Rivers and lakes in remarkable 19th-century photographs

by | Feb 25, 2024 | Photography

Photographers of the 19th century did not have an easy time of it. They had to put up with the limitations of the existing camera technologies. At the same time, they felt a need to express themselves and their individual take on reality. The Washington, DC-based National Gallery of Art succinctly describes the unique challenges faced by the early photographers:

“This first generation of photographers became part scientists as they mastered a baffling array of new processes and learned how to handle their equipment and material. Yet they also grappled with aesthetic issues, such as how to convey the tone, texture, and detail of multicolored reality in a monochrome medium.” (from ‘The Nineteenth Century: The Invention of Photography‘, National Gallery of Art website)

The following landscapes show how some 19th-century photographers met these challenges and helped raise photography to the level of fine art.. They are a reminder as well to modern-day photographers that it is about the picture, not about the photographer and his equipment.

A Misty Morning at Norwich, 1890-1891
Peter Henry Emerson (British, 1856–1936)
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Sangor, Temple and Lake, about 1865–1875
Francis Frith (English, 1822–1898)
Courtesy of Getty’s Open Content Program

[River Scene, France], 1858
Camille Silvy (French, 1834–1910)
Courtesy of Getty’s Open Content Program

Potomac River, c. 1898
Frances Benjamin Johnston (American, 1864–1952)
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, USA

The Lake of Hakoni, 1865–1868
Felice Beato (English, born Italy, 1832–1909)
Courtesy of Getty’s Open Content Program

[Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake, Nevada], 1867
Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American, about 1840–1882)
Courtesy of Getty’s Open Content Program

Worcester. From the Severn, 1870s
Francis Bedford (British, 1816–1894)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

~ Barista Uno

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