States Congress and the American Civil War.

View of eastern nave. Photo by Claude-Marie Ferrier or Hugh Owen in Reports by the Juries, London, Spicer Brothers, 1852, v. 3, frontispiece. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a31782

View of eastern nave. Photo by Claude-Marie Ferrier or Hugh Owen in Reports by the Juries on the Subjects in the Thirty Classes into which the Exhibition was Divided. London: Spicer Brothers, 1852, v. 3, frontispiece. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a31782

Quanting the marsh hay, Norfolk Broads, England. Photo by P. H. Emerson, 1886. Photo illustration in Life and landscape on the Norfolk Broads. London : Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington, pl. 16. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g02278

Quanting the marsh hay, Norfolk Broads, England. Photo by P. H. Emerson, 1886. Photo illustration in Life and landscape on the Norfolk Broads. London : Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington, pl. 16. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g02278

Gardner's photographic sketch book of the war. Washington : Philp & Solomons, [1866], v. 2, cover. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.13705

Gardner’s photographic sketch book of the war. Washington : Philp & Solomons, [1866], v. 2, cover. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.13705

Headquarters, Christian Commission in the Field. Photo by J. Gardner. Photo illustration in ardner's photographic sketch book of the war, [1866], no. 58. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.13705

Headquarters, Christian Commission in the Field. Photo by J. Gardner. Photo illustration in Gardner’s photographic sketch book of the war, [1866], no. 58. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.13705

In the twentieth century, however, the medium evolved into the ubiquitous photobook, utilizing new, economical, photomechanical printing processes. Beloved by many, photobooks now adorn coffee tables throughout the world, thanks in part to the past creativity of publishers and photographers like Frith.

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