/ by Sarah Jamison

  Southworth & Hawes (1843 - 1863) was an early photographic firm in Boston. Its partners, Albert Sands Southworth (1811–1894) and Josiah Johnson Hawes (1808–1901), have been hailed as the first great American masters of photography, whose work elevated photographic portraits to the level of fine art. The partnership’s studio, located on the top floor of a Boston building, had enormous skylights to allow in copious amounts of light necessary for relatively “short” exposures of portraits of their subjects. Southworth & Hawes worked almost exclusively in the daguerreotype process. Working in the 8 ½ x 6 ½ inch whole plate format, their images are large, mirror-like, finely detailed, and expensive. During their 20 years of collaboration, Southworth & Hawes catered to Boston’ high society and the famous. Their advertisements drew a distinction between the appropriate styles for personal versus public portraiture. “A likeness for an intimate acquaintance or one’s own family should be marked by that amiability and cheerfulness, so appropriate to the social circle and the home fireside. Those for the public, of official dignitaries and celebrated characters admit of more firmness, sternness and soberness.” The image here is a post-mortem portrait of a young girl. Post-mortem photographs served as keepsakes to remember the deceased. This was especially common with infants and young children; Victorian era childhood mortality rates were extremely high, and a post-mortem photograph might have been the only image of the child the family ever had. The practice eventually peaked in popularity around the end of the 19th century and died out as “snapshot” photography became more commonplace.

Southworth & Hawes (1843 - 1863) was an early photographic firm in Boston. Its partners, Albert Sands Southworth (1811–1894) and Josiah Johnson Hawes (1808–1901), have been hailed as the first great American masters of photography, whose work elevated photographic portraits to the level of fine art. The partnership’s studio, located on the top floor of a Boston building, had enormous skylights to allow in copious amounts of light necessary for relatively “short” exposures of portraits of their subjects. Southworth & Hawes worked almost exclusively in the daguerreotype process. Working in the 8 ½ x 6 ½ inch whole plate format, their images are large, mirror-like, finely detailed, and expensive. During their 20 years of collaboration, Southworth & Hawes catered to Boston’ high society and the famous. Their advertisements drew a distinction between the appropriate styles for personal versus public portraiture. “A likeness for an intimate acquaintance or one’s own family should be marked by that amiability and cheerfulness, so appropriate to the social circle and the home fireside. Those for the public, of official dignitaries and celebrated characters admit of more firmness, sternness and soberness.” The image here is a post-mortem portrait of a young girl. Post-mortem photographs served as keepsakes to remember the deceased. This was especially common with infants and young children; Victorian era childhood mortality rates were extremely high, and a post-mortem photograph might have been the only image of the child the family ever had. The practice eventually peaked in popularity around the end of the 19th century and died out as “snapshot” photography became more commonplace.