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Oscar Gustaf Rejlander

(1813—1875) photographer


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(1813–75), Swedish-born photographer, active in England and often known as ‘the father of art photography’, having pioneered practices such as combination printing and promoted photography's capacity to tackle subjects conventionally associated with painting. After studying lithography and painting in Rome, Rejlander arrived in England in the early 1840s and settled in Wolverhampton. A day's instruction with Nicolaas Henneman was apparently his only training before he turned to photography in 1853. Throughout his professional career, Rejlander combined studio portrait work and other commissions with particular artistic projects, importing ideas and inspiration from such sources as Flemish and late Renaissance art, 18th-century English narrative works, or contemporary cartoons from papers like Punch. His famous moral allegory The Two Ways of Life (1857) combines sophisticated combination printing with elaborately staged photographs. Although widely condemned as indecent—in Scotland only the ‘virtuous’ side of the picture could be shown—it was bought by Queen Victoria for Prince Albert. Rejlander vigorously defended photography's narrative capability, emphasizing artifice as a way to truth and creative expression, and works like Hard Times and The Dream (both 1860) convey unconscious states hauntingly and in a precociously modern way. In 1862 he left Wolverhampton for a London studio, where judiciously placed windows enabled him to create subtle lighting effects for portraiture. Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and Alfred Tennyson were among his clients, as was Charles Darwin, for whose book On the Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) he created illustrations, using himself and his wife as models. But Rejlander never achieved commercial success, and died in poverty.

From The Oxford Companion to the Photograph in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Photography and Photographs.


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