Photography underwent rapid technological developments during the second half of the nineteenth century. However, the earliest photograph in this room, Charles Nègre’s portrait of three chimney sweeps, was still taken with cumbersome equipment and the pose required a long exposure time: what appears to be a snapshot is in fact a carefully choreographed scene.
It was not until the introduction of fast gelatine silver plates at the beginning of the 1880s that photographers could take detailed pictures of moving subjects. This opened the way for photographers such as Henri Rivière to capture the atmosphere of modern city life, or Louis Vert, who documented the coming and going of tramps and small-tradespeople.
Studio photography was also a highly staged process, with sitters adopting poses reminsicent of those in paintings. In Switzerland, Carl Durheim was commissioned by the police to photograph vagrants. He presented them seated at a table and either frontal or in semi-profile. The same poses were being used by the middle classes and celebrities who flocked in increasing numbers to photographic studios. The popularity of such portraits is evident in the French magazine Galerie Contemporaine, which published studio photographs of celebrities and leading cultural figures, such as the poet Charles Baudelaire.