Cartes-de-visite were the biggest photographic craze of the 19th century and early 20th century. The exhibition Cartes-de-visite from the Finnish Museum of Photography showcases cards from 1894 to 1920 at Länsilinkki in Ruoholahti.
When André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri, lingerie salesman turned photographer, patented the camera he had invented in 1854, the significance of the photograph as a social phenomenon and as an object changed completely. Disdéri’s camera was revolutionary because it could take as many as a dozen photographs on one glass plate. The glass negative was then printed on paper and the photographs were cut out. The photographs were called cartes-de-visite as they were the size of calling cards and glued onto cardboard, with the most common size being 10.5 cm x 6.4 cm. Later on, picture cards became available in various different sizes.
Disdéri’s invention meant that with just one visit to the photographic studio, people could get several photographs that were considerably cheaper than previous photograph types. As a result, many more people were able to have their portrait taken. Cartes-de-visite became a social phenomenon, they were handed out to family and friends or significant others, kept in photo albums – the focal point of middle-class homes – and acted as tools for remembering and constructing identities.
The cards revealed a variety of ways in which a person could be portrayed: they showed imagination, personality, humor, and the fading and merging of social classes. Photos were taken with friends and cats and to mark upper secondary school graduation. It is often said that the carte-de-visite died at the end of the 19th century, but they retained their popularity in Finland until the 1920s. Enlarged examples of these later cards are on display as part of the Cartes-de-visite from the Finnish Museum of Photography exhibition at Länsilinkki in Ruoholahti.
The Finnish Museum of Photography’s collections and public works will be exhibited at Länsilinkki until the end of 2021.