Victorian Literature Photography
Susan E. Cook
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 May 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0211


Photography was one of the most significant media innovations of the nineteenth century, and its impact across Victorian culture was profound. While photographic antecedents date back to ancient Greek and Chinese cultures and were further developed throughout the Renaissance in Europe via the camera obscura, permanent photographic images were a product of the nineteenth century. In 1839 and thus just two years after the start of Queen Victoria’s reign, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre’s French daguerreotype and William Henry Fox Talbot’s English talbotype—or calotype—were both announced to the public, heralding a shift in visual culture. At once regarded as a science and an art—and sometimes both or neither—photography is best thought of as multiple: a range of photographic technologies put to diverse uses. A study of Victorian photography should consider developments in these technologies throughout the period, understanding each in its contexts and applications. General overviews tend to focus on the history of photography as a technology and a practice, while theoretical approaches can be generally subdivided into more foundational post-structuralist readings and more recent material histories interpreting the relationship between photographic developments and culture and subjectivity. The interdisciplinary study of photography and literature has been a dominant scholarly trend in Victorian studies since the mid-1970s, and realism has largely dominated this area. More recently, scholarship has grown beyond realism to consider other forms of fiction, poetry, and print/media culture. Other works read photography in light of art history and the histories of gender, science, and spiritualism. Context is ever important in the study of Victorian photography, and other analyses focus on international, transnational, and colonial subjects. The history of photography is a global one, and a complete accounting of its diversity is outside the scope of this bibliography. In this article the emphasis is on the British Empire, although American and other national and transnational studies are also robust sites of scholarship on 19th-century photography. For more information on Victorian visual culture, see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article “Visual Culture.”

Reference Works

A number of notable reference works, many substantial tomes, serve as an introduction to the field and provide historical details. Mathews 1973 and Browne and Partnow 1983 represent early references, and both focus mostly on photographers themselves. Also useful for those conducting historical research and in particular research on photographers is Palmquist 2000. Hannavy 2008 is required reading, focusing as it does on the nineteenth century in particular, while Lenman 2005 and Peres 2007 provide broader surveys. Hershberger 2014 collects essays from 380 BCE to 2010, and Newhall 1980 likewise offers a collection of primary texts, while the Historic Manuscripts Commission registers documents of historic interest, including those on photography. The Victorian Web is an essential resource, containing primary-source documents and images as well as articles and bibliographies aimed at assisting researchers.

  • Browne, Turner, and Elaine Partnow, eds. Macmillan Biographical Encyclopedia of Photographic Artists and Innovators. New York: Macmillan, 1983.

    A “who’s who” compendium of photographers and other individuals connected to photography. Includes more than two thousand biographies with lists of publications, collections, dealers, and, for many recent photographers, addresses. Includes a list and addresses of museums and galleries.

  • Hannavy, John, ed. Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography. 2 vols. New York and Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2008.

    Comprehensive and detailed two-volume world encyclopedia of photography throughout the nineteenth century, with over 250 contributors and edited by photographic historian John Hannavy. Contents list entries alphabetically as well as thematically.

  • Hershberger, Andrew E., ed. Photographic Theory: An Historical Anthology. Oxford: Wiley, 2014.

    Substantial collection of previously published essays and primary sources dating from Plato in c. 380 BCE to Alexander Sekatskiy in 2010. Section 1, “Invention to Pictorialism: 1839–c. 1880,” and section 2, “Pictorialism to/and/vs. Modernism: c. 1880–c. 1920,” will be of particular interest to Victorianists.

  • Historic Manuscripts Commission.

    UK survey of historic documents started in 1869 and now subsumed by the National Archives.

  • Lenman, Robin. The Oxford Companion to the Photograph. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1093/acref/9780198662716.001.0001

    Accessible resource covering the technology and recent scholarship on photography. Includes more than eight hundred entries by more than 140 contributors.

  • Mathews, Oliver. Early Photographs and Early Photographers: A Survey in Dictionary Form. New York: Pitman, 1973.

    Covering the 1820s to the First World War, this survey of Victorian photography and photographers is arranged alphabetically.

  • Newhall. Photography: Essays and Images. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1980.

    Collection of significant writings on photography from the technology’s early days. Includes essays and excerpts from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Francis Frith, and more.

  • Palmquist, Peter E., ed. Photographers: A Sourcebook for Historical Research. Nevada City, CA: Carl Mautz, 2000.

    Compendium of sources for research with essays written by different scholars on regional directories. Includes an annotated directory of photographers by Richard Rudisill.

  • Peres, Michael R., ed. The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography: Digital Imaging, Theory and Applications, History, and Science. 4th ed. Burlington, MA, and Oxford: Focal, 2007.

    By design the definitive reference book on photography aimed at academics, practitioners, and the interested public. Composed of essays written by international scholars in collaboration with the George Eastman House. Includes substantial section on the “History and Evolution of Photography,” with essays by Mark Osterman, Grant B. Romer, and Milan Zahorcak. A shortened version, The Concise Focal Encyclopedia of Photography (Amsterdam: Elsevier), was published in 2008.

  • The Victorian Web.

    Pioneering online scholarly resource organizing subjects and over one hundred twenty thousand documents through a web of connections. The “Victorian and Edwardian Photography” page includes numerous subtopics and includes articles and bibliographies.

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