19th century photo exhibition looks at 'Picturing Dogs, Seeing Ourselves'

October 13, 2014

“Picturing Dogs, Seeing Ourselves,” an exhibition in the B. and H. Henisch Photo-History Collection Exhibition Room, 201 A Pattee Library, is on display through March 31.

The exhibition coincides with the publication of a new book by the Penn State Press “Picturing Dogs, Seeing Ourselves: Vintage American Photographs,” by Ann-Janine Morey, Volume 4, in the series Animalibus: Of Animals and Culture. Books in the Animalibus series share a fascination with the status and the role of animals in human life. Crossing the humanities and the social sciences, these books ask us what thinking about nonhuman animals can teach us about human cultures, about what it means to be human,and about how that meaning might shift across times and places.

Since photography's invention in 1839, animals have been a subject. Early photography coincided with the beginning of the dog’s position as a household pet in Victorian society, and dogs were for the first time pampered and shown as members of the family in studio portrait art. But daguerreotypes, the earliest of the photographic processes, required subjects to remain motionless for several minutes, which meant that wagging tails often resembled fans when the plates registered the exposure.

Later in the century, faster lenses solved this technical problem. By the 1850s, with the introduction of the small carte-de-visite image, it became a popular custom to have the likeness of the family pet (most often dogs) made along with other family members. Meant to look proper and often posed on ornate chairs, every sort of friendly mutt appears. These charming studio poses were displayed with all of the other family portraits in albums made especially for preserving them. Near the end of the 19th-century, amateurs also took up photography, and thousands of photos produced an intimate view of daily life, immortalizing family groups where dogs show up with regularity.

The exhibition draws from 19th-century photographs representing many photographic processes found in the B. and H. Henisch Photo-History Collection and the William C. Darrah Collection of Cartes-de-visite, 1860-1900, both among the holdings of The Eberly Family Special Collections Library.

For more information, contact Sandra Stelts at sks5@psu.edu or 814-863-5388.

  • Girl with basket

    Since photography's invention in 1839, animals have been a subject.

    IMAGE: The B. and H. Henisch Photo-History Collection
Last Updated October 14, 2014