August 2013 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Looking at Cartes de Visite

LOC-Carte.jpgYesterday the New York Times Opinionator ran a piece called The Cartes de Visite Craze by Andrea L. Volpe. In it, Volpe looks at images of the Civil War through the commercial photography available at the time: 2 1/2-by-4-inch portraits known as cartes de visite. She writes: "The images were so popular the press called it 'cartomania.' The first photo albums were created to hold them. Engraved copies, based on widely circulating carte portraits of politician and generals, illustrated the pages of magazines like Frank Leslie's and Harper's Weekly. Cartes de visite of the 'near and dear' and the 'great and good' literally and figuratively allowed Northern viewers to picture themselves as part of the nation. The public's abstract connection to the Union was made material by collecting images of the nation's leaders side by side with family portraits."

Coincidentally, Volpe, who is finishing a book titled National Bodies: Cartes de Visite and the Politics of Photography in Civil War America, wrote an article for us just last month on Walker Evans' photography and book jacket design.

Image: Carte de visite of Steward Beach, full-length studio portrait. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.