"Drawn towards the lens": Representations and Receptions of Photography in Britain, 1839 to 1853
Munro, Julia Francesca
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation studies the earliest years of photography’s invention. Attention to the earliest conceptions of photography reveals a more complex and contested understanding of the nature and significance of photographic representation than has previously been attributed to the Victorians of the early nineteenth century, providing not only a more comprehensive picture of the history of the new technology, but also new insights into the interactions of Victorian photography and visual culture. The earliest representations and receptions of photography are gathered from inventors’ reports, the first photographic texts produced for a specialist and general audience, and periodical articles that reveal the popular reception of photography by a non-specialist audience. The evolving representations and reception of photography are traced throughout the 1840s, as the medium grew increasingly popular, with a particular focus on photographic portraiture. Arguing that the earliest figurations of a new medium directly inform or “premediate” how the medium is negotiated as it becomes established in the culture – that is, even though the technology and use of photography changed quite rapidly, the earliest perceptions of the medium powerfully influenced how it was used, perceived, and resisted – I examine the central anxieties raised by photography that persisted throughout the 1840s and early 1850s. Using Charles Dickens’s Bleak House as a case study, I then turn to literature of the realist genre to assess how photography is imagined and contested in novelistic form. This not only provides a model with which to examine the incorporation of photographic allusions and themes into the realist novel, but also contributes new insights into the ways in which the issues of photography and other aspects of visuality intersected with the literary realist enterprise.