SELF AND THE WORLD: EXPERIENCING PHOTOGRAPHY IN 19TH-CENTURY NORWALK
CARTES DE VISITE
The first reproducible commercial photograph was the carte de visite, a small photograph mounted on cardboard. Invented in 1854, the carte de visite was popular into the 1860s. It allowed people to obtain multiple pictures inexpensively. Norwalk photographer D.B. Lane advertised cartes de visite for $1.00 a dozen in the Norwalk Gazette.
Photographers used a special camera with four lenses, allowing them to expose a total of eight small squares on a glass plate. The negative was then placed onto a sheet of paper treated with light sensitive chemicals suspended in egg whites and exposed to light. An assembly line of workers would cut the paper print into eight individual rectangles and mount them onto cards, usually with the photographer’s name and logo on the back.
Photography studios would keep the negatives, and customers could go back and purchase more prints. Now that people had multiple copies of the same photograph, they would exchange them with friends and family. Group portraits could be divided up among the sitters. They could be sent through the mail without breaking.
Cartes de visite were small paper prints on cards that were exchanged and collected, allowing friends and family to stay in touch with each other, reinforcing relationships.
Allen and Ann Betts lived in Norwalk for over 40 years.
Their friends and family members who shared cartes de visite
with them are shown below.