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Friday 28 October 2022 – Selfies, self expression, celebrity and the Victorian Carte de Visite

Lecturer: Mark Hill

From the late 1850s to the mid-1870s a new craze gripped the world. Photography had just begun to be popularised, and suddenly nearly everyone could afford a portrait of themselves to share with others. These small photographic portraits mounted on card were shot professionally in studios and handed out like business or greetings cards – just like we share ‘selfies’ on today’s social media. Across nearly two decades, over 400 million cards were estimated to have been printed and shared with friends, family, and fans. We think we invented the ‘selfie’, but we didn’t – welcome to the Victorian carte de visite.

In this highly visual and relevant lecture, we’ll look at the rise and fall of the fashion, learn how these cards were used, and find ways of dating cards from clothing and hairstyles. We’ll examine in detail the hidden meanings behind the poses, facial expressions, backgrounds, and choice of clothes to reveal the fascinating histories behind these cards that were used by everyone from royalty to the man in the street.