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Carte de visite

Cartes-de visite were small visiting cards usually measuring about 4 ½ x 2 ½ inches (11.4 x 6.3 cm). A black and white photograph was attached, often of a celebrity. They were introduced by a Parisian photographer, Andre Disdéri. In 1854 he patented a way of taking a number of photographs on one plate, and so reducing production costs.

They were extremely popular in the 1860s, and were often collected in Victorian portrait albums. The new invention was so popular it was known as ‘cardomania’ and eventually spread throughout the world. The photographer's name and address were often printed on the back of the cards, often with decoration.


The Woodburytype, a type of photomechanical reproduction of a photograph, was patented in 1864 by Walter Bentley Woodbury (1834-1885). Despite the detailed care required to produce these prints, they remained popular until about 1900 because of the quality of the final image.

The production of a Woodburytype involves firstly exposing a chromated gelatin film under a photographic negative. This hardens in proportion to the amount of light it is exposed to. It is then developed in hot water to remove all the unexposed gelatin and dried. This relief is pressed into a sheet of lead in a press, which is used as a mold and filled with pigmented gelatin. The gelatin layer is then pressed onto a paper support to complete the process.

Cabinet photograph

When the carte de visite lost its novelty, the larger cabinet portrait was introduced (c.1866). Produced by the same method as the carte, its larger size showed greater detail in the features of the sitter. It could exhibit group and family portraits well, and produce portraits of a higher quality than the smaller carte would allow.

Cabinet prints were mounted on cards of about 6¼ x 4¼ inches (15.9 x 10.8 cm). The new format, introduced by the London photographer Frederick Richard Window was called the ‘Cabinet photograph’ because a large photograph on a stout card could be displayed on a wooden cabinet or similar piece of furniture.


Collotypes were produced photomechanically from a photographic image, with processes resembling the lithographic printing process. The process was used mainly between about 1870 and 1920, and is still in occasional use.

The first stage of the process was to cover a glass plate with sensitised gelatin, and expose it under a negative. The gelatin hardened in proportion to the light passing through it. The unexposed gelatin would absorb the water when washed and the exposed would repel it. The washed glass plate would be coated with ink, adhering to the exposed gelatin and printed onto paper.


Photogravure is a photomechanical printing process for reproducing photographs in large editions, invented in 1879 by Karl Klic of Vienna. The process involves firstly covering a highly polished copper plate with an acid resist. A positive transparency is made from the negative. The tissue is coated on one side with a gelatin sensitized with pottasium dichromate, which is exposed to light under the transparent positive.

The gelatin will harden more on those parts receiving the greatest amount of light. The wet tissue is firmly pressed, gelatin side down, onto the copper plate. The backing is peeled away in the warm water. The plate is placed in a series of acid baths. The parts with the least covering of gelatin will be etched more deeply. After the plate has been thoroughly washed, the gravure is printed as in an etching press, like all other forms of intaglio printing.


Most widely defined as a photograph that is taken quickly and without preparation, made by ordinary people recording their home life, vacations and ceremonies. The term is also connected with the fascination of artists with the 'classic' black & white vernacular snapshot.

The snapshot concept was introduced publicly on a large scale by the Eastman Kodak Company, who produced the Brownie box camera in 1900.

Silver print/Gelatin silver print

The gelatin silver process is used to this day with black-and-white films and printing papers. The process involves firstly coating a suspension of silver salts in gelatin onto a backing such as glass or resin-coated paper. When grains of silver salts are exposed to light, some particles of metallic silver are released, which form a latent image.

Films are developed using solutions that reduce the silver particles. The strength, temperature and time for which developer is allowed to act, allows the photographer to control the contrast of the final image. The development is then ‘stopped’ by neutralizing the developer in a second bath. Once development is complete, the undeveloped silver salts must be removed by fixing in sodium thiosulphate or ammonium thiosulphate, and then the print must be washed in clean water. The final image comprises of metallic silver embedded in the gelatin coating.

Gelatin-silver prints were developed in the 1870's and by 1895 had generally replaced albumen prints because they were more stable, did not turn yellow, and simpler to produce.


  • Baldwin, Gordon, 1991. Looking at photographs: a guide to technical terms. Los Angeles, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum ; London: British Museum Press.
  • Gascoigne, Bamber, 2004. How to identify prints: a complete guide to manual processes from woodcut to inkjet. 2nd edition. London: Thames & Hudson.
  • National Portrait Gallery, ‘Glossary of art terms’
  • V&A, ‘Photographic processes’ [internet]