From October Books
Scenes in a Library
Reading the Photograph in the Book, 1843-1875
An exploration of the historical moment when the photographic image became wedded to the printed page.
Today we are so accustomed to seeing photographs wedded to text—whether in the family album or daily newspaper—that the verbal framing of the photograph has become invisible. The text is internalized within the image, and the meaning of the photograph becomes clear and self-evident, as if by the evidence of the photograph itself. In Scenes in a Library, Carol Armstrong explores the experimental moment, at the inception of the new medium, when the word came to haunt the photographic image, and the forty or so years—roughly from the 1840s to the 1880s—during which the photographic image alternately resisted and became assimilated to the printed page. Armstrong's emphasis is on British books. Not only was it in an English book that the paper photograph was first described and published, but the range of subject matter of nineteenth-century British photographically illustrated books prior to the 1880s was as rich as it was peculiar and sometimes recalcitrant. Armstrong focuses on one book about photography (Talbot's The Pencil of Nature); one "scientific" book (Anna Atkins's Photographs of British Algae); two travel narratives, one factual and one fictional (Francis Frith's Egypt and Palestine Photographed and Observed and his illustrated edition of Longfellow's novel Hyperion: A Romance); and one book of poetry (Julia Margaret Cameron's Illustrations to Alfred Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King); as well as some miscellaneous books from the 1870s. According to Armstrong, art history has tended to remove the historic photograph from its printed and published context. Moving back and forth between close looking and equally close reading, she reinserts the photograph into the book from which it was taken.