19th-Century Portrait Photography

The dawn of photography in the mid-19th century made portraiture accessible to a much wider public. This exhibition explores early photographic studio portraiture, including the popular carte-de-visite format.

The exhibition discusses how photographic techniques, backdrops, props, costumes and poses enabled public figures – ranging from Oscar Wilde through Ellen Terry to Queen Victoria – to fashion and promote their own identities. It also suggests how studio photography contributed to the modern idea of celebrity.

Curated in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery and University of Birmingham MA Art History and Curating students, it also features loans from the University’s Cadbury Research Library and Research and Cultural Collections.

Image: Oscar Wilde by Napoleon Sarony, 1882 © National Portait Gallery, London

See what our visitors said about the exhibition…

‘Always worth a visit to the Barber. Another really interesting exhibition.’ – Catriona Menill, Edgbaston, 23/09/17

‘Fascinating insight into a different form of portraiture. Very informative and enjoyable.’ – K. Welsh, Birmingham, 21/09/17

‘Most illuminating and beautifully curated.’ – Eleanor and Ian Hurst, Solihull, 13/09/17

‘Most interesting and well put together exhibition.’ Peter and Catherine Berley, Limerick, Ireland, 05/08/17

‘Great exhibition! I really enjoy learning about old style photography.’ – Ruby, Hong Kong, 16/07/17

‘Fascinating exploration of the development of portrait photography’ – Maria Vinall, Kent, 11/06/17

9 June - 24 September 2017

Lady Barber Gallery

Related Events


Introduction to ‘More Real Than Life’

Tuesday 13 June, 11.30am & 1.15pm


Portable Promotion: 19th-Century Photography and Celebrity

Tuesday 20 June, 11.30am & 1.15pm


Crown and Camera: Studio Portraits of Victoria and Albert

Wednesday 6 September, 1.15 – 2pm


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